Putting to shame the apologists of colonialism, the Empire has struck back. And it has spoken, forcefully and fervently, in the very language of its erstwhile colonial masters. More important, it has spoken better, if an analysis of the scores of those appearing in the Test of English as a Foreign Language (Toefl) is anything to go by. Though the conclusions are accompanied with the rider that that Toefl scores are individual feats and cannot be used for comparing countries, it would still be safe to assume that residents of the Indian subcontinent have never considered the white man’s language to be a burden at all.
A closer look at the figures shows that students whose native language is Konkani, Malayalam or Assamese routinely manage to score higher than those speaking Chinese or even English. Those splitting hair over linguistics attribute the phenomenon to the fact that an Indian treats English like an ‘adjunct native language’, something she grows into, while a Chinese treats it as a language assembled by an ‘academic thought process’. Mere mumbo-jumbo, we say. If the Indians have bested the English at their own language, it is because they have not only lent their own words, concepts and ways of thinking to it but have, more importantly, co-opted a foreign tongue as their own.
So while the English may find themselves richer with an army of gurus, pundits, ayahs, nawabs and dacoits, the learner’s footprint is not insignificant either. No random practitioner of the language can detect the darker undertones of an ‘encounter’, nor is it possible anywhere else in the world to either have a ‘cousin brother’ or to ‘prepone’ a meeting with the same. We suspect somewhere, the ghost of Macaulay, might be at a loss for words.