dimanche 29 juillet 2018


Of the 6000 odd languages in the world, a small minority of people, many of which do not have written forms, speak the majority of these languages and many exist only in oral form.
French was considered to the UNIVERSAL language, but something happened after the end of the World War II and the beginning of the 21st Century.  With the rise of American super power in the world scene, the English language also rose, from a dominant language to a “hypercentral” (according to the Dutch Sociologist Abram de Swaan).

De Swaan divides languages into four categories. Lowest on the pyramid are the “peripheral languages”, which make up 98% of all languages, but are spoken by less than 10% of mankind. These are largely oral, and rarely have any kind of official status. Next are the “central languages”, though a more apt term might be “national languages”. These are written, are taught in schools, and each has a territory to call its own: Lithuania for Lithuanian, North and South Korea for Korean, Paraguay for Guarani, and so on.
Following these are the 12 “supercentral languages”: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Malay, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swahili – each of which (except for Swahili) boast 100 million speakers or more. These are languages you can travel with. They connect people across nations. They are commonly spoken as second languages, often (but not exclusively) as a result of their parent nation’s colonial past.
Then, finally, we come to the top of the pyramid, to the languages that connect the supercentral ones. There is only one: English, which De Swaan calls “the hypercentral language that holds the entire world language system together”.
The above from an article published in The Guardian UK.

I have observed a phenomenon coinciding with my extensive travels in Asia starting 2001. English acquired a status, people who could only utter a few words; “assumed” they could speak English and this began spreading through the educational systems in China and India as well as other South East Asian countries. In S Korea, English became a requirement for jobs that needed no language diversification. Parents began looking for ways to give their children an English education and accent. A self imposed shame of not being able to communicate in English began to spread and decrease the self esteem of people who did not need English in their every day lives.
English schools and charlatan teachers and operators flourished. The only requirement to teach English in many of the Asian countries was that you be European from an English speaking country. Thus a new generation of English educated people began appearing who did not have a good comprehension of written or spoken language but who thought they could speak it well.
In Asia, the best level of English is in India, even though only a fraction of the population speaks it well. I was watching a video by Sadhguru where he was answering a young woman from the West who wanted to know how the “problem” of India could be fixed. Sadhguru had to remind her that during the millennial existence of the culture of India (India as a country is an idea), it was outsiders who dictate the norms, the last ones being the British who laid out their measurements. English in a way has made Asians feel less of themselves because failure to excel in this language is seen as a defect.
English destroys everything in its path, in Europe an average person can communicate well in English (with the notable exception of France in Western Europe), English is seen not as a status symbol of the oppressed or a sign of inferiority complex but a method of communication in this modern times while maintaining the national identity of the local language. I cannot imagine Hindi or Chinese or Arabic becoming a Universal language, but 5 per cent of the billion strong Indians speak English with excellent proficiency and in fact the major literary output from India is in English. The influence of English is such that the characters appearing in literature from India begin to loose their “Indian-ness” and like the many million emigrants from that continent, has become presentable in a polished fashion to the West. 44 million Chinese can communicate in English to varying levels of proficiency. In South East Asia, mainly the minority populations in Malaysia and Singapore, speak the best English, betraying their British colonial past, rather than Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia where the erstwhile French language hegemony is just a memory, 
I work with the Indigenous people and I lament the loss of their languages. I also find it a shame that Mexican immigrants to USA to places like Texas are ashamed to speak their native tongue. No self respecting Cuban would refuse to speak the Spanish language, even if they speak English or another language fluently. (They were never fond of speaking Russian!).
English does not force you to think in one way or another, as the great linguistic controversy of last century contended, but I see English forcing an inferiority complex to the immigrants and also the upwardly mobile in countries such as India and China, perhaps Korea as well.
Yet another fallacy I encounter in my travels is the notion that if one speaks English, an an Asian believes, he or she can be considered a “western” person. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have met people who have lived in the west for 15-20 years but who have no understanding of the philosophical foundations of the western ways of thinking.
I also have noticed that this unrelenting march of English has made the speakers of the language more arrogant, less tolerant of other language speakers. I am in Sri Lanka, and I have to remind myself that for majority of the people do carry on with their daily lives without proficiency in English language.

It is good to remind oneself of this..