Xenophobia is sign of national insecurity and lack of self-confidence. By asserting that foreign influences threaten domestic culture, rulers show a lack of conviction that the culture and heritage of their own nations are inferior; unequipped to deal with the world. They presuppose that the people are morons whose feeble will is easily corrupted. Iran has banned English in its primary schools, after the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that the language opened the way to Western “cultural invasion”. The ban came after the widespread youth protests against the barbaric rule of mullahs, which is a salient feature of all Islamic countries. The Ayatollah has often criticised his nation’s education system for not being Islamic enough. In 2016, he had declared it was “unhealthy” to have just English as the main foreign language.
So why this fear of English? There are other Western languages, too, such as French, German, Italian, and the myriad languages of Scandinavia. Of course, we have our own cowboys who have been for years pleading for curbs on English and to replace it in official communications with Hindi. We also have regional satraps who believe ethnic language promotion should be done at the cost of English. Like scalded cats hissing at the sight of hot water, they justify their prejudice as a rejection of India’s colonial past. However, the truth is that English is one of the unifying factors in the country, which has 22 major languages, 13 different scripts and over 720 dialects.
English is also the language of the world, using which, people of different nations, including Western, communicate with one another. Even at the United Nations assemblies where the babble of the world’s languages spoken by international leaders can be heard, English is the medium of translators to communicate their messages.
English is not a language of the British, the Americans and the Australians alone. Even amongst them the ‘tomayto’ and ‘tomaato’ syndrome shows that there are three different English-es. English is the only language which has absorbed thousands of words from other languages, including from India—mulligatawny from Tamil, bungalow from Bengali, juggernaut from Odia, shampoo from Hindustani, dacoit from Hindi, cushy from Urdu—the list is long. Similarly, Hindi has borrowed from English: botal from bottle, aspataal from hospital, kanastar from canister, santri from sentry, takniki from technical, memsahib from madam, and afsar from officer. Last year, 70 new Indian words from Telugu, Urdu, Tamil, Hindi and Gujarati languages were added to the Oxford English Dictionary.
Language is a living organic entity, which evolves and expands as cultures interact, and dialects allow the inflections of their contemporaries into their voice boxes. From English has come some of the world’s greatest literature from William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman to Vikram Seth, whose works are rich intellectual exports just as translations of Rabindranath Tagore, Tulsi Das, Subramania Bharati and Ghalib are. The beauty of India is that its myriad languages can be translated into other regional languages, too. Though languages do have a mother nation, they do not belong to its people alone. Nations opposing English in the name of culture are dwarfing their own mind power and creative prowess.