After The Death Of English Language …

Posted in British Raj, History, India, language, Media by Anuraag Sanghi on August 13, 2008

Silent ships in the dark

Between the World Wars, (1919-1939), Britain was the unquestioned super power in the world. Diplomats lobbied to get postings to Britain.

“In December 1937, Joseph Kennedy, father of the future President, John F. Kennedy, was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. It was among the most prestigious of all the diplomatic posts—one he had lobbied for over many months. … In London, the American Ambassador and his wife soared to the heights of British society. In the spring of 1938, just before war would cast its shadow across Europe, the couple luxuriated in the warmth of English hospitality, hobnobbing with aristocrats and royalty at the many balls, dinners, regattas, and derbies of the season. The highlight was surely the April weekend that they spent at WindsorCastle, guests of King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth. In great detail, Rose Kennedy chronicled those unforgettable days in her diary.”

Of course, this situation changed soon after WW2 (1945). In 1947, Britain lost India. In the next 15 years, British economy collapsed – in spite of the Bretton Woods crumbs. By 1970, there was no British car industry. British Steel was on the verge of closure. British film making was non-existent. British electronics was an extinct species. British shipbuilding was history.

The Bretton Woods system worked for 20 years because Indians were not allowed to buy gold. During that crucial post-colonial period, Morarji Desai, India’s finance minster (allegedly on CIA payroll during Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency 1963-1968), presented a record 10 budgets, between February 1958, up to 1967. His break with Indira Gandhi began when the Finance portfolio was taken away from him. Morarji Desai’s ban on gold imports into India, allowed the sham of Bretton Woods to continue for 20 years. His adamant attitude on gold cost the government popularity and electoral losses – and the Indian economy and Indians much more.

The collapse of Britain was noiseless. Without a sound! Much like the Spanish Empire – and the collapse of other slave societies before.

WorldWide Educational Spending

WorldWide Educational Spending

Persian was an important language – once

Many centuries ago, Indians thought that Persian was the most important language in the world. And then it became Urdu. Now there are hosannas to English. Persian and Urdu were languages that the ruling class foisted on the Indians. As is English.

Colonial India‘s English push was understandable. But, after 60 years of Independence, state patronage by the Indian Republic of English language is unwarranted – and illegitimate.

Desert Bloc colonialism

`The centres of Indian thought, Takshashila, Nalanda, etc. were destroyed by Desert Bloc invaders. First was the destruction of Takshashila.

Allegedly, by the Hunas in 499 AD – Western history calls them White Huns, Romans called them Ephtalites; Arabs called them the Haytal;  The Chinese Ye Tha, who supposedly came,

sacking monasteries and works of art, and ruining the fine Greco-Buddhic civilization which by then was five centuries old. Persian and Chinese texts agree in their descriptions of the tyranny and vandalism of this horde.” (from The Empire of the Steppes By Rene Grousset, Naomi Walford).

The Huna (Ephthalite) Empires

The Huna (Ephthalite) Empires

The White Huns, was a Central Asian, nomadic tribe, roaming between Tibet to Tashkent, practicing polyandry had no reason to do this.

Takshashila lying at the cross roads of the Uttarapatha (West calls it The Silk Route) – from Tibet, China, Central Asia, Iran – and India. The destruction of Takshashila (Taxila) meant that students and scholars needed to travel an extra 60 days, to reach other Indian universities of the time.

Mohammed Bakhtiar Khilji destroyed the universities and schools of Nalanda, Vikramshila, Odantapura and Jagddala around 1200 AD. This marked the destruction, persecution and decline in Indian education, thought and structure. 600 years later, the British further damaged the Indic system of education, with State subsidies and patronage of Western education – the watershed being Bentinck’s proclamation in 1835.

Thus, the reduced (quality and quantity) output from the ‘Indian thought factory’ led to stasis and the decline that we see today – through the prism of last 800 years of violence and destruction of Indic thought. This problem gets further magnified with the existing and continued subsidy to English language /Western education by the Indian Government.

Like many slave civilizations before, the Anglo-Saxon bloc will also see its demise – sooner than later. What will happen to Indian education after that? Will we re-invent our education to suit the new dominant economic power at that time – if it is not India at that time? Will Indian education become a puppet, playing to the ups and downs of foreign economic entities?

Historic Precedents

Will we become a nation that loses control over its future? The danger of becoming a South American clone is all too real. After, Spanish decolonization, the South American countries persisted with Spanish practices – and Spanish language. We all know how South American countries tracked the descent of Spain into dictatorships and instability.

