English Tongue

Source: Google

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Up Front

Robert King points out that language is a natural fracture across communities, and it has formed a big part of arguments around identity and self expression. Ireland’s struggle to revive the Irish language during the fight for independence, the resurrection of the near extinct Hebrew language in Israel and most recently the debates over government recognition of Spanish in United States, all point out how closely people associate identity and community rights with language.

English, a transplanted, Anglo Saxon tongue, has survived as a language of power and upward mobility. The language of English, with its culture and ethnicity,  is universal. It is widely regarded as the first lingua franca. To many, English was the language of free thinkers and radicals like Chaucer and Shakespeare.
Linguists of today now suggest that English has replaced German as the dominant language of science, and it may have surpassed French as the dominant language of diplomacy during the last half of the nineteenth century.  When Pope John Paul II arrived in Middle East to address Christians, Muslims and Jews, the pontiff spoke not Italian, not his native Polish, but English. It is used in over ninety countries as an official or semi official language.
For many years, English was regarded as a language of the ‘colonial relic,’ a language of the ships and traders. It was seen as a port language, a tongue spoken among merchants, in olden times. It came to places like India from Europe’s ships. In a colonial vassal like India, the blending of elaborated English literature  with an explicitly Indian identity is something Macaulay did not want from his English education policy. For instance, he was uncomfortable with the performance of Shakespeare in Indian schools, saying that, ‘ I can conceive of nothing more grotesque than the scene from the Merchant of Venice, with Portia represented by a black Indian boy.’ Today, however, we should no longer recall the racial slurs against English literate Indians because times have changed.
English, as a language, was consequently viewed as a tool of imperialism, which the British were using to assert their authority over its vassals – it symbolised servility and meekness. However, today, English is no longer a British tongue. It is now more than the language of international business, and a powerful key in opening up of geographical borders and gaining access to markets. It is the language of science and research, with ninety percent of scientific journals and papers written in English. It dominates the chatter of the Information Age – eighty per cent of the worldwide web is in the English language. It has spread widely – to cinema, radio and television. It has been estimated that within a decade, half the world’s population will have some skill in English. It is also believed that over one billion people on the planet are learning the English language.
A commitment towards learning English was part of China’s bid to host the recent Olympic Games, to the point that taxi drivers who failed an English test did not have their permits renewed and hotlines were set up to report incorrect English use in public spaces. Most countries are fast recognising English’s role as a world language, and besides China, nations such as Japan, South Korea and Indonesia are including English as a compulsory language in their schools and setting up English immersion camps for students. It has even acquired a role as a language of institutions - the language of ASEAN and European Central Bank is English.
English, as a language, also has an economic relevance especially in developing nations like India. With globalisation and the rise of IT/BPO, language policy across the Indian States has responded well to public pressures for the usage of English language. India’s National Commission also underscored the advantage of English in Indian employment and higher education and recommended that ‘English should be taught from Class I’ across the country. Roy has gone as far as to remark, ‘So long as the English language is universal, it will remain Indian.’
For a place like Jammu & Kashmir, all State schools have become English-medium institutions. In earlier times, the language of English received a back clash and anger from Hindu nationalists. In post-independence India, it was regarded as a tongue of exclusion and snobbery, a password to connect with other rituals, uttered mainly in the posh clubs and the rarefied social circles of Calcutta. Indian writers such as Amitav Ghosh, who now has attained a novelty status in English literature, was once called a ‘maverick’ and a ‘dissenter’ due to hecklings at his readings from people who demanded him to write in his mother language.
To whatextentd, should we cater towards language chauvinism? Personally, languages are conventional symbols of communication, let them flourish to their best interests. But at the same time, we should also recognise the virtues of learning an universal language - English, for quiet some time, is undisputed. 


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