DIVERSITY AND LINGUISTIC IDENTITIES IN INDIA 1
looking at India’s linguistic landscape one is struck by India’s linguistic
diversity : hundreds of spoken idioms, well over a dozen of them with
writing and written literary tradition and about half of a dozen language
families in which to classify them. The boundary between language
families (as with Oriya and Telugu) is so much sharper than within
a single family (as with Oriya and Bangla). Correspondingly, mutual
intelligibility is not possible across families but is at least minimally
possible within a family. Linguistic differences are linked not only
with geographical differences (as with costal and inland Oriya or
with Marathi heartland and central and south Indian Marathi speaking
groups but also with coexisting groups within a single area (as with
Oriya and Orissa’s tribal languages or with Christian, Saraswat and
Gavada groups of Konkani-speakers in Goa) and with sex and age divisions
(as with the conservative speech of females and elderly males and
the assimilative and innovative speech of younger males among Urdu
Recognizing diversity in this fashion
is then recognizing gross and subtle differences of identity. Speaking
Telugu rather than Oriya is not simply using diverse word forms and
sentence forms but indeed understanding the world around oneself in
subtly different ways. That is why translating from Telugu to Oriya
will be more complicated than translating from Bangla to Oriya. Linguistic
diversity is linked not only with geographical or social segregation
but also with cultural diversity.
The picture changes when one looks
not at India’s linguistic landscape but at India’s linguistic history.
One is now struck not only by linguistic continuity but also by linguistic
convergence. Certain word forms and sentence forms are taken over
form the inherited speech form to a borrowed speech form (as in a
Dakhani speaker’s Dakhani-coloured Kannada ) or from a borrowed speech
form to the inherited speech form (as in a Kannada-knowing Dakhani
speaker’s Kannada–coloured Dakhani) or from a borrowed link language
to the various inherited languages linked by it (as with Sanskrit
Persian, Hindi-Urdu, or English
borrowings shared by various Indian languages) or the other way round
(as with Hindi, Bangla, Kannada , Newari versions of spoken Sanskrit).
In the West, bilingualism is the exception; in India it is the rule.
The emergence of all-India vocabularies in each historical period;
Vedic, Puranic, or Quranic recitations; Asokan inscriptions; communications
at centres of trade, pilgrimage, administration, or higher learning;
and the emergence of Sanskrit, Prakrit, Indo-Persian or Indo-English
written literary traditions- all testify to this multilingual way
of life. Again in the West obsolescence and replacement is the rule
of life; in India nothing ever becomes wholly obsolete. Kanyakumari
Muslim Tamil preserves an Arabic phoneme (namely the e-sound modified by throat tightening) that has disappeared
from the Arab world! Linguistic continuity reinforces linguistic convergence.
Recognizing convergence in India’s
linguistic history is then recognizing not so much an ignoring out
of differences of identity as the emergence of fresh all-India linguistic
identity. Translating from Telugu to Oriya may be complicated, but
translating from English or Arabic to Oriya will be even more complicated.
Linguistic convergence across linguistic diversity is linked not only
with social aggregation but also with cultural affinity. Being an
Indian (or being a citizen of any of the South Asian countries, for
that matter) is sharing a long history that is separate from South
West Asian or European history.
To sum up, linguistic diversity and
linguistic convergence are both differing patterns of linguistic identity,
which are in turn embedded in patterns of social identity and cultural
identity. To use a language is to participate in a social fabric and
to share a culture-bound way of life.
All this was a necessary preamble to
my argument for diversity, because in modern times diversity, linguistic
or otherwise, is too often looked upon with suspicion; it is seen
as an embarrassment if not a nuisance and an encumbrance if not an
obstacle to progress and unity in the modern search for trading blocks
and power blocks and for the circulation of information technologies
and ideologies. But then why did Gandhiji go against the grain when
he uttered these words? He said:
‘I want the cultures of all the lands
to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to
be blown off my feet by any… I would have our young men and women…
to learn as much of English and other world languages as they like,
and then expect them to give the benefits of their learning to India
and to the world…. But I would not have a single Indian to forget,
neglect or be ashamed of his mother tongue, or to feel that he or
she cannot think or express the best thoughts in his or own vernacular’.