But the Netherlands, even though under Spanish-Portuguese rule, did not give up on their language. The Dutch took up arms against Spain (a super power then) to stay Dutch. A significant mercantile and colonial power till the middle of 20th century.

The decline of the (Greco-Roman) Byzantine Empire, was similar. After the split of the Eastern Roman Empire from the Western, over the next 200-400 years, Greek language became the official language of the Byzantine Empire. Eastern Europe followed the lead of the Byzantine Empire and used Greek extensively – at a cost to their own language.

Alongside the Eastern Europe were the Jews. After Alexander’s death, under the Seleucids, the Greeks became completely Hellenized. Their loss of language closely paralleled the loss of power, security and nationhood.

Large parts of the West Asia /Levant used Farsi (Persians) and Arabic – again at the cost of their own language. All these countries lagged behind in the growth cycle. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Eastern Europe lagged Western Europe. The entire Middle East and Africa, lagged the world in growth – struggling with foreign languages.

Brain Drain & Foreign Languages

Each year, India loses more than 1,00,000 doctors, engineers, other post graduates to the West and other countries – commonly, referred to as ‘brain drain.’ These well-trained, qualified young people at the start of their productive lives are lost to the West (and others). The Indian tax-payer supports India’s higher education system to the tune of Rs.2,50,000 crores (US$60 billion). The Rest Of The World picks up these Indian assets at no cost – and the poor Indian tax payer continues to subsidize English language education which benefits the entrenched Westernized Indian elite. The cost to the Indian tax payer – US$ 2 billion, or Rs.10,000 crores annually.

The usefulness and transferability of utility would be highly reduced, if India were to completely use Indian languages in higher education. Indian investment in higher education would then start benefiting India – and the poor Indian tax payers. A recent report on ‘brain drain’ for India Government circulation did not even mention how the use of English language for higher education in India increases transferability of utility from India to richer English using academic systems – like the USA.

Indian Investment In Foreign Languages

When will we start investing in our languages and our learning? How much will we spend on learning from others? Today India spends Rs.2,50,000 crores, (more than US$60 billion) on promoting English. The UK too, spends US$60 billion on education in English. Who said anything about that India which gained Independence?

When will IIT Chennai start creating a Tamil curriculum? What is IIT Kanpur doing about creating a Hindi based technical teaching system.

India is today an US$ 1 trillion economy. The Government aims to increase spending on education to 6% of GDP. That is about US$ 60 billion. That is based on currency conversion method. The moment we use, PPP method, Indian US$60 billion soon, becomes equal to US$100-150 billion. Is that what the Indian voter is paying taxes for.

To support foreign languages?

In fact, for every discipline shown except for the social sciences, a majority of major research institutions are in the United States. Even in the social sciences a plurality of the top departments are based in the United States.

Across all disciplines shown, 80 percent of the top research departments are in the United States. The next-highest share is in Britain (light blue bars), which is host to 10 percent of the world’s top research departments.

American tertiary education dominance may not last forever, though.

The share of residents who hold doctorates is lower in the United States than in many other countries, as shown in the chart below. Indeed — partly because the rest of the American education system is so weak — many of the students attending American doctorate programs are visiting from abroad.

As other countries devote larger shares of their economies to research and development, the world’s top students may see new educational opportunities at home. And they may not bother reinfusing America’s university system with new talent. (via U.S. Still Dominates in Research Universities – NYTimes.com).

English Speaking countries are able to attract students from India and increase their levels of doctrates in the population.  |  Source: OECD (2011), Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, and OECD (2009), Education at a Glance 2009: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888932485728  |  Extract from nytimes.com

English-speaking countries are able to attract students from India and increase their levels of doctorates in the population. | Source: OECD (2011), Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, and OECD (2009), Education at a Glance 2009: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888932485728 | Extract from nytimes.com.

The Gift Of English Language

First, the great benefit of English language.

These stupid Germans, Italians, Japanese, Russians, French, Chinese – they don’t know what we know!!

English is the universal language.

All other super powers and developed countries (Japan, China, Russia, France, Germany, Italy) use their own languages. They could have been very successful (like India) if they had learnt English, talked English, walked English, read English, cooked English, washed English.

Done everything in English.

I must admit, this small, little, disloyal question keeps raising its head, in my head? Why cant the British use that great English language to lift themselves from that terminal decline?

Language As A Utility: Language:GDP Correlation

The combined GDP of the English-speaking world is 14.1 trillion (2003 figures). By a similar comparison, the next largest bloc of multi-nation, same-language speakers is the Spanish whose combined GDP is US$ 3.20 trillion. The French speaking bloc comes a poor third at US$2.20 trillion. The English speaking bloc, in spite of their temporary dominance, is still worried about the French attempts to keep its Francophone flock safe.

