GLOBALIZATION OF LANGUAGE AND THE LANGUAGE OF GLOBALIZATION
The Globalization of
The recent launching of globalization took place in trade and
industry, but the process is gradually spreading to other fields of
life. Language is no exception to this. The words cinema, bank, railway, football,
renaissance, glasnost, satyagraha have gained world currency and
so have the concepts underlying words like bureaucracy, brainwashing,
freedom of expression, or globalization which often appear in certain
languages in a translated form. Not
only are certain words like these global.
French, English, Spanish were the earliest world languages;
the United Nations added Chinese and Russian to this list.
In the course of time one may also see the addition of Arabic,
Hindi, or perhaps Japanese. (Limiting
oneself to the field of scholarship and research, one may have to
add German, Sanskrit, Classical Greek, and Latin.)
It is obvious that among these world languages English has
the pride of place. There
was a time when, for the convenience of tourists, they used to put
up signs saying ‘Ici on parle francais’, then came signs saying
‘English is spoken here’, now even the sign has become unnecessary.
True, English has had to pay some price for this position. Speakers of other languages may be grateful for the fact that English
gets written in an easy to master Roman script or that it is free
from the gender confusion of the sort found in French, Spanish, or
Russian, but then they also curse English for its spelling whose craziness
is matched only by French. At
the time of my first visit to the United States in 1956, the lady
customs officer heaved a sigh of relief on listening to my English,
saying: ‘Yes, cur language has certainly become global, but we have
to reconcile ourselves to hearing it murdered all the time! It was
nice to hear your good English.’
Curses and murderous assaults apart, more seriously, English
has had to throw its doors open to words and phrases borrowed from
other languages. The borrowings may be direct (like typhoon
from Chinese) or indirect by way of translation (like the Chinese
idiom brain-washing). (The French have become wise after the event.)
Secondly, an English speaker has to bend or adapt the language
in dealing with the foreigner: whether it is by accepting his common
errors into the language or by oversimplifying his language for the
foreigner’s benefit or by leaving aside expressions overly tied with
English-speaking culture or by respecting the habits and sentiments
of the foreigner (thus, billion being 109 now rather than
1012, speaking of developing economies rather than underdeveloped
economies, substituting Moslem or Muslim for Mahomedan or Mohammedan).
What happens to English also happens to any other language
aspiring to the status of a contact language though perhaps less drastically
so. Hindi as the all-India contact language or
standard Marathi as the all-Maharashtra contact language are no exceptions. As the contact language of scholarship, Sanskrit
has been subjected to attempts at ‘simplification’. Globalization is something that affects more
or less any regional contact language no less than any global language.
society calling itself modern needs to overcome any reluctance or
annoyance and offer diversified, plentiful, and good-quality foreign-language-learning
facilities. That is the highway
to freedom from the confining walls of language.
Some years ago there were attempts at Pune, Ujjain, and elsewhere
at the initiative of Professors Dayakrishna and M.P. Rege to bring
about a dialogue with the help of interpreters between traditionally
educated Sanskrit pandits and university-educated scholars.
The participants from both sides benefited from this exercise. Both sides expressed satisfaction at the access
to novel areas of knowledge and, what is more, novels modes of thought.
Higher language-proficiency may also free us from the excessive
and exclusive glorification of the visual image or the tuneful sound
by the media. Pictures certainly
add value to books and periodicals, but skimming through pictures
alone to the exclusion of reading them is getting walled in by pictures.
Adapting one’s language to communicate with foreigners or to
meet the needs of the mass media is fine, but this is going to narrow
the distance between the flow of everyday speech and the graceful
elegance of literary writing. Once
the importance of disseminating ideas is accepted, the demand for
making the language easy to follow cannot be resisted. But then the complicated world of today will
often call for complicated thoughts to do justice to it, and so the
ordinary person’s linguistic capacity in following a thought needs
to be enhanced to some extent. (Is
any educationist listening?) Simplicity of presentation is by no means
an excuse for oversimplification of the ideas.
Any plan for beneficial globalization will demand that no society
lags behind in the intellectual race.
The intellectuals in a society shouldn’t be content with thinking
complicated thoughts; they owe it to themselves to make these thoughts
accessible to the ordinary people to the extent feasible.
They cannot shirk the responsibility of acquiring for this
purpose the needed competence in handling language.
The process of globalization incorporates two opposed trends. One is the trend of centralization; for example,
the world over weights and measures be metric, the rule of the road
be right (or left), the keyboard for the Roman script be uniform (the
QWERTY arrangement for English, for instance), e-mail addressing be
settled at one place, the quality control specifications be fixed
by the International Standards Organization (ISO), and so forth.
The other is the trend of decentralization, for example, goods
be marketed in the world in accordance with local needs and habits,
accepting the Roman script need not mean accepting some uniform calligraphic
style but, rather, offering a choice between different calligraphic
styles. One needs to effect an advantageous combination
of the two. Letting either
trend dominate to the exclusion of the other can be ruinous.