(English learning. Young
are ringing words and we can forget them only at our peril. Without
a keen awareness of their import, globalization will be no mere concealed
Westernization for the convenience of Western economic and political
powers. With such a clear awareness, globalization will be no less
than an opportunity for convergence of diversity on a global scale,
the fulfillment of an old human dream dating back to the ancient empires,
to the classical languages and literatures, and to the universalizing
religions, the dream of true catholicity. It will be difficult to
think of a better summation of the twin themes of linguistic diversity
and identity than these words of Gandhiji.
Let us connect this thought with another.
The importance of biodiversity is rightly being dwelt upon in our
present age, which threatens biodiversity. The present age also threatens
cultural and linguistic diversity. Ethnodiversity is as important
to the life of human kind as biodiversity is to the life on this earth.
Let the world languages and cultures enrich the Indian civilization
and at the same time (as Vivekanand reminded us) let the Indian languages
and cultures enrich human civilization (even as these have enriched
one another within the composite Indian civilization.
Language, literature, and shared culture
all go with a community of people interacting with one another in
a sustained manner. Segregation of people makes for segregation of
language, literature, and culture. Aggregation of peoples may lead
to assimilation and integration, but it certainly cannot over come
linguistic, literary, and cultural diversity. (The United Kingdom
certainly effected a parallel assimilation and integration of the
Welsh, Scottish, Irish and English peoples but still remained as disunited
as ever!) Such is the human extension of biodiversity.
What is culture? With out proposing
a formal definition, let me call a linguistic episode. Around the
turn of the 20th century, some Indians thought of ‘translating’
the concept of culture from West to their own languages. Bangla speakers
came up with the term krish¶i, thus preserving the original agricultural metaphor.
Tagore was not too happy with this choice and consulted Dr. P.L.Vaidya,
who taught Sanskrit at Fergussion College in Pune and who informed
him that Marathi speakers were quite content with the coinage saṁskriti
made by the historian and thinker, Vishwanath Rajwade. Tagore liked
the coinage, adopted it, and helped making it another all India word.
Instead o making a ‘faithful’ translation, Rajwade creatively adapted
the traditional concepts of saṁskֹāra, the trace, good or bad, conscious or unconscious, indigenous
or alien, left on a person by his experience of the surrounding environment,
especially the surrounding human environment. Such traces of impressions
admit of accumulation (saṁchita) or loss (lopa) or recovery (sthitisthāpana). Culture is the totality of saṁskāras ; thus, saṁskriti
ends up being a much richer concept of culture!
Language is an important vehicle for
the transfer of saṁskāras
or impressions from the speaker (or writer) to the listener (or
reader). Language, however, is not merely a vehicle of communication
or transfer of messages, but it also serves to give shape to the contents
of what is being conveyed. Such is the case, because the speaker is
also conducting an inward dialogue with the self and including a like
inward dialogue in the listener. So the growth and development of
language goes hand in with the growth and development of the culture
which that language serves. Indeed, sometimes even a single expression
in frequent use may come to be seen as revelatory of a culture—thus,
the Asamiya expression lāhe lāhe (in a leisurely manner) tells us something
about this culture even as the Americanisms ‘buy an idea ‘or’ sell
an idea’ tell us about that culture. Language is thus as much a medium
of cognition as it is a vehicle of communication. No wonder then that
it is through language that a people keep negotiating with the impressions
they keep gathering all the time from all sides. They will, then do
so from a position of strength and confidence and with a readiness
to accept or reject them after due scrutiny. They will, to recall
Gandhiji’s angry words, simply, ‘refuse to live in other people’s
houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave’.
Literature in the present context is
not only poetry and other imaginative texts but also the literature
of ideas and debate and the literature of spiritual sustenance. In
this large sense, literature is the whole body of texts available
to a people which they consider memorable enough to go over repeatedly
is our traditional for this activity) and share in common. Of
course, some new texts keep adding to this repertory and some old
texts get subtracted from it. Literature, then, is not only sustained
by language and culture between them but also serves to sustain in
It is high that we learn to associate
diversity, linguistic or otherwise, with enrichment and enlargement
of the gene pool of concepts, ideas and norms of life and with the
emergence and stabilizing of new genes of this kind in interaction
with the environmental niche of each bio community of social groups
and cultural affinities. Concepts, ideas, and norms of life are not
churned out by thinking machines but fashioned into being by thinking
creatures living out their lives in specific human and natural environments.