Of course, this data set gets skewed by the fact that the US, (currently) as the world’s largest economy is English speaking. English speaking numbers (in the world) also get inflated due to the number of Indians speaking English. Hence, Indian national policy cannot be viewed from the prism of current trade dominance. Antonio Bezerra in another paper writes,

In a 2003 article, HBS professors Pankaj Ghemawat and Rajiv Mallick show that bilateral trade increases 42% when countries share a common language. Taking Mexico as an example, such an increase in trade with the U.S. and Canada would amount to ~$150B, or ~20 percentage of their GDP. Another paper by IMF economists David Dollar and Aat Kraay indicates that this trading increase corresponds to 0.5 to 1.0 percentage GDP growth (although the cause/effect relation is not clear; Frankel and Romer are more pessimistic in this matter).

Mr.Bezerra, you are suggesting that we are all drive into the future, all the while looking at the rear-view mirror? 200 years ago, Spanish speaking population bloc was the largest GDP Bloc in the world. For some time, after the eclipse of the Spanish, the French speaking bloc and the English speaking bloc competed for dominance. Today it is English.

Language And GDP Ratios

However, this hegemony is now being supported by the Bretton Woods regime. Take away that Bretton Woods effect – and what will London’s position be in the world financial markets! Nowhere. Where will New York be, 20 years after the death of Bretton Woods? Close to nowhere?

Languages Of The Future

Brazil and Russia, with large natural resources, may become significant trading blocs! Is India ready to do business in Russian and Portuguese? Arabic is spoken across West Asia and with Swahili (which is Arabic+Bantu) is a significant language in Africa! In the future, the world will have to do more business with Africa. Is India preparing to do business in Swahili and Africa?

India itself will be significant trading centre. Are we preparing the world to do business with India? The world’s second largest GDP bloc (currently) is Japan – but obviously a geriatric Japan rules itself out. China may seem as an attractive language bloc – but if mainland China were to split into Tibet, Xinjiang and Han China, does it still remain an attractive trading bloc?

Fift years earlier

Cartoon published in Times Of India on 14th December 1958 – Fifty years earlier

Lost In Translation

I have a feeling these things are lost on Bhai Manmohan! Methinks, he is busy trying to get ‘a place at the high table in the comity of nations’, using English language to ingratiate himself.

On February 16, 2008, I read a post in Business Standard, one of India’s leading business newspaper. It carried a preview of a book by Nandan Nilekani, a business leader and director of Infosys. Nandan Nilekani says, his book traces (apart from other subjects) how India has “gone from seeing population as a burden to population as a source of human capital.” That is the good news.

Farcically, in the same breadth, Nandan holds forth on the importance of English, “how English went from being an alien imposition to the language of aspiration”. Is he implying that without English, India would have been backward like – China, Japan, Germany, Russia, Italy, Korea. In fact dear Nandan, show me one country that has become a significant entity using some other country’s language – in the last 4000 years of history. Look again Nandan, Take A Secondlook.

By 15th August, 2008, Nandan Nilekani, was invited to write for Economic Times. This time around, Nandan did not make too much on the importance of English language. This time around he wrote about,

People like Fatima and Prasad were toppers in their schools, scoring in the highest brackets in state examinations. But Prasad’s parents could only afford to send him to a government school that taught no English. He got English and soft skills training through the Jawahar Knowledge Centre initiative that the Andhra Pradesh government had started in 2004. Similarly, the Andhra Pradesh State Minorities Finance Corporation helped out with Fatima Bibi’s fees. And despite such assistance, the extreme poverty of these families meant that they had to struggle every step of the way … the reason that so many Indians remain cut off from the economy is that we have yet to fully embrace what ought to be the core idea behind reforms – expanding access. (ellipsis mine).

Fifty years earlier, RK Laxman’s cartoon made us smile. Today, the status remains as bad as 50 years ago. Today, it is no longer a smiling matter – it is tragic.

Post script

The UK, in its death throes, is using English as a last prop – to remain standing. The British PM Gordon Brown has decided that

“In total, two billion people worldwide will be learning English by 2020. But there are millions more on every continent who are still denied the chance to learn English.

“So today I want Britain to make a new gift to the world: a commitment to help anyone – however impoverished and however far away – to access the tools they need to learn English.”

