Bridging the English vs Vernacular Divide

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English is the most widely spoken language in the world, with 1.5 billion people speaking it either as a native language or as a second language. English has become the global lingua franca and holds the key to all knowledge and privilege. English is the working language of many big international corporations as well as international organisations like the United Nations.

English’s global spread needs to be understood in the context of capitalism. English’s global spread is closely associated with the change in mode of production in the sixteenth century that focused on the accumulation of capital. The desire to amass capital resulted in the spread of the English language via British capitalist-colonial expansion and American unipolarity.Today, English is the gateway that provides access to all knowledge, and not having access to it is seen as not having access to knowledge, be it science or the humanities. This has led to the treatment of vernacular languages as a second-class language in many countries. This inferior status accorded to vernacular languages increases the demand for more education in English.

However, merely teaching English to everyone is not the solution. This is due to the fact that many people speak vernacular languages but have little or no knowledge of English.The treatment of English as the language of knowledge and privilege and the teaching of it for that purpose implies that there is a clear divide between English and the vernaculars, which are treated as the language of popular culture but not as the language of access. It is also the case that our identity is shaped by language, and it is an undeniable fact that English is now an Indian language too. English, like French, Spanish, and Portuguese, spread due to unjust colonialism, but as Henry Widdowson puts it, “There is a fundamental contradiction in the idea that the language itself exerts hegemonic control.” If this were the case, you would never be able to challenge such control.

This, however, doesn’t mean that English is superior to the vernacular languages. We need to constantly work towards bridging the gap between English and vernacular languages. Translations have proven to be quite effective in this regard. Harsh Trivedi covers this point by taking the example of Geetanjali Shree’s Hindi novel, Tomb of Sand, which was the winner of the 2022 International Booker Prize,

“Daisy Rockwell said in her “Translator’s Note” in Tomb of Sand that she had retained many Hindi words in her translation just as Geetanjali had retained many English words in her Hindi original. Rockwell went further to claim that “the original novel is artificially Hindi-centric, just as the translation is artificially English-centric!” Moreover, Geetanjali is not the first Hindi writer to include distinctly English collocations or even chunks of English in her works, either overtly or covertly; many writers, including Agyeya and Nirmal Verma, both Jnanpith winners, had already been there and done that.As it happens, both Agyeya and Verma had important books published on them in 2022, and they were written in English by Akshaya Mukul and Vineet Gill, respectively. “The deep bilingualism that has always coexisted between English and Indian languages at a literary level seems now to be breaching linguistic borders.”

 

Translations should cover not only literature but also knowledge in order for the vernacular language to expand. Other important steps should focus on changing the linguistic system through changes in pedagogy. The discussion should move away from the binary of English and vernacular languages and concentrate on ensuring federal guarantees to all linguistic communities in the world through changes in the political economy of global capitalism.

 

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