India is not just a museum of languages and cultures, rather it is
a laboratory of changing and shifting linguistic and cultural norms.
Any account of linguistic identity
in India will therefore remain incomplete until one has considered
both various sub-identities within India the over all Indian identity.
What we purpose to do here is to begin
by considering by way of a case study one such regional sub –identity
–indeed, regional identities in India have a promising future, the
continuing promise of mutual enrichment. Then we proceed to round
off the discussion by considering the single, over all, composite
Indian identity in its linguistic aspect.
I shall take up the region and the
regional language I am most familiar with, namely, the region of Maharashtra
and Marathi language. What one has to say about these can also be
matched by a similar examination of other regions and other languages
– Orissa and Oriya, for instance. In one sense, they are all variations
on the Indian theme. Thus Marathi, Oriya, Telugu, or Manipuri are
all characteristically Indian languages, in spite of their distinct
historical affiliations. In another sense, the Indian theme is an
orchestration of the regional themes. Indian-ness of thought and culture,
for example, can hardly be conceived in a trans-regional vacuum, as
the orientalists and antiquarians have sought in vain to do.
‘How to save Marathi?’ has lately been
the refrain in many spoken and printed presentations and discussions
at popular as well as more serious levels of communication. Marathi
is felt to be losing ground to Hindi and English. But the less kind
but more relevant question still remains to be asked: ‘Why save Marathi?’
What is it that one saves by saving Marathi? To save Marathi is to
save the language the literature, and the culture embodied in these
two, all three associated with a certain region. One should begin
by asking: How has this peculiar state of affairs come into being?
How and when did the Marathi language
come into existence? One mustn’t forget language constantly changes
over time –not too rapidly, otherwise the change will disrupt communication
between grandparent and grandchild. Pronunciation, vocabulary, even
grammar evince steady drift and, occasionally, sudden shift. A language
spoken by a small population over a limited area may sometimes come
to be spoken by a large population occupying a large area, thanks
to population growth and migration. In that case the language does
not change uniformly over all the regions. This results in regional
varieties and along with them regional identities. That is how the
Old Indo-Aryan (or Indic) speech of which Sanskrit happened to be
a literary version gave rise to regional varieties of Middle Indo-Aryan
speech, which in a step by step manner split into North western, Western,
South western, Eastern and Central varieties. The Prakrits are no
more than a literary version of Middle Indo-Aryan speech and like
their predecessor Sanskrit out lasted the respective speech forms.
The South western speech differentiated into Marathi and Konkani.
This regionalization of the Indian
civilization as it stands today was shaped by the decay of cities
(the 4th to be the 10th centuries of the Christian
Era). That is the time when India truly became a country of villages,
not a sign of glory but a sign of decay. There was a partial restoration
of cities and city culture subsequently (the 11th to the
15th centuries). (Incidentally, one must point out that
a healthy civilization calls for a proper balance of the rural and
the urban even as a balanced diet includes both carbohydrates and
proteins. Such was the case with the classical period of Indian civilization
from the 5th century BC to the 4th century CE.
An excess in either direction produces it own serious problems). The
rise of linguistic regions as they stand today was probably also the
time when the case system became stable if not rigid. Even today the
language identity of a person takes precedence on the whole over the
caste identity. For example, a person identified as a Vokkaliga in
Karnataka will be identified simply as a Kannadiga out side Karnataka
(unless of course someone is carefully calculating voting probabilities
in an election). The Marathi language, like Marathi culture, shows
a blend between the North and the South. The base of pronunciation,
vocabulary, and grammar is Indo—Aryan and so Northern, but these are
all permeated by a Dravidian and thus, Southern under layer; the sentence
tones, for example, are more like Kannada and Telugu than like Gujarati
or Hindi; there is a larger proportion of Dravidian elements in Marathi
vocabulary than in Gujarati or Hindi; and many verb roots have a negative
from (dei ‘he gives’, nedi ‘he does not give’), which
is a Dravidian habit.
