Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Language and (post) colonialism

"Take colonial India. A great debate ensued in 1830s Britain on the
choice of an official language of colonial administration and
education. Making the winning case for English over Sanskrit, Persian,
and others, Thomas B. Macaulay—a member of the Supreme Council of
India—observed that Indian languages 'contain neither literary nor
scientific information, and are, moreover, so poor and rude that,
until they are enriched from some other quarter, it will not be easy
to translate any valuable work into them.' He admitted that he did not
know any Indian language but had nevertheless reached 'a correct
estimate of their value.' Citing the Orientalists of his day, he said,
'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.' Therefore, concluded Macaulay, 'we have to educate
a people who cannot at present be educated by means of their mother
tongue. We must teach them some foreign language.' [2]

Language is not a neutral vessel for conveying the ideas, beliefs, and
values that constitute culture. Nor is it a mere tool for describing
the world as it truly is—no language can be said to describe the world
as it truly is. To use a language—any language—is to interpret the
world in a particular way... "

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