Also, the British are co-opting the US in this exercise. Gordon Brown made a visit to the US to

propose that together Britain and America strive to make the international language that happens to be our own far more freely available across the world. I am today asking the British Council to develop a new initiative with private-sector and NGO partners in America, to offer anyone in any part of the world help to learn English.

But, the most interesting, was this post by a Quebecois, where he makes a case with a question ‘Is the English Language Bubble About to Burst?’ Worth a read, this post.

30 Responses

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  1. Stacey Derbinshire said, on August 13, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Hi there,

    I looked over your blog and it looks really good. Do you ever do link exchanges on your blog roll? If you do, I’d like to exchange links with you.

    Let me know if you’re interested.


  2. Galeo Rhinus said, on August 14, 2008 at 5:49 pm


    Excellent arguments.

    However don’t forget the “loyalists” include the graduates from these institutes of higher learning who insist that all “intellectual” work is done only in English…

    …the problem is deep and wide – but India might just be able to prevail in the end.

  3. Rupa Tope Joshi said, on October 3, 2008 at 6:53 am

    Brilliant and empowering arguments

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  10. priya dharshini said, on April 8, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    this site has good information. and i think india should try to prepare the world for trading with it. that is the way to improve in all the fields we could

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  15. Nationalist said, on March 6, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    Hello Mr.Sanghi,
    That being said English needs to be junked asap.
    But the fact remains that processes in India are now
    in English and Indians might now be disinclined to move towards
    Sanskrit or a new home made Apbhransh.
    Also How do people from multiple states converge on a single
    Indian language? I see opposition all around.
    The solution might be to start propagating Sanskrit which is
    the mother language through Private initiatives and aim for
    a geometric growth till the point a strong ruler is elected.
    Whats your take on which language should replace english?

  16. Anuraag Sanghi said, on March 7, 2010 at 8:31 am

    Why should anyone decide that there should be a single language?

    Indian has, can, and will live with multiple languages. If we can learn a foreign language like English, where is the difficulty of learning an Indian language.

    The second point is the bit about a ‘strong’ ruler!

    What India needs is freedom for its people – and we need a leader who is strong enough to give freedom to Indians. Unlike our current leaders, who are afraid of giving ‘full’ freedom to Indians. While India’s partially free, what Indians need is greater freedom. Freedom from ‘strong’ people – who impose their will on Indians.

  17. Nationalist said, on March 7, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Thanks for your response Mr.Sanghi.
    I rephrase strong ruler to mean a strong leadership, a strong Indian leadership , I did not mean a Imperious despot who imposes his will. People can get accorded more freedom only by a strong leadership, one that has a vision, a Indian vision for its people not something borrowed.
    Multiple languages can stay, will always stay but unless you have a google translate like technology all pervading , there will be a need for a single Unifying Indian language or were stuck with English for eternity.
    Think about it there are 23 official languages in India. Would anyone be willing to learn 23 languages. Would a person in Mizoram communicate with a Tamil person.
    There is no glue in between except for their Indian-ness. The Indian-ness that has to be nurtured.

  18. Galeo Rhinus said, on March 9, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    India always had a dual model – which allowed its people to embrace diversity yet – maintain the identity of the nation.

    I think India is stuck between two extremes – first, the European model – which is incapable of understanding diversity – and second – a diluted definition of India – where diversity is promoted at the cost of the common threads that run through India.

    At various levels – India had shown how to embrace diversity without sacrificing unity. A simple example is “dharma” – which represented the constitution and legal frameworks – that were highly customized to local cultures… as long as these “laws” were not in contradiction to “dharma” they were acceptable… it was “dharma” that was the common thread.

    A different example – calendars. India always had several calendars during varying times which were adapted and adopted locally… however – India was the only country where all the calendars used a daily counter – that started from the zeroth day of kali yuga. This allowed for the standardization of the sidereal calendar – despite having several localized calendars.

    Same goes for language… India always had multiple languages… in fact – this diversity is embraced in several samskrita shlokas.

    Yet – it was samskritam that bound India together.

    Yes – a common language – is a absolutely something India had. Yet – it was always a language that some people chose as their first and some as their second language.. it was an option… and it served to share stories, ideas, culture and the sciences amongst the people.

    India needs a replacement for English to be that second language…. and until Sanskrit is resurrected – Hindi could work as a place holder.

    In fact – in many ways – Hindi has become such a placeholder… it is simply a question of acknowledging it.

