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Lars Martin Fosse l.m.fosse at
Sat Nov 30 19:26:06 UTC 1996

Peter Claus wrote:
>I no longer remember what started the original thread
>on Hindi vs. the other languages of India, but it seems
>to me it had something to do with declining academic
>support for the study of India. 

>What seems more to the point of some of the discussion, is that there is
>an unfortunate imbalance developing in our knowledge of Indian tradition,
>with an excessive concentration on a few areas (Hindi, Tamil, Bengali
>speaking regions) largely, I think, because those are the languages which
>aretaught most widely.  Some regions -- Andhra Pradesh,
>Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, etc. -- have been
>sorely neglected despite their acknowledged importance
>to Indology (broadly defined).  Western nations have
>not gone about the teaching of modern Indian languages
>in a academically rational way.
>Departments of South Asia, it seems to me, would do
>well to assess the needs of the faculty of other
>disciplines who specialize in India before they make
>their choices in hiring language teachers, and language
>teachers would do well to acquire at least basic skills
>in SEVERAl related languages so that they may offer
>broader service to graduate students in academic
>disciplines other than literature.  
>Renewed efforts will have to be made toward convincing
>various agencies of the need to understand India as a
>whole, and to point out the problems resulting in the
>severe unevenness of our understanding of it.  It is
>precisely these regions which are most vulnerable to
>absorption into both a constructed national identity
>and the global spread of Western culture.  Time is
>truly running out for us.  It seems grievously silly of
>us on an academic LIST to be arguing about these
>matters on the basis of how well we can travel around
>India as if we were only tourists. 

I don't think the point was that we should concentrate upon mere tourist,
although such people have their function in the academic battle for funds.
It seems to me that the basic problem is that the agencies that fund
universitities these days are less and less interested in intellectual
matters and more and more interested in pragmatic concerns. Sinology is
being funded because China is economically and politically important, not
because the funders think that China is such an interesting place. In a
similar manner, subjects are being funded if there are a lot of students
around who want to study the subject, whether the subject as such it is
worthwhile or not. To keep your funding coming in, you have to produce a
steady stream of students doing examinations (this is where the value of
"tourist" students become apparent, as long as they turn up in the
statistics) or convince the funders that what you are doing is essential to
national politics or the economy. Admittedly, this description may be
slightly exaggerated, but not much, I am afraid. I have most of my academic
life been surrounded by teachers who were able to teach at least ten
languages or more. But they developed in an academic climate where noone
asked for "practical results", and where they were given time and money to
develop into prodigious linguistic talents. Today, university work is being
modelled on industrial work, mostly with a detrimental effect upon the
quality of academic work.

To me there seem to be two strategies available if we want to strengthen the
study of Indic languages: 1) Argue for positions that formally cover the
largest languages (Hindi/Urdu and the others mentioned above), and have the
teachers in these positions teach other languages as well, and 2) have
several universities cooperate in such a manner that one university covers a
certain part of Indic linguistics, whereas other universities cover other
parts. This may involve formal cooperation between universities across
national borders. 

Anyone out there with practical experience as to how to handle funding
problems? All strategies that work are welcome.

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

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