The recognition of the Marathi language
as a literary medium has not been without problems. Marathi has through
out kept up a struggle for identity. In medieval times, it faced a
challenge from Sanskrit with which bhakti poets like Jṅānashwar,
Mahādambā, Eknāth had to contend. The Mah ānubhāva
sect’s initiative in Marathi prose, commentaries and hagiographies,
had nobody to follow suit. Later, Marathi faced the challenge from
Perso-Arabic vocabulary: in state papers and political correspondence,
the percentage of Perso-Arabic borrowings reached 85 percent in 1628
before it was brought down to 6 per cent in 1728 thanks to shivaji’s
initiative in nativizing the vocabulary of state craft by having by
having a lexicon and a book of standing orders compiled. Nearing our
times, Marathi has to maintain its own against English and more recently,
against Hindi. On the whole, one must point out, the Marathi language
and literature have thrived
from this struggle. Most notably, jnāneshwar fashioned Marathi
not merely into a lyrical medium of bhakti but alternately
into a poetic medium of philosophical argument towards man’s spiritual
life. Again, the 19th century saw the rise of a vigorous
prose of ideas and debare modeled on Sanskrit or English rhetoric,
Sanskrit all along and English in modern times have been freely plundered
for the vocabulary of tradition and modernity respectively. The borrowings
from Perso-Arabic and English often take the form of translating the
foreign word: thus, ājñāpatra for hukumnāmā,
shaili for ‘style’. Rendering ‘culture’ as saṁskriti is
a happy example of creative translation. The borrowings from Perso-Arabic
extend beyond Islamic doctrine and practices, statecraft and law to
new found bio facts, artifacts, and mentifacts (bulbul, kāgad,
sarbat, tārikh, ārām.dasti, jamānā, nashīb).
The culture of the Marathi speaking people has thus come to be as
much a composite culture as the culture of Indians is composite.
Other circumstances too have affected
the shaping of the Marathi linguistic, literary, and cultural identity:
(1) The struggle between the Brahmanic-vedic culture and thought and
the Sramanic-non-vedic culture and thought has worked creatively in
Maharashtra. In the pattern of worship the relation between the worshipper
and the worshipped (be that god, saint, or guru) is one more of friendship
and mutual involvement than of object surrender and respectful distance.
Interestingly enough , while Marathi does use the more widespread
gopi and Krishna or, less common, bride and bridegroom for imaging
the relationship between the bhakta
and God, it tends to prefer imaging through child and mother
or married woman and her maternal home she longs for. In the bhakti
literature, there is a strong element of philosophical cotigation,
social satire, and social protest. In the North, Kabir remained an
isolated and possibly frustrated rebel. Significantly, Marathi bhaktas
have a special regard for him. (2) Thanks to the raiyatwārī
system of land revenue, the peasants and other rural folk are not
so abjectly submissive as elsewhere in India: their spine is very
much in place. (3) Bride and groom are honoured as the divine couple
at the time of the wedding, which is never wholly forgotten in later-life.
The wife, no matter which caste she belongs to, never does obeisance
to her husband. The awakening of the oppressed, be they the Dalits,
the women, or the exploited workers of farm and factory, in Maharashtra
(1920-70) is significantly more self-aware, more forthright, more
self-sustained than elsewhere in India. (4) The Indian Awakening (1820-1920)
took a distinctive form in Maharashtra. Among other things, it led
to the rise of the prose of ideas and debate, as we have already seen.
There was a critique of the religious tradition, for instance. Was
bhakti debilitating or invigorating? Can the Brahmanical lore
hold its own in the modern context of science and democracy? Should
conversion to Christianity or Islam up root one’s Indian identity?
(5) The geographical position of Maharashtra, religious and military
venture, the spread of Maratha rule to central and southern India,
and the mercantile-industrial-educational revolution (the 19th
to the 20th centuries) have all led to considerable migration
from Maharashtra to different parts of India and the other way round.
This has served to instill in Marathi speakers a strong sense of being
Indians and at the same time to reinforce the sense of pride in the
distinctive aspects of their history and heritage. Marathi-speaking
migrants have acted more as creative innovators than as unadjusted
irritants in their respective lands of adoption. (Kalelkar, Bendre,
Deuskar, Paradkar, and Muktiboth readily come to mind for their notable
contributions to Gujarat, Karnataka, Bengal, and the Hindi heart land.)
Marathi speakers have a distinct image in their own eyes of other
Indians. An 8th century Apabhramsha narrative, Kuualayamālā
by Udyotanas,ūri, offers a cameo describing Marathi speakers
as typically sturdy, stocky, swarthy, stead fast, proud, and quarrelsome,
an early stereotype. The self-image of Marathi speakers was not too
Earlier, we observed how Marathi, Oriya,
Telugu, or Manipuri are all characteristically Indian languages. What
is this Indian identity that was formed over centuries in the course
of linguistic convergence across diverse language families? Is it
not then something that one would save by saving Indian languages
against the onslaught of linguistic globalization?
