DEDICATED TO DR SIGMA SATISH!!
Full credit for provoking me, may be in a gentle suave feminine manner, to come out with this specific blog is for one of my latest discoveries on the social medium FB viz. @Dr Sigma Satish.
She, no doubt a PhD holder in English Literature on some author, prodded me with a query about what the English language may contain that would, once for all, prove it to the layman in the street to be superior to its Literature!
I chuckled– or chortled as Lewis Carroll might put it!–on hearing this because I happen to have ‘placed’ English Literature where it truly belongs –as something intended for entertainment and edification , and which made extensive use of a specific and specialized lexical register called the Literary register!
HOW I TURNED A ‘LANGUAGE MAN’!
[I had enrolled myself for MA in English Language and Literature not at the college where I had graduated from in Chemistry basically because I sensed the relative irrelevance of Old English optional offered in that college for the PG program. Instead I joined the University Department of English where a new specialization was being offered viz. English Language Teaching. This is how I fell in love with a down-to-earth skill-based learner-benefiting subject specialty, and which I chose as my lifelong companion too later at EFLU]
Any language, I knew from my sunny EFLU days, is an orange and its literature, however world class and however thought-inspiring it may be, can claim ONLY to be part of that language at best since there are many kinds of language in prevalence. This apt comparison had been used by a person no less than Dr SK Verma, the VC of the EFLU to us PGDTE participants in 1976.
Modern India, to put it without varnish and rather bluntly, CAN live very well without English literature (which is actually a luxury) but not at all without the English language which happens to be, thanks to historical circumstances perhaps, the darling of the whole world basically because it represents power at all levels—in business, in finance, in negotiation, in technology, in IT, in politics and in research.
All PC commands, just as the language of banking and higher finance and business, happen to be in English. The moment you speak in English in a country where the native language is NOT that language you command a level of respect that you yourself may be shocked by!
And many common English words and expressions are understood by natives in former British colonies too without too much mental strain. This has happened because the British insisted on reforming the benighted in her colonies through English education at school and college levels probably in the hope of ensuring them to turn lifelong devotees of the British culture and social mores!
Mind you English language achieved this World Language status in the teeth of opposition from Chinese and Arabic at least, if not Russian also!
LITERATURE IS A LUXURY, BUT LANGUAGE?
At most colleges across India what you can easily observe is that young people seek to join the BA English program basically because of many disparate motives.
Many girls jostle to join the BA in some subject that would exert only moderate mental strain on them—i.e. without demanding them to do any laboratory work and submit record of what they did in time!–and they invariably see the English BA as a glamor scenario. Its only when they reach their final year in BA that they realize that they have barely touched the surface of this language, its vastness and depth and also of its remarkable possibilities.
While some may have plans to go into civil services, some others are content to become school or college teachers and some may think they can perform belter since they know English well enough.
This last aspiration is very often bellied by the fact that what they g et to learn is ,instead of spoken and written English skills they get pumped into with an abominable quantum of English literature such as Shakespeare’s plays , modern and ancient poetry and many novels of the Victorian Era!.
Today with the last British man gone from our soil here in India, we need English mainly for playing tis role as a lingua franca extra ordinary for us Indians across all our 29 States.
We need it for performing in MNC interviews and for passing competitive grueling competitive tests leading to well salaried positions carrying much authority. We can’t live without studying it for average success in our individual lives AND for fulfilling our personal dreams of a better more expansive lifestyle.
English Literature as such has been properly ‘placed’ today even in Britain as an Optional subject rather than as something without which the British can’t survive. At Cambridge University for example, Shakespeare’s plays and poems are an elective rather than a compulsory.
We need it also for obtaining a far higher monthly income from many parallel careers at the same time—acting anchoring compering and dialogue dubbing for instance in addition to one’s routine job–than from many other occupations. I myself carried two careers at the same time for many years at a stretch-as a trainer in language outside the campus and as an English literature teacher inside it for my regular students in various courses!
