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Language Imperialism

In Blogroll on June 10, 2010 by sheki Tagged: , , , , ,

Recently I was reading No Full Stops in India by Mark Tully, he discusses a lot about Cultural Imperialism of the British which continued in India in various forms like IAS, English medium schools and disrespect for Indian art and culture. He vehemently argues that education in India should be in the native language and not in English. Adopting English as a medium of communication has only led to stunted growth of Indian languages. His arguments do strike a bell, he gives an example – yoga which lost its importance in India post independence has grown back into the cities once it was adopted by the west. But does cultural imperialism and which is largely dependent on the language still hold significance today.

But these arguments made sense back in 1989 when the book was written. But a lot of world changing processes have shaped the world since primarily – the Indian liberalization,  collapse of communism, rise of China. It can be inferred from these events that capitalism has emerged victorious and all aspects of life will be defined by free market rules in some form. What I am interested is how culture in specific language is being effected by this victory of capitalism.

One would see signs of this in India itself, after the world has been Bangalored, the BPO and IT industry which has spearheaded India’s economic revolution was based on the advantage that India had English speaking labor force. No one now debates weather we need to have English as a part of our education, it is an assumed wanted given our place in the global economy. To cope up with this challenge from India, China is training people in English at a frenetic rate.

I have generated this small map to have a look at this so called Language Imperialism:

Language based world map

The region in Blue are the English speaking nations of the world. You can make the rest out by the help of basic geography – there is Japan, China, India, the Portuguese speaking Portugal and Brazil, Mexico and the Euro zone countries Germany, France, Spain and Italy.

The language wise GDP of the world is as follows (calculated according to IMF 2009 report)

Language or Country GPD in thousand million USD
English speaking countries excluding India 17555
Japan 5068
China 4908
German speaking countries Germany and Austria 3733
French Speaking Areas 2675
Italy 2188
Portuguese (Brazil and Portugal) 1801
Spain 1464
India 1235
Russia 1229
Mexico 875
Korea 832

Now if we see that English is the market leader, the best bet to challenge this dominating position would be Japanese and German. Now these countries have for long have had a economy which has preserved their language and in turn developed the languages. China cannot be considered a market challenger because language in China itself is segmented, different regions speaking different languages and also because China is trying to copy the US, it is teaching its labor English, it is more of a follower.

India is a specific case as it definitely does not have one single language to challenge this position, Hindi came close to being the one if not for weakness shown by the Nehru government and the subsequent Dravidian movement of Tamil Nadu and India has the largest English speaking populace out of the native English speaking countries, therefore  India is not a challenger at all, it is almost a convert.

Now there are other language based economies, none of  them pose a serious threat.

Coming to the main point of this blog, because of the dominance in free markets of the English language, more and more economies will adopt English and English will become the global language apart from these there will be a lot of convert nations – a lot of them in Africa and Latin America, which will neglect their own language (also culture) and adopt English. We can see signs of this with the larger number of people learning English in most of the third world countries. English music is becoming popular again thanks to the market reasons, technology which is the biggest export of the English speaking world is making English more popular and acceptable.

A lot of the technical terms are English and have no word for it in the importing country. “Internet” and “Computer” are a few such terms. Rapid usage of English in India has stunted the growth of other languages in India – the word “internet” cannot be written as it is pronounced in Hindi but still it is adopted into Hindi than having a new word for it. The area “Lower Parel” in Bombay is Lower Parel written in Hindi, why cant there be a term for it in Hindi may be like  “Nichla Parel”. This might not be the case only in India, there a lot of  countries which will be converted in the future and then we will have a lot of “Zombie languages” –  languages in which small talk can be made but it becomes inadequate as the technicality and complexity of the subject increases. I would consider a lot of regional Indian languages in that category, they either have to borrow from Hindi or English to fulfill their deficiencies.

The safer languages are the ones with the challengers, Japanese and German, the languages with lower GDP will go first. Ultimately in the free market of the world I believe even Japanese and German will give up.

This seems to be great proposition for English as it will be borrowing a lot from the languages it tends to wipe out, and in the way becoming the truly global language.

So the conclusion can be capitalism causes imperialism in many indirect ways.

Please comment.

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