Certain words and phrases tend to get
associated with certain specifically Indian ways of perceiving the
natural and the human world. Thus, there are no ready equivalents
in a non-Indian language such as English o expressions like jush¶a
| ucchista (Hindi j,ūhā, Marathi ush¶ā) , a married woman’s
pirtr,grhal matrgrha (,Hindi pīharmāykā). In yet other cases the available
ready equivalents are very tough and ready indeed if not simply misleading.
Consider dharma and religion, bhakti and devotion, guru
and teacher, for example. All such expressions are more than mere
stumbling blocks for the conscientious translator. If there is a danger
of non-Indians riding rough shod over them, there is also the more
insidious danger of Indians glossing over them, possibly even abandoning
the original sense in favour of the adoptive sense. That would be
a pity, being a loss to the non-Indians as much as a loss to Indians,
all in the name of a homogenization of the human world. An innovative
translation can save the day for the non-Indian, as with ‘non-duality’
for advaita, ‘Indian cuckoo’ for kokila (Hindi koyal),
or ‘brain-fever bird’ for Hindi papīhā
We are, however, going to focus on the
Indian linguistic identity in the relatively neglected area of sentence
forms and discourse forms. Earlier we spoke of the twin functions
of language, namely, as a vehicle or means of communication and as
a medium of cognition.
What exactly does this dual nature
of language involve? To think of language as no more than a ‘means’
of communication is to think of the relation between content and form
in any piece of language, whether word and phrase or sentence and
discourse, as a mere external relation as between, say, body and garments.
So translating from one language to another is seen to be simply a
changing of garments leaving the content intact. On the other hand
to think of language as no less than a ‘medium’ of cognition is to
think of the relation between content and form in any piece of language
as a deep and intimate relation as between, say, mind and body. Word
form or sentence is no inert garment but a living, throbbing body.
So to translate is to reformulate the content. Indian languages impart
an Indian form to the content, which thus becomes Indian content.
(This is even more true of Indian literatures.) The reason for distinguishing
between the ‘means’ of communication and the ’medium’ of cognition
will have become clear by now. But we are fast-forwarding. Let us
wind back to sentence forms and discourse forms.
It will be worth looking at the cognitive
structure of a sentence in human languages.
1) Devadatta sights a bull.
This sentence can be understood in either of two ways:
sighting activity has Devadatta for its agent and a bull for its object
--- where the predicate sighting has Devadatta and a bull for its
actants or arguments.
is engaged in bull-sighting activity—where the subject Devadatta has
bull-sighting for its predicate.
is somewhat like one of those visuals that flipflop between two modes
of looking at them: a cube seen as a solid from below or a hollow
seen from above, for example. Thinkers, however, have argued for the
one or the other view. View (a)Has been defended by Frege, later Chomsky.
Mimamsa, and Nyaya. View (b) Has been defended by Aristotle, early
Chomsky, and Vyakarna. It must be admitted, however, that in given
circumstances the activity-focussed view (a) may be more plausible
or the subject-focussed view (b) may be more plausible. The plausible
focus is italicized from now onwards.
2 (a) Devadatta sees and hears the
spring’s first cuckoo.
(b) Devadatta looks at and listens
to the spring’s first cuckoo.
(b’)The spring’s first cuckoo
was seen and heard by Devadatta .
We introduce here a sub-variety (b’)
of (b) where the subject focus is not on the agent Devadatta but on
the object, namely, the spring’s first cuckoo.
We are now in a somewhat better position
to handle some English and Indian language sentence forms in terms
of their cognitive structure.
We need to make a distinction between
predicates of perception activity and predicates of operation activity.
English perception predicates ----
3 (a) Me thought so. (Up to the
(b) I thought so. (The 15th
4 (a) She pleaseth me. (Dominant
up to the 15th century)
(b) I like her. (The 15th
Notice the shift from (a) to (b) around
the 15th –the 16th centuries.
English operation predicates-----
5 (b) I made/committed the error.
