Don’t use language chauvinism to score political points | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Don’t use language chauvinism to score political points

The vice president’s advice that people should attach less importance to English is way off the mark. Many states in India are more comfortable with English as a link language. The government should endeavour to ensure that people get quality English education and access to speaking skills instead of raising non-issues like linking language to pride and culture.

editorials Updated: Sep 21, 2017 17:28 IST
Vice President Venkaiah Naidu in New Delhi (File photo) 
Vice President Venkaiah Naidu in New Delhi (File photo) (PTI)

Is the word amma or ammi more evocative than mommy? According to vice-president Venkaiah Naidu the former comes from the heart and the latter from the lips. He said this as part of a larger speech advocating the use of the mother tongue over English. Clearly, emotion has got the better of Mr Naidu who has asked people to always speak in their mother tongues. Since Indians speak so many languages, a link language will be required and for many people it is English, not Hindi.

Using one’s native language is no greater marker of tradition or culture, it is a choice. We have long spoken of our advantage over the Chinese in that thanks to the British, English is universally spoken in India. In fact 125 million people in India speak English, second only to the US. And this has given Indians an edge in the sciences, in information technology and humanities. But now, thanks to language chauvinism and hectic efforts by countries like China to promote English, we stand in danger of losing that advantage. Mr Naidu is not alone. Our politicians routinely use language as some sort of indicator of patriotism, advocating that teaching in schools shift to the regional language or Hindi. Their own children, however, tend to enjoy the advantages of an English education. In this globalising world, English opens many doors to students and workers. In countries in the region, there is a thriving industry imparting spoken English to those trying to secure jobs abroad. In India, people prefer a substandard English medium school to a vernacular one.

The demand for English is evident from the number of schools which promise a good English education. So why fritter away an advantage that we have inherited? It is no one’s case that regional languages with their rich literature should be given second class status but this should not be at the cost of English or vice versa. Mr Naidu’s advice that people should attach less importance to English is way off the mark. In fact, more efforts should be made, led by the government, to popularise English especially among children. Many states in India are more comfortable with English as a link language than Hindi which has been used to score political points. If anything the government should endeavour to ensure that people get quality English education and access to speaking skills instead of raising non-issues like linking language to pride and culture.