Indian Army study of Persian in 20th c.

Ruth Laila Schmidt at EAST.UIO.NO
Mon May 18 15:46:42 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
The encouragement of Persian skills along with Hindustani skills was
typical of the 19th century. Could this have been some bureaucratic glitch
- a clause in the jobscope for privates that was just kept on the books
past its expiration date (possibly with an eye on events in Afghanistan)?

Ruth Schmidt

Ruth Laila Schmidt
Dept of East European and Oriental Studies
University of Oslo
P.O. Box 1030 Blindern
N-0315 Oslo, Norway
Phone: (47) 22 85 55 86
Fax: (47) 22 85 41 40
Email: at

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