(Dominant all along)
(b’) The error was committed
(Available from the 17th century onwards)
Notice the later shift from (b) to
(b’) around the 17th century.
Indian language perception predicates---
shām- ko bāt
burī lagī. (Hindi)
shām- lā apmān vā¶lā
shām- nigē vamānā annisitu. (Kannada)
shām- ne bāt
burī sochi/mānī. (Hindi)
shām- ne apmān mānlā . (Marathi)
shām- nu avamānā-vēndu. bagē
shām- ko rekhā bhāti-haī
shīm- lā rekhā
shām- nigē rekha i¸¶ạ (Kannada)
ko cāhtā-hai. (Hindi)
shām rekhā- lā cahto. (Marathi)
shām rekha-yannu i¸¶a –pauttāne. (Kannada)
Pattern (a) appeared probably around
the 11th-the 13th centuries and later became
more dominant over (b); but (b) has made a partial come back in the
20th century in formal speech or writing. This shift from
(b) to (a) also applies to Sanskrit and the Prakrits. Notice how it
contrasts sharply with the English shift from (a) to (b).
Indian language operation predicates
shām galtī kar-gayā . (Hindi)
ka d£n keli-geli. (Marathi)
appeared probably around the 11th-the 13th centuries,
but (b) continued to be dominant. Pattern (b’) appeared probably around
the 18th- 19th centuries, but remains even less
common than (a). The shift from (b) to (b’) resembles the corresponding
shift in English.
in Indian language sentence forms need to be studied more closely
with proper documentation.
How do we
explain the shifts in English and in Indian languages? The first shift
from (a) to (b in English may be associated with the shift from the
Medieval God-centred world view to the Renaissance man-centred worldview.
The second shift from (b) to (b’) in English may be associated with scientific and mercantile-bureaucratic
discourse in the post- Renaissance period.
languages, the first shift from (b) to (a) may probably be associated
with the shift from a more trusting and agency-oriented lifestyle
to a more disoriented and patience-oriented lifestyle. The second
shift from (b) to (b’) may be associated with bureaucratic-scientific
discourse which may also favour (a) over (b).
So much by
way of motivating the shift in cognitive style historically in terms
of shifts in life-style and worldview. But then it will also be worthwhile
to evaluate each cognitive style as better equipped or less equipped
in coping with the demands of certain situations. Notice how—
(b) is activity-focussed and so personalized.
(b’) is object-focussed and
a given cognitive style associated with a language at a given period
of history may put a premium on this or that structure or even leave
the other structure simply unavailable. Thus, present-day English
offers (b) and less commonly (b’); (a) is often unavailable even for
perception predicates. Even for operation predicates like “rain” or
“dawn”, English needs to set up a dummy subject like “it”. Present-day
Marathi, on the other hand, offers (a) and (b) for perception predicates
and (b) and much less commonly (b’) for operation predicates. Even
for some operation predicates, it offers (a) in preference to (b’).
how an English speaker and an Indian speaker will handle the description
of that bane of modern life ---stress or tension. Indeed, contemporary
Indian speakers freely borrow the word “tension”, which may not have
yet entered their dictionaries.
(9) English speaker
(b) (i) Sam was under stress/ tension. (The subject-agent not in control).
incurred stress/ tension. (Not much in control)
sustained stress/ tension. (In greater control)
10 Indian speakers
¶enshan āle. (Marathi: not
shām- nigē ¶enshan bonditu (Kannada like wise)
(b) (i) Shām ¶enshan-se dab-gayā / pareshān –huā.
ne ¶enshan mol-liyā. (Hindi; not much in control)
Shām ne ¶enshan
Shām nu ¶enshan tandukŏdanu.
(iii) shām-ne ¶enshan bardāsht
kar-liyā. (Hindi). In greater control)
shām-ne ¶enshan jhelle. (Marathi)
A Sam who takes a Sam-centered view
(b) all the time may find it rather difficult to move forward from
(i) through (ii) to (iii) without some outside help. A Sam who starts
with an impersonal activity-centered (a) view may find it easier to
by-pass (b) (ii) and move straight on to (b) (iii), getting hold of
how an English speaker and an Indian speaker will handle the description
of one person helping another person in some difficulty.
11) English speaker
(b) Sam helped Ron.
(b’) Ron was helped by Sam.
