Place of Hindi in Indology

Lars Martin Fosse l.m.fosse at
Thu Nov 21 09:43:13 UTC 1996

S. Kichenassamy wrote:

>On Wed, 20 Nov 1996, Lars Martin Fosse wrote:
>> 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.

>The quality of communication in Hindi with a native speaker of KannaDa who
>only knows little or no Hindi is poor indeed.

So, presumably, would it be if you communicated in KannaDa with a Hindi
speaker who knew no KannaDa.

>Besides, are we talking about the languages helpful to a tourist, or to a
>student of Indology?

No, we are speaking about languages helpful to various categories of people
who for some reason would like to master an Indic language: Scholars wanting
to communicate with Indians who are unable to speak English (about 97% of
the Indian population), business men or others (even tourists!) who might
want to do the same thing, or simply be able to read Indian newspapers or
documents that are not written in English. If you are living and working in
one particular place (e.g. Bengal, Tamil Nadu), you would naturally want to
learn the local language, but if you are not connected with a certain Indian
region, you would want to learn the language that will get you further than
the others. 
>> 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
>I guess the above argument amounts to:
> (1)  Hindi has, as I gather from this discussion, more funding than, say,
>         Sanskrit, without clear indological reasons;
> (2)  One should nevertheless give it the first place in Indology because
>         it receives this funding, rather than try to disseminate 
>         information about other branches of Indology. 

The argument makes no assumptions regarding the funding of Hindi as against
Sanskrit. Sanskrit is probably just as well represented as Hindi. The
competition is between Hindi/Urdu and the other Indic languages, such as
Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu etc., and the basic
question is: To what extent are you able to convince university (or other)
authorities that it is a good idea to invest in, say, Bengali or Tamil
studies (that is: hire a person to teach these languages). Since funds are
limited, funders will probably ask the following questions: How many
students are interested? How stable will the interest be in the future? In
what way will it benefit the national economy or some other vital national
interest? Why should we bother with Indic studies at all? etc. etc. It is
easier to argue in favour of Hindi/Urdu than in favour of any other Indic
language. But given that you get a position for Hindi and/or Urdu, the
relevant teacher will most probably be able to do one or more other Indic
languages as well, and so the "minor" languages are served to a certain
extent. It is, as you see, a matter of pragmatic argumentation. If you are
lucky, and your university is rich, you may even be able to introduce
studies just because of their intrinsic academic and cultural value. But in
our commercialized days, chances are slight for that sort of miracle.

>The idea is not to take funding away from Hindi, but to attract more
>resources to Indology. This would benefit everybody, including Hindi

We would all like more money for Indology. In a similar manner, all and
sundry in the academic world want more money for their particular lines of
study - unfortunately in a world of diminishing contributions to Academia. I
am convinced that if we are unable to offer "society" something which
society thinks is "useful" (in the very limited and slightly imbecile way
the word is used by politicians and business people), we shall not be able
to preserve the values of free study and thought that we all cherish.
Hindi/Urdu can be peddled to the general public as "useful" studies, simply
because they *are* useful (they are also interesting in their own right, but
that is not a valid argument in this context. These days, politicians are
not necessarily willing to pay academics to pursue their pet hobbies). Given
the state of the political mind, it is more difficult to argue in favour of
the "usefulness" of other Indic languages. Here statistics matter. Sorry.

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

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