Attitudes to Hindi, Tamil-- and ENGLISH

Frances Pritchett fp7 at
Tue Apr 15 13:55:09 UTC 1997

I just came back from a visit to North India and Pakistan.  I found that 
more than ever, my Urdu (and Hindi) literary friends have their kids in
English-medium schools.  Then they complain that Urdu (or Hindi) is not
well taught in the child's school, thus the child is not learning it well
or taking enough interest in it.  Some of them try very hard to supplement
the child's education with home experience, storybooks, videos, etc., or
even private tutorials in their own language.  Others of them just
complain a lot but are resigned.  In the first case, the result tends to
be a child who knows English better and the South Asian language more or
less adequately (especially on a passive level, for understanding rather
than sophisticated speech).  In the second case, the result tends to be a
child who knows only a sub-literary "street" version of his or her "own"
or "native" language.  English is definitely a *preferred* language for
most of these elite kids, right from their childhood.  It almost calls
into question the concept of "native" language, in some cases.  Maybe the
people I know are atypical?  But I doubt it... my friends themselves think
they are not, they feel that the problem is deep and widespread.

I don't know what can or should be done about this, if anything.  After
all, it's the direct result of people's own choices within the culture,
and those choices are the result of pressures we can all recognize and
understand.  The utility of English as the incipient "world language"
seems to be even more obvious to the next generation than it is to this
one.  In practice as opposed to theory, many people hardly seem to be
resisting  it at all.  Let's hope for some kind of swing of the cultural
pendulum that will cause people to be more seriously committed to *real*
bilingualism and *genuine* literary maintenance of the modern South Asian
languages than many of them they now appear to be.

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