12) Indian speakers
(a) shām-se rām-ko madad
rām- nigě shām-ninda nĕrvāyitu.
shām –ne rām-kī madad kar-dī. (Hindi)
shām-ne rām-la madar kalī . (Marathi)
Sam who takes a Sam-centered view (b) all the time may find it rather
difficult to be modest about his good deed. At best he will try to
hide behind a passive (b’) or will say in protest “don’t mention it!”.
A shām to whom an impersonal activity-centered view (a)
comes naturally will find it easier to follow the Bhagavadgītā
injunction (11:33) for ethical modesty, “nimittamātra bhava!”
These two little parables of Sam and
sham should help us realize that Indian speakers a thing or two when
it comes to taking an impersonal view of human activity in stressful
conditions or in the ethical context or, for that matter, in a scientific
assessment of human life processes.(Note in passing how the ending—“(iz)ation”
can be rendered as –bhavan rather than—karaņ in certain situations
– dehydrations nirjalī bhavan in the context of diarrhea,
nirjalī-karaņ in the context f vegetable storage.)
So much for the Indian identity in
cognitive style. In turning to the communicative style, let us illustrate it not through sentence forms as we just
did with cognitive style, but through discourse forms and their communicative
structure. Consider the following piece of discourse.
Let us send a fire engine to the town’s east
---Why? Well, there is no smoke billowing
on the eastern horizon.
---So? Well, there is no smoke without
fire, is there?
---And then? Well, What are fire engines
for, if not for putting out fire?
This discourse can be cast either as
a dialogue between two fire persons or as a monologue addressed by
the small-town fire chief to the fire persons or even as an interior
monologue going on in the fire chief’s mind. Whether cast in this
manner or that, the discourse proceeds progressively from the more
salient feature of the situation to the less salient features –in
the present case, from staking claim to looking for the grounds in
support of that claim.
But there can be a more radical communicative
recasting of the discourse.
Our fire engine is in readiness for putting
out fires but lying idle.
--Don’t we have any fire around? Let
us look for smoke.
--Well, there is smoke billowing on
the eastern horizon.
--Aha, let us send a fire engine to
the town’s east end!
This discourse too can be cast in the
form of a dialogue or a monologue or an interior monologue. But surely
the more striking feature this time around is that the discourse proceeds
communicatively from the less salient features of the situation to
the more salient--- in the present case, from preparing or exploring
the grounds to making the claim itself.
Whether we readily adopt the first
strategy reserving the second for special occasions or readily adopt
the second strategy reserving the first for special occasions will
depend on the communicative style of the language. Any viable human
language will be in need of either strategy; any historically shaped
human language will come to be weighted in favour of one strategy
or the other.
Informal observation of English and
Indian language discourses have revealed that for English (and probably
for many other European languages as well) “the more salient to the
less salient” strategy is the routine mode. And “the less salient
to the more salient” strategy is the occasional mode. English speakers
are thus more quick in staking claims than in looking for supporting
grounds. The observation also reveals that for Indian language speakers
(and probably for some East Asian languages as well) the communicative
style is just the other way round. Indian language speakers are thus
more anxious to prepare grounds for a claim before making that claim.
An Indian’s routine adoption of the strategy of going from grounds
to the claim may often elicit the English speaker’s impatient comment:
“Come to the point, man/lady, don’t be beating about the bush!” Indeed
the Indian gambit of postponing the salient claim to the end may take
the extreme form of leaving it out altogether to the listener’s shrewdness
(as at the poetry recital). An English speaker’s routine adoption
of the strategy of going from a claim to the grounds may often elicit
the Indian’s patient comment: “Don’t rush me, man/lady, let’s look
at the lie of the land first.” An Indian may attribute the English
speaker’s gambit to brashness and lack of courtesy.
It will be rewarding to look for the
historical explanation for this difference in communication style
between English speakers and Indian language speakers. It will also
be rewarding to look for the advantage or the handicap the communicative
style offers to the groups of speakers in this or that given situation.
Again, there is a historically emergent common Indian identity and
there is some advantage it occasionally confers on the Indians.
We have just seen how the Indian linguistic
identity can best be understood.
First, we need to place it in the context of Indian cultural and social
identity. Secondly, we need to use some non-Indian linguistic identity,
say, the English-speaking as a foil and bring out differences the
two present. It may be observed in passing that an Indian who has
learned to use English rather well has acquired an additional, potentially
complimentary, identity if the Indian were to adopt English communicative
style as well.
