Millennium Post

War of tongues

Over six decades back the colonial language English gave a tough fight to Hindi to become a parallel official language in India. Today several foreign languages are edging out regional Indian languages in the race to become the third language academically. The issue of preference given to a foreign language over Indian regional languages, which was so far a debate in private school system, has now entered the largest government school education system of the country — Central Board of Secondary Education.

The interesting question that arises in the controversy over Sanskrit vs German is whether state patronage should be behind an indigenous language to make it relevant in times of globalisation or should a foreign language, gaining ground, be given further push?

“Making Sanskrit compulsory is too much. We live in a world of globalisation and youths should be allowed to opt for the language they want but not at the cost Indian languages,’ said Shaswati Mazumdar, professor of German language in Delhi University. “I completely support the three language formula approved by Parliament and I personally feel if anybody is interested in any foreign language he can learn it as fourth language or after schooling,” she argued. Mazumdar further contended that it’s wrong to say Indian languages are being marginalised as several companies are forced to give advertisements in Hindi and regional languages to promote their products. “It’s a peculiar problem with India that we have so many languages but not a national language,” she argued.

Interestingly, the German language is compulsory in Germany by virtue of being the country’s national language. And the most interesting point is that a certificate in Latin, which is now considered ‘dead language’ by academicians, is compulsory to apply for at the university level in most. It is due to this that 30-40 per cent students opt for Latin as an optional language at Gymnasium (pre-university) level from a range of choices of Latin, Spanish and Russian among others. Latin is the official language only in Vatican City, the smallest country of the world with a population of 798 persons and area of 44 ha. Even today Latin is compulsory in one way or the other in nine western countries and offered as an elective in 20 other countries just to connect the new generations with their cultural roots by studying ancient literature and researches in their original form even though translated versions of all of them are available. The other ancient language, Greek, is the official language of Greece and also one of the two official languages of Cyprus. Both these languages are widely offered as an elective in European countries and are among 23 official languages of European Union (EU).

“Sanskrit is the mother of all the Indo-Aryan languages (Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati, Bhojpuri, Oriya, Sindhi, Sinhala, Nepali and Assamese) Dravadian languages (Tamil, Telegu, Malyalam and Kannada). If you want to coin new word in Hindi or any Indian language you will have to go to Sanskrit which is also necessary to understand these languages in depth as most of the words are derived from Sanskrit,” argued RC Bhardwaj, head of Sanskrit department in Delhi University.

He aggressively criticises previous governments and foreign education policy makers for demoralizing those teaching and learning Sanskrit and other Indian languages by inserting foreign languages as an option for the third language by ‘imposing’ them on Indian students at nascent stage. He draws a parallel from Latin and Greek and says, “Like Greek and Latin are the main source to coin new words for English in western countries, Sanskrit is the language to coin new words for Indian languages.” He further added that besides some exceptions like naming missiles as Prithvi, Tirshool, Agni, some warships, building and roads neither government nor academicians or researchers never promoted but demoralised coining of new words from Indian regional languages or Sanskrit. Contrary to that the practice of coining new words from Greek and Latin is popular and hailed in western countries.

“A language can’t be imposed. Whenever governments in India interfere in any issue they go to extreme ends. The government interferes with the help of rules and in the course of time mere obeying of rules becomes the goal of government machinery. The development of a language occurs in social group and is a group activity. It flourishes through people’s impulse and sensitivities,’ said Dev Shankar Navin, Centre of Indian Languages, Jawaharlal Nehru University. “Unless the scope of employment is increased the entire discussion on promotion of any language would be just a formality,” he added blaming everyone from government to academicians to bureaucracy to researchers for not giving due promotion to Indian and regional languages.

Is India the only country in the world with a multi-lingual society? A little research on interest waters down the argument. Cyprus with an area of just 9,251 sqkm and population of 11.17 lakh, smaller than an average district of India in both size and population, has two official languages — Latin and Turkish, two recognised minority and four ethnic languages. The combined area and population of all the 28 member countries of the European Union which has 24 official languages is 4.38 lakh sq km, 50.74 crore respectively. The member countries have their own regional languages besides minority and tribal languages at state level therein.

