Hindi etc.

Lars Martin Fosse l.m.fosse at internet.no
Wed Nov 27 21:26:44 UTC 1996

In response to Robert Zydenbos:

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

>In India? Practically every language...

Very good. Let me be more specific: What is the distribution of the speakers
of a given language? E.g.: Assuming you learn a given Indic language, what
is the chance that you will meet people who master that language all over
India? Since Hindi has been promoted at the national level, I have suggested
that you anywhere in India (outside the Hindi belt) have a better chance of
meeting a Hindi speaker than you would have of meeting a speaker of, say,
Tamil or Malayalam (outside the areas where these languages are spoken). I
know that people often speak other languages that are spoken in the same
area as their own, just as people who live in border areas often speak
several languages, but that is hardly what we are discussing.

>lf> By "transnational" I mean that the language can be used as a means
>lf> of communication between speakers of various mother tongues. I
>lf> should also add that it would be the language preferred as a second
>lf> language by a fair number of people.
>lf> In our context, the word is relevant in so far as India has a
>lf> number of states made on the basis of linguistic criteria. But I
>lf> would agree that the word transnational is not entirely apt in this
>lf> context, since India is the "nation" and the states do not
>lf> constitute "nations" in the common sense of the word (although they
>lf> may have their own subnationalisms). The bottom line
>Do you realize that you are making the discussion vague to the point
>of being meaningless? We cannot bandy words and phrases like
>"certain amount", "fair number" and "transnational" in this way without
>stricter criteria.

I do not see that I am making the discussion vague. But I am avoiding too
specific statements, and I do that for a reason: They are not necessary and
might even create a false impression. Any person with a bit of travelling
experience knows when he is able to communicate and when he is not. In a
place where he is able to communicate, he meets a "certain amount" of people
who master the language he uses. I do not have to specify exactly how many,
nor is it necessary to specify the exact percentage of the population that
know the language at a certain level. The opposite situation occurs when
such a person has a hard time finding anyone who speaks the languages s/he
knows. I have a feeling that you are dodging the issue: Which language will
get you further than other languages in India as a whole? In a European
context, for instance, it is English, not French or German, although you may
very well find that some people in, say Italy, communicate better in French
than in English, and that older people in Eastern Europe have a better grasp
of German than English.

 (And I may add here: all the persons who have spoken
>up here in defense of the status quo of Hindi vs. other-modern-language
>studies have been doing this. It is useless, quasi-statistical
>argumentation in support of a myth.)

Again, I feel that you are a bit emotional. You have so far not been able to
show that other Indic languages are better means of communication on a
national level than Hindi. 

>I have given here not a literary evaluation of Hindi vs. Kannada/Tamil,
>but a very hard, totally objective historical fact that can be verified
>by anyone. There is just much more history in Kannada and Tamil (and
>other literatures) than in Hindi. This is simply _not_ a debatable
>issue. And this is an Indologically crucial matter.

I am not contesting that. Bengalis would point out - and be right - that
there is much more - and possibly better - literature in Bengali as well.
Hindi as we know it today is a young language. So what? It is still the
language spoken by most Indians (in one form or the other), and if you
insist upon telling our potential funders that Hindi is a hoax (or a "myth")
and thereby rob Indologists of an argument even a bureaucrat can understand,
you will probably only achieve that less money will be given to Indic
studies generally. Why don't you leave planet Zorc and join us earthlings?

>There are no quantitative arguments that stand rational, critical

Yes there are.

>before a quantitative argument has any force, a qualitative criterion
>must first be established

Any person who takes an interest in India will see with half an eye that
qualitative arguments offer themselves galore for the study of practically
every aspect of Indic society and linguistics. Still, Indic studies are
fighting with the back against the wall in many places. In universities
these days, quantitative arguments are much more important than qualitative
arguments as far as the humanities and social sciences are concerned. That
is where "surplus" young people are being "dumped" because there are no jobs
for them. The only way to preserve the study of "quality languages" (Hindi
speakers pardon the expression) is to study them sheltered by "cash cows"
such as Hindi or Urdu (in Norway actually more important than Hindi). In
wealthy universities, you might achieve that a special department for
Dravidian studies is created. But don't bank on it these days.

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

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