    Unfortunately – again the people who refuse Hindi – fall into these two extreme categories… either they are anglo philes – or those obsessed with diluting the Indic heritage…. both serve to weaken the Indic identity…

    • masculineffort said, on March 24, 2013 at 1:49 pm

      Parag, I think Sanskrit is one language no indian will have an objection to being made a national language. Even the Tamils would have no objection. But resurrecting Sanskrit is a gargantuan project. It is not the same as resurrecting Hebrew which Israel was able to do since it had a small population. How the hell are we ever going to succeed at resurrecting Sanskrit? The thought of my grandchildren solving physics problems in Sanskrit is the stuff of my *censored* dreams.

  19. delroy said, on October 15, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    This article was written in english. Ironically enough.

  20. samadhyayi said, on October 19, 2010 at 7:01 am

    yah sach hai. tum bhi english mey hi likh rahe ho.
    kab aayega tumhari blog hindhi mey.

  21. saurav said, on January 25, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Dear Anurag,

    Would a nationwide adoption of SANSKRIT language help?. It might take some time but it can unify the nation into a common language?

  22. […] Silent ships in the dark Between the World Wars, (1919-1939), Britain was the unquestioned super power in the world. Diplomats lobbied to get postings to Britain. "In December 1937, Joseph Kennedy, father of the future President, John F. Kennedy, was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. It was among the most prestigious of all the diplomatic posts—one he had lobbied for over many months. … In London, the American Ambassador and his wife … Read More […]

  23. p p (@pinkyp18) said, on June 9, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    Don’t you think, if education is completely privatized, craze for English would increase even more?

    Majority of wealthy Indians sent their children to English Medium schools. If hindi and sanskrit are not being forced by the government, would Indians care to give any importance to them?

    Isn’t this relating to our colonial mindset – which makes us ape for anything western?

    • Anuraag Sanghi said, on June 14, 2012 at 5:41 pm

      Three points:

      One: If indeed people do want to study English more, who and why should anyone stop them? People will have their reasons for doing that.

      Two: After private channels were allowed into TV broadcasting, with the onslaught of Hollywood content; like Bold and Beautiful, people predicted the end of Indian television. The opposite happened.

      Three: We my see aa lot of wealthy Indians become less wealthy – and a lot of poor Indians do well without the imposition of English.

      For one all these IIT-types, which Indian breeds only to support Anglo-Saxon multinationals, will see a bigger market in India – and a smaller market abroad.

      Wherever a foreign language has taken over, that civilization has been devastated.

      Africa has paid a price for wide-scale acceptance of Arabic.

      Ditto for Iran.

      England itself had to reject French in the 18th century – before they became a global power.

  24. admin said, on June 14, 2012 at 9:02 pm

  25. masculineffort said, on March 24, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Had India split into many countries, several of our languages might have survived and evolved as scientific languages. English was chosen for no other reason other than that Hindi was not palatable to the South Indians and the north Indians were in no mood to learn physics in Telugu or Tamil. English was the compromise to keep India as one country. Imagine if Vietnam, cambodia and Laos decided to go it as one country. They would still be using French. As it happens they are separate countries using their own languages. Perhaps we should have been several different countries. It might have been better for our languages

  26. masculineffort said, on February 26, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    My friend teaches science in Tamil in the Aurobindo Ashram. To teach the kids he by- hearted several Tamil equivalents of scientific terms. The tragedy is that even mono-lingual Tamil speakers are not familiar with what the Tamil words for scientific terms such as Gravity, flux, charge, induction, integral etc are. These words actually exist. As for words like Electromagnetics, vectors, scalars there are none. Same in Hindi. So he teaches in Tamil and uses English terms and the kids are more comfortable with English terms. They all understand the English word Gravity. They just don’t know what gravity is in Tamil.

    Part of me wants to agree with Parag. I don’t know how. But we might just end up prevailing in the end. After all, who has seen the Future.

  27. Manish said, on July 10, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    What many people who put forth this argument overlook the fact that India was the worlds largest economy upto only like 150 years ago – thats just about two generations worth!! this was all done with Indian languages!! and yes the british, french, portugese and other languages still traded with India!!. (and will continue to do so in the future – its a huge market!)

    for successful trade the first language is the language of wealth (not necessarily money as barter is still prevelant on smaller scales); so the question is whats needed to reverse 150 years worth of rot in a 4000+ years of history? Me thinks its the acceptance that a unifying language is a bogus argument and embracing our mother tongues with gusto and pride!! while also picking up other language skills – enough to do trade not to write grammatically correct literary masterpeices.

    I would like to mention that Sanskrit could/should be the unifying language for all types of research, all Indian languages draw from this one so understanding/translation will be simplified, and for instances where words do not exist – well they never existed in english either so they need to be assimilated in a meaningful manner.

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