Earlier, we also saw how, by the side
of the common Indian identity, we need to recognize specific regional
sub-identities. The presence of such a regional identity can be best
be understood by considering in some detail one such regional identity
(the Marathi-speaking identity in the present case) and by placing
that regional identity in the context of the common Indian identity.
An Indian who has learned to use expertly a regional language not
his own acquired an additional and potentially enriching identity.
May I hope that some Oriya-speaking listener is induced to work out
the Oriya-speaking identity.
The consideration of the Indian identity
and the included sub-identities brings out the diversity of human
lifestyles and human worldviews (the lifestyle and the worldview being
supportive of each other). The consideration of the regional sub-identities
within India brings out the diversity of Indian lifestyles and Indian
worldviews. In either case the diversity also Under-lines the underlying
unity---of human kind in one case, the unity of India in the other
Diversity is no mere spice of life:
it is nothing less than a value in life. Living organisms variously
work out their survival in interaction with the specific environment
they cope with from time to time. Different spices within a given
habitat work out different equations that mediate this process. Different
varieties within the spices make different contribution to the overall
gene pool. This is what biodiversity is all about.
Within the human species, different
human cohabiting groups variously work out their different cultural
equations in coping with the natural environment and of course with
the human environment. Each way of life, each paired lifestyle and
worldview makes its own precious contribution available the rest of
mankind. This is what ethnodiversity is all about.
Just as an all-English world will be
an intolerably dull place to live in, even so an all-Hindi India will
e just as intolerably dull. But then a world without any link languages
will be a chaotic and so equally uninteresting world, given that modern
transport and communication has made it a small world. An India without
any Indian link languages will also tend to be an all-English India
and a dull one into the bargain.
The sooner our power-wielders, power-brokers,
and power-seekers (whether we have political, economic, or ideological
power in view) clearly grasp these ground realities the better for
everybody. They will thereby be doing a favour not only to the power-oppressed
and the power-deprived but also to themselves. Thus, if globalization
were to take the shape of Pax Americana, the Americans will just as
surely be losers as the rest of humankind. Consider the decay of Brahmanical
scholarship and thought after centuries of monopolizing and the exit
of Buddhist thought
This is a slightly revised version
of the Second Radhanath nath Memorial Lecture delivered at Bhuvaneshwar,
Orissa on 12th February 2001. The revised version was published
in New Quest no. 145 261-82, July-September 2001 (published March
I India’s framed linguistic diversity
implies the presence of specific regional and other sub-identities,
but is also matched by an all-India common identity emerging out of
shared history. Unfortunately, in these times diversity is looked
upon not as an asset but as a sign of backwardness. Assimilating Western
or other non-Indian influences will work to advantage only in so far
as we retain our intellectual initiative through our respective mother
tongues and not otherwise.
Language embeds literature and both
are embedded in culture and society, which are forms of life. Language
is as much as cognitive medium as it is a communicative vehicle.
II. An account of the regional identity of
Marathi and Maharashtra is presented by way of a case study. The regional
identities are variations on the Indian theme, which in turn is an
orchestration of the regional themes in languages, literature, and
culture. The emergence of Marathi and Maharashtra was part of the
larger process that resulted in the present regional division of India.
The shaping of that regional identity was more of a local process,
which left the Indian language, literature, and culture resembling
the Indo-Aryan North and the Dravidian South and yet possessing a
III. The all-India linguistic identity in which
Marathi partakes is evident not only in world forms, concepts, and
ideas but also in cognitive and communicative structures at the level
of sentences and discourses. Indian languages appear to have moved
(11th-13th centuries) from a personalized to
a depersonalized predication in cognitive terms in contrast to English
which moved (15th-16th centuries) in the opposite
direction. The emergence of a passive later remained an after thought
both in Indian languages and English. Again, Indian discourses prefer
to move from the ground to the claim in communicative terms in contrast
to English. The depersonalized modality and the ground-first modality
preferred by Indians has its strength and functionality, just as the
preference has its possible historical explanation.
IV. In sum, the regional and the Indian identity
both merit proud preservation rather than apologetic playing down.
Such a move will be help in maintaining autonomy within globalization
and resisting homogenization. Ethnodiversity is but the human extension
of biodiversity; it is a value in life.