The globalization of language is also subject to these considerations. Centralizing demands that everybody learn at
least some functional English, decentralizing that the English used
at the world level open to variation according to the need and the
place. But if this flexible variation be excessive,
even Keralites and Assamese won’t understand each other’s English!
Hence the need for blending the two forces.
Centralizing will demand that the contact language be one and
so all-purpose (so Arabic served in the Islamic world not only religion
but also learning and governance).
Decentralizing will propose different contact languages for
different purposes (so the Indian three language formula: the regional
language, Hindi and English). In the competition between contact languages
in the course of history, even some small languages gained prominence
(as with Portuguese) while others were left behind (as with Basque
on the France-Spanish border). Some
of those left behind fought for a place in the sun and even won their
battle (so with Catalan in Spain, Konkani in Goa, Welsh in Britain;
but in a sense they won the battle only to lose the war—running schools
or newspapers became difficult, but the Welsh poetry festival Eisteddfod
and the Konkani ‘teatr’ stage flourishes).
It is worth noticing that the language schedule of the Sahitya
Akademi is more inclusive than the language schedule of the Constitution
of India. All these facts add up to a crucial insight.
Language is no mere means of communication to convey thoughts,
feelings, or wishes to one another in the ordinary business of life,
or no mere social symbol of each variably inclusive identity (thus,
Maharashtrian identity being inclusive of Indian identity).
Language is more: it is the medium for human poetic, spiritual,
or intellectual creativity. Anyone seeking to understand the process of
globalization of language cannot possibly lose sight this.
Welshmen may conduct their ordinary business of life in the
contact language of English, but at least some Welsh poets would rather
compose poetry in Welsh rather than English.
A Marathi speaker speaking some rural dialect from childhood
may come to use standard Marathi as the contact language, but may
wish to express his inner life in his particular dialect.
If Catholics adopted Latin as their language of religion, at
least some of them, the Protestants, preferred to use their respective
languages for the purpose. English or French or German speaking thinkers keep acquainting themselves
with one another’s thoughts by reading one another in the original
or in translation and belong to the same Western intellectual tradition:
and yet one senses the deep impress of their respective languages
on their mode of thinking. English
firmly plants the feet on the ground of shared common sense; French
nurses its elegant clarity and logic; and German loses itself in complex
schemes of abstract concepts. Mediaeval
India accepted a demarcation between classical Sanskrit or Persian
for intellectual life and ‘vernacular’ languages for poetic inspiration,
that’s true, but then this had a restrictive effect on both the intellectual
life and the poetic life and even modern India has not freed itself
from this restrictive effect. Modern Indians write their intellectual prose
either in English or in vernacular (in reality a translation in the
Sanskritized vernacular of some half-formed English version at the
back of the writer’s mind) – this is certainly no great improvement
over the mediaeval practice.
Language functions as the medium of poetic, spiritual, or intellectual
creativity, and the idiom that has kept one company from babyhood
is the one in which that creativity often flourishes best.
Language is certainly a means of communicating thoughts,
feelings, or wishes to one another in a life of mutual harmony or
disharmony. But then language
is more; it lets one speak to oneself and in the process understand
one’s thoughts better and shapes one’s understanding, being additionally
a medium of cognition. One keeps an unending dialogue, smooth or disturbed
as the case may be, with oneself.
As often, it may remain unspoken, but even so mostly through
In the globalization of language in respect of communication,
the centralizing trend or the use of contact languages certainly helps. But in the globalization of language in respect
of cognition the decentralizing trend comes to the force. That is why one struggles to express oneself
in one’s own language but at the same time remains keep to reach out
to others through translation. It
is again a question of the beneficial combination of the two forces,
avoiding ruinous extremes.
The Language of Globalization
Who, when, where, what for initiated the language of globalization?
The English word globalization is one of these global words
(with translated counterparts in many languages) and it was first
used in the context of trade and industry.
The idea of an entrepreneur producing goods, marketing them
primarily at home, and exporting just the surplus got firmly implanted
in the 19th century because of two reasons. The Industrial Revolution ensured surplus commodity
production and the European countries found dependent countries to
import raw materials from and export manufactured goods to. The European countries and Japan, weakened
by the Second World War, recovered around 1980 and looked for markets
for their surplus goods, ending the temporary American advantage. The means of communication improved and proliferated.
A large portion of the globe continued to remain undeveloped
or at best developing. In consequence, what was so far only a drive
to export one’s surplus tuned into a drive to trade conceived in global
terms. That is to say, one struggled to identify specific
local needs and produced in order to meet these. Even the drive to produce was conceived in
global terms. Japan stole
a march in this attempt to match local needs and global production
over Europe and America, which woke up with a start.
