Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Death Of English Language

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 Windsor Castle, 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.

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 hosanas 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.

Like many slave civilizations before, the Anglo Saxon bloc will also see its demise - sooner rather 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.

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. 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 lagged the world in growth from the 19th century to the 19th century - 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.25,000 crores (US$6 billion). The Rest Of The World picks up these Indian assets at no cost - and the poor Indian tax payer continues to subsidize English language education which benefits the entrenched Westernized Indian elite. The cost to the Indian tax payer - US$ 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.2,40,000 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 a 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?

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 respective 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 by 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.

However, this hegemony is being currently 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 prepared 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 appear 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?

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).

Attaboy, Nandan! Yes! India's focus on English creates a culture of exclusion and limits access - which is what the British wanted and post-colonial India continues with!

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