i[...] c[...] (I thought it was banned?...)

Lars Martin Fosse l.m.fosse at internet.no
Wed Nov 20 09:50:48 UTC 1996

>Replies to msg 17 Nov 96: indology at liverpool.ac.uk (Lars Martin Fosse)
> lmfn> May I ask Robert Zydenbos the following question: Is there
> lmfn> any other Indic
> lmfn> language than Hindi that offers a certain amount of
> lmfn> "transnational"
> lmfn> communication (and does so better than Hindi)?
>A "certain amount"? And do you mean international Indian languages?

By "certain amount" I mean that the language is mastered by other people
than mother tongue speakers at at least an elementary level.

By "transnational" I mean that the language can be used as a means of
communication between speakers of various mother tongues. I should also add
that it would be the language preferred as a second language by a fair
number of people. In this sense, both French, German and English (to mention
a few) have a transnational character, as they are spoken as second
languages by many people in certain areas (the French in the Francophone
world, German in Eastern Europe, English in the global context etc.). 

>Bengali (Bangla Desh).
>Punjabi (Pakistan).
>Telugu (South Africa).
>Gujarati (South Africa, Tanzania; probably no longer in Uganda).
>Tamil (Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa).

This would be parallell to e.g. Spanish, which is spoken in a number of
countries, but normally not chosen as a means of communication between, say,
a German and a Greek. 

>I must admit, though, that I do not quite understand the relevance of the word
>"transnational" in our context. I thought that Indologists study Indian
>languages in order to understand more about India - whether the speakers of any
>Indian language claim transnationality or not - and that the significance of a
>language for Indology lies not in the number of people who happen to have
>settled outside India, but in the access it gives us to Indian history and

In our context, the word is relevant in so far as India has a number of
states made on the basis of linguistic criteria. But I would agree that the
word transnational is not entirely apt in this context, since India is the
"nation" and the states do not constitute "nations" in the common sense of
the word (although they may have their own subnationalisms). The bottom line
is, however, the following: If several speakers of different Indic
languages, none of whom have Hindi as a mother tongue, and given that none
of them speak English, are having a chat, which language would they prefer
to use as a means of communication? In principle any Indic language can be
used, but I would guess that the one most frequently popping up would be Hindi. 

 (I suppose some will dismiss this as again so much "hearsay" or mere
>"impression". Indeed, I have not checked this.)

I have made no assumptions as to how you get hold of your information, and
therefore do not dismiss your points of view on such assumptions.

> lmfn> there is a great likelihood that if you
> lmfn> come to a European
> lmfn> country the language of which you do not speak, English is
> lmfn> your best bet if
> lmfn> you try to use another language. 

>I once had to argue with an Italian security official in French at Rome
>airport, since he understood no English, German or Dutch. (Sorry if this too is
>just an "impression". I did not try Hindi. :-) ) Again, the same with Hindi: it
>depends on where you are. In eastern India, Bengali is more useful; in
>northwestern Tamilnadu, northern Kerala, southern Maharashtra, Kannada is more

I have spent considerable time in Rome, and I can confirm that you are
better off with Italian, but by and large, English will do the job as long
as you stick to simple language. Most people who deal with foreigners know a
smattering of English. 

>Consider: a knowledge of standard modern Kannada gives one access to all the
>literature in that language since Basava (12th century). Written Tamil has
>changed little since the Na_n_nuul. (N.B.: I have not yet spoken about the
>older forms of these languages.) These two languages have the oldest
>literatures among the living languages of the subcontinent, and their
>Indological import is enormous. And I must say, with humble apologies to
>Hindi-lovers, and intending no disrespect whatsoever: Hindi comes nowhere near

It seems to me that we are entering a kind of discussion where we quarrel
about the cultural merit of various Indian regions. Everybody "knows" that
Bengali literature is "vastly superior" to Hindi literature, just as
classical philologists will tell you that Greek literature is *much* more
wonderful than Latin. I think this sort of discussion is quite fruitless.
There may be a number of reasons for studying Indic languages - and I would
certainly not discourage anyone from studying Tamil or Bengali - but I see
no fault in being pragmatic and having a look at the mathematics involved.
Hindi (and Urdu) are the languages spoken by most Indians and Pakistanis,
and they also will get you far in Indian diaspora circles in the West. In my
opinion, this makes them the top priority languages, regardless of the
quality of Hindi or Urdu culture. Languages are not simply carriers of
cultural values, they are also means of communication. 

>What I find utterly depressing in this discussion is that people are using
>quantitative arguments in support of Hindi, while I seem to be the only one
>(besides Kichessamy) who tries to draw attention to the _qualitative_ side of

Doesn't this strike you as a bit arrogant? I can't see that the quality of
communication improves if you speak broken Kannada instead of broken Hindi.
Like most linguists, I have my personal preferences when it comes to the
qualities of various languages and cultures, but I am careful not to
discriminate openly between languages and cultures. There is always more
than a touch of subjective feelings involved, and others may feel differently.

. All this
>quantitative, quasi-statistical argumentation, which is intended for
>maintaining / augmenting the disproportionate attention given to Hindi in
>Western academia, is just quasi-scientific garbage. It may also be garbage
>after the standards are stated, but then at least we can reasonably talk about
>it. :-)

Isn't this a rather emotional argument? Quantitative arguments are
important, given the fact that academic studies have to be funded. The
"weaker" languages may then survive under the protective cover of the
"strong" languages in the academic funding fray. Since this has already been
discussed by somebody else, I'll say no more.

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

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