The Anglo Saxon tongue known as English is what can lead us from the rags to riches if only we have within us both an adequately strong drive to master its intricacies and also enough academic input to satisfy those that need its various linked specialties such as TEFL and TESOL, Phonetics Linguistics, Phonotactics, Phonology, Applied Linguistics, Socio and Psycho linguistics, remediation technology (in which I specialized ) and Etymology in addition to Syntax, Error Analysis ,Vocabulary and Semantics!
Macaulay’s “Minute Upon Indian Education”, as stated in Wikipedia, has an explanation for this overemphasis on English Literature across India.
To remove all doubt, however, Macaulay produced and circulated a Minute on the subject. Macaulay argued that support for the publication of books in Sanskrit and Arabic should be withdrawn, support for traditional education should be reduced to funding for the Madrassa at Delhi and the Hindu College at Benares, but students should no longer be paid to study at these establishments. The money released by these steps should instead go to fund education in Western subjects, with English as the language of instruction.
He summarized his argument:
To sum up what I have said, I think it is clear that we are not fettered by the Act of Parliament of 1813; that we are not fettered by any pledge expressed or implied; that we are free to employ our funds as we choose; that we ought to employ them in teaching what is best worth knowing; that English is better worth knowing than Sanskrit or Arabic; that the natives are desirous to be taught English, and are not desirous to be taught Sanskrit or Arabic; that neither as the languages of law, nor as the languages of religion, have the Sanskrit and Arabic any peculiar claim to our engagement; that it is possible to make natives of this country thoroughly good English scholars, and that to this end our efforts ought to be directed.
Macaulay’s comparison of Arabic and Sanskrit literature to what was available in English is forceful, colorful, and nowadays often quoted against him.
I have conversed both here and at home with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. …. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. Honors might be roughly even in works of the imagination, such as poetry, but when we pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded, and general principles investigated, the superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable.”
He returned to the comparison later:
Whoever knows [English] has ready access to all the vast intellectual wealth, which all the wisest nations of the earth have created and hoarded in the course of ninety generations. It may be safely said, that the literature now extant in that language is of far greater value than all the literature which three hundred years ago was extant in all the languages of the world together.
“The question now before us is simply whether, when it is in our power to teach this language, we shall teach languages, by which, by universal confession, there are not books on any subject which deserve to be compared to our own; whether, when we can teach European science, we shall teach systems which, by universal confession, whenever they differ from those of Europe, differ for the worse; and whether, when we can patronize sound Philosophy and true History, we shall countenance, at the public expense, medical doctrines, which would disgrace an English farrier, –Astronomy, which would move laughter in girls at an English boarding school,–History, abounding with kings thirty feet high, and reigns thirty thousand years long,–and Geography, made up of seas of treacle and seas of butter.
Mass education would be (in the fullness of time) by the class of Anglicized Indians the new policy should produce, and by the means of vernacular dialects:
In one point I fully agree with the gentlemen to whose general views I am opposed. I feel with them, that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people.
We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population” [My underlining]
WHAT THE VICEROY LEFT UNSAID!
This is what Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay left unsaid out of Victorian courtesy I think when enunciating his grand—and grandiose – vision of how to ensure a 1000 year long governance of all British Colonies including that in the so called “Jewel of the Crown”— India:
“So you can be molded over your formative years into State-approved homogeneous drones that can’t think outside of the London-designed and British-prescribed consensus. You will, as Indian natives fated to live out your worthless lives in a British colony, learn to parrot like repeat information as taught to you by us instead of thinking till death for your own selves!
“That way we, your British overlords and key decision makers behind the perpetuation of your life and happiness can sleep in peace, totally convinced that you won’t pose a deadly existential threat to us on the one hand and that you won’t threaten the status quo we would like to maintain all over the land while we can loot and plunder on the sly from you!
“When you graduate after imbibing all our British ways in faraway Britain, and when we are satisfied that you would fit neatly into the slots we have kept aside for you as our lifelong devotees– and unwitting accomplices to what we are engaged in and traitors to your own future generations– you shall be paid something to sustain yourselves upon in a genteel manner!
“Pay your taxes to the British Crown in order to perpetuate the corporate system of indentured servitude for your political overlords-that’s US!”