In comparison to EU, India accommodates over 125 crore people on 3.29 lakh sq km area and has just two official languages at national level — Hindi and English (assisting language). ?However, there are 22 Indian languages in eight schedule of the constitution including Sanskrit, Urdu, South Indian languages. The list also includes Nepali and Sindhi which are not regional languages but adjusted to accommodate culture of linguistic minorities besides two tribal languages- Bodo and Santhali. The Maithili language which was recently included in the list is still considered a dialect of Hindi by many linguistics like Haryanavi, Bhojpuri and Avadhi.

“I don’t understand why people of Indian states feel proud in studying, speaking or using English words while those of other countries talk in their own languages in at least informal communication,” said Sushma Jain, professor of Japanese in JNU. She strongly opposes the teaching of English at primary level and emphasised that no foreign language but only mother tongue should be the medium of instruction at this level. “Sanskrit is the most scientific language and I am of the view that any person who wants to pursue his career in any foreign or Indian language must study Sanskrit,” argued Jain. “It’s a vague logic that the effort to learn Indian languages is wasted. Delhi Public School group offers Japanese as third language but the efforts of all students who become doctors and engineers is of no use as hardly any of them go to Japan but work either in India or western countries,” she contended.

Professor of Persian language Chandra Shekhar in Delhi University said, “Besides normal conversation, a language communicates culture and connects new the generation with its cultural past.” He further added “Besides cultural significance Persian is the official language in several West Asian countries and our students are recruited there on high salaries,". The professors of all the languages (Indian and foreign) admitted that the students are mostly employed in teaching or translation jobs.

“Introducing foreign language as third language is highly condemnable. It can be introduced at 10+2 level or university level,” said Ashok Gangopadhyay, an eminent Bengali scholar.


Latin is compulsory for high school students who wish to study law, social and political sciences and humanities. It is one of the six subjects tested during examinations in Greece for entry into university-level courses in these fields.


In Italy, Latin is compulsory in secondary schools. In Liceo classico, ancient Greek is also a compulsory subject. About one-third of Italian certificated (18-year-olds) have studied Latin for five years.

Latin is a compulsory subject for students of law, medicine, veterinary and language studies.

Latin is a compulsory subject for all those who study humanities (students can select from three sorts of study: sciences, humanities or a mix) in grades 11 and 12.

Latin is taught as compulsory subject in the branch of humanities at high school for two years. In majority of the universities, Latin is a compulsory subject in history, language and select humanities disciplines.

Germany follows two language system. German is compulsory at school level, one more language is compulsory at the gymnasium (pre-university level) from Latin, Spanish, Russian etc. Nearly 30-40% students opt for Latin as a Latin certificate is compulsory requirement to apply for various university courses.

United States
There is a growing classical education movement consisting of private schools and home schools that are teaching Latin at the elementary, or grammar school level. Latin is often taught and is sometimes compulsory at Catholic secondary schools. More than 149,000 students took the 2007 National Latin Exam.

Latin is Offered as Optional:
Australia, Ireland, Switzerland, United Kingdom (England), Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Austria, Republic of Macedonia, Netherlands, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Portugal, Finland, Canada, France.

Sanskrit in Modern India

1791: Government Sanskrit College, Varanasi was the first educational institute opened by East India Company in Indian sub-continent. Jonathan Duncan, resident of East India Company proposed the idea to Governor General Lord Cornwallis who sanctioned an annual budget of Rs 20,000 per annum with J Myor was its first principal. The college was practically doing all the jobs of a university from affiliation to structuring course to awarding degrees but Britishers used it as a tool to translate almost all the important Sanskrit texts into English.

Ganganath Jha was the first Indian principal from 2, December 1872 to 9 November, 1941. The college in presently Sampoornanand Sanskrit University having over 1,000 Sanskrit colleges across Indian states and Nepal. This is the only Indian university to give affiliations across states.

Presently, India has at least three Central Sanskrit medium Universities and total 15 Sanskrit medium universities are in the country.

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