The Japanese language coined a word for their drive, namely,
dochakucha, best translated as global localization.
(Incidentally, the craze for management courses also started
about this time.) In due course,
the reverse process also started: rather than adapting export production
to the needs of the importing market, there was the adapting of the
needs of the importing market, there was the adapting of the needs
of the local market to the imported supply of goods.
This is beginning to happen not only in undeveloped or underdeveloped
countries but also in countries like Japan or the European countries. Local cinema is retreating before the Hollywood onslaught or changing
itself. This other trend has
spread to other fields. In
sum, the language of globalization is no longer limited to economy
or technology but acquiring wider political, social, or cultural dimensions.
In the perspective of human history, this is by all means a
major shift, but it is not by any means an episode confined to a decade
or two. Man has long nursed a quest for globalization;
modern trade and industry is only reinforcing it in a major way.
Whenever and wherever in human history, industry, trade, polity,
social fabric, and culture reached a mature and ambitious phase, human
beings raised their sights beyond their own to what pertains to others,
whether it is the country, the learning, the way of life, the language,
and took recourse to comparison and influence between what is their
own and what pertains to others.
The earliest empires (China, ancient Persia, Rome), the earliest
world-proselytizing religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Islam), the
earliest classical literatures creative or intellectual (Sanskrit,
Greek, Latin, Chinese, Arabic, Persian), the earliest world-scale
movements (modern science and technology, modern ‘public instruction’,
labour movement), the earliest world-scale media of transmission (print,
mail, wire and wireless transmission), and the very first global art
(cinema – these are all footprints of globalization.
To understand this clearly is to truly understand globalization
together with its opportunities and dangers.
subcontinent is no exception to this historical process. One rightly takes pride in the unity of its
diversity (or the diversity of its unity, if you so prefer). At the bottom of it is the very Indian language
of ‘live and let live’, which is so favourable to globalization. This facilitated the transition in Indian history
from the somewhat monotonous exclusively local or tribal lives to
the more inclusive, the more orchestrated lifestyle and cultural heritage
of India. In the classical
period of ancient India (roughly 600 BC to 600 CE), this subcontinent
was in touch with the outside world.
There was not only an exchange of goods in trade but also the
export (Buddhism, Āyurveda)
and import (the zodiac, the Gāndhara style of sculpture) in social-cultural
realms. Towards the close
of this period, however, a number of factors conspired to put an end
to this healthy state of affairs and to lead to the closing of the
Indian mind in stupefying dread.
Keeping foreign people, countries, learning, religions, languages
at well beyond an arm’s length and imprisoning oneself within walls
became the ruling language of India.
Later of course the outer world impacted on India; the Arabs,
Afghans, and Turks at one time and the Europeans at a later time refused
to leave India alone. How
did India face up to this challenge? India didn’t face up to it at
all in all honesty and courage; it offered reluctant, passive, abject
resistance. The post-classical
history of India is a history of a ‘wounded civilization’, to use
Naipaul’s telling phrase. Foreign
people, countries, learning, religions, languages stopped arousing
in Indians any natural curiosity or intellectual wonderment; but rather,
faced with things foreign Indians have been either abjectly or naïvely accepting them, or, more commonly, obstinately or blindly
rejecting them. Either of
these extreme responses are signs of a wounded attitude and feelings
of inferiority arising from it. The
only difference between one Indian and another may be the overtness
or the covertness of this sense of inferiority.
In either case, the net result is the some failure to understand
and assess what is foreign in objective detachment.
Even today both these expressions of the sense of inferiority
are widely met with in India. If
Indians today have to face the globalizing turn of events, they shouldn’t
be doing so in stupefying dread. Indians should be ready and prepared for all
sorts of imports and exports – economic, political, social, intellectual,
or cultural. If they refuse,
Indians can be said to be living not in the modern period at all but
time-locked in some post-medieval period of history! Indians blindly
dreading or blindly admiring the West are both equally caught in this
there is nothing wrong with the language of globalization, but we
must rewrite the grammar of that language clear-sightedly and confidently. This thing called globalization is neither
wholly a boon nor wholly a curse.
It is neither a wholly self-propelled and irrestible process
nor wholly at the disposal of human choice.
If we are going to accept many things from the rest of the
world, we are also going to offer a good many things to it in return.
(Accepting things to the exclusion of offering any will render
the word ‘globalization’ into a mere euphemism for Westernization
or, for that matter, Americanization!) Globalization, we have to prove,
is a two-way street, it is both centralizing and decentralizing; it
is a major shift in human history whose actual direction we have to
As the Marathi
poet ‘Bee’ said, “This courtyard of the universe is a playground gifted
to us.” We need, to recall
Gandhiji’s angry words, to simply “refuse to live in other people’s
houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave.”
version has remained unpublished.
The Marathi version was published in Anubhav June-July-August
1999: reprinted The Hindi version was published in Alocanā