From the International News Wires
“Several cities in India have been renamed since independence from British colonial rule in 1947 to reflect local languages and nationalist sentiments.
The southern Indian state of Kerala changed the name of its capital from Trivandrum to Thiruvananthapuram in 1991 and in 1995 financial hub Bombay became Mumbai to reflect the Maratha language of Maharashtra state.
The Tamil Nadu state capital of Madras was rechristened Chennai in 1996 and West Bengal’s Calcutta became Kolkata in 2001.
Language activists, who have demanded that signboards and billboards be displayed in Kannada as well, have also opposed the introduction of English in primary schools.” — 11/3/2006
I came across this story this morning. I found it provocative, in that India has always been, as a former Brit colony, similar in some regards to the US. They have unique issues (and they smell wierd), but particularly in this whole “multi-ethnic” thing, India and the US face similar challenges.
Right now, every ethnic and linguistic subgroup on the subcontinent is laboring mightily for “ethic identity,” just as the various ethnic subgroups within the US seem to be doing. However, while the US has thus far chosen to remain a melting pot, India has elected to acceed to the demands of the “minorities”, becoming more and more of a polyglot nation.
So from the Anglo “Bombay”, we get “Mumbai” and now, it seems, from “Bagalore”, we’ll be outsourcing our “help desk” calls to “Bengalaru.”
Sure, I know we barely grumbled when Peking became Beijing. I did scratch my head when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and Zambia. But recently (perhaps as my memory becomes ossified), I have found it difficult to keep up with the shifting nomenclature. When the railways in Mumbai were hit by multiple terrorist bombs earlier this year, it took me more than a little while to realize that this was old Bombay that was in the news.
But nomenclature aside, the story went on to mention that much of India seeking to abandon English as its official language, abandoning instruction of English in the schools. Instead, the story said, the literally hundreds of local dialects will be used in schools, on official documents, and so forth.
Bravo, say I. But then, I don’t care for India all that much.
Here in America, particularly in those areas where recent immigrants have chosen to en-ghetto themselves in alien-tongued enclaves, there is a similar (though more covert) movement to force the government to use multilingual forms and signage. And that is a real danger … moreso than many of the “terrors” the politicians and demagogues would have us trembling over.
Not to overstate the case – after all, India was only held together as a “nation” by the force of the British Empire. Its disintegration, like that of the Taj, has been slow, and ponderous, and in a way majestic and peaceful. But in the end, it will be a pile of colorful rubble by a weed-choked reflecting pond of stagnant water. And the bemused survivors won’t even be able to argue among each other about why it happened.
It is, perhaps, debatable whether the linguistic fragmentation of India is a symptom or a cause, but it is inarguable that the abandonment of a common tongue is a divisive, rather than a unifying force.
For America, we do not need to look hard for divisive forces within our nation. So while I revel in the addition of new words to American English, the next bureaucrat who hands me a form with Spanish gibberish interlaced in the text is going to have it returned in tiny pieces.
It’s the American thing to do.