Indian Army study of Persian in 20th c.

Allen W Thrasher athr at LOC.GOV
Mon May 18 14:10:27 UTC 1998

I have been reading Old Soldier Sahib, by Pvt. Frank Richards of the Royal
Welsh Fusiliers ([N.Y.] : Harrison Smith and Robert Haas Inc., c 1986), the
autobiography of a Welsh miner who served as a private in the British Army
in India from 1900 to 1909.  Several times in the course of the book he
mentions that privates were offered a bounty for learning both Hindustani
and Persian.  Hindustani being a lingua franca both for the Army and for
much of India is of obvious utility, but why would the British  be
encouraging the study of Persian at this date?  Was it in anticipation of
another invasion of or from Afghanistan, or a conflict involving Russia in
Central Asia?  Were they thinking of the utility of talking to locals or to
prisoners in 'Dari'-speaking parts of Afghanistan, or of using Persian as a
lingua franca in Central Asia?  Did they think a major conflict with Iran was
likely?  Why not encourage some other languages like Pushto?  Did they
assume the Pushto-speakers they were likely to come into significant
contact with would also know Hindustani?

Allen Thrasher

Allen W. Thrasher, Ph.D.
Senior Reference Librarian
Southern Asia Section
Asian Division
Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave., S.E.
Washington, DC 20540-4714
tel. (202) 707-3732
fax (202) 707-1724
email: athr at

The opinions expressed do not represent those of my employer.

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