GANDHI IN ACTION network

the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist

Gandhi International Study and Research Institute, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229

E-mail- dr.yadav.yogendra@gandhifoundation.net;

dr.yogendragandhi@gmail.com

Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India

 

International Language and Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

 

This does not mean that we need not learn English or can be indifferent to it. It is the language of the Government, and has also become an international language, and hence it is necessary for everyone to learn it. One must learn to use it well, when it has to be used. One must learn to read and write in it with facility. But no useful purpose is served by behaving as some young men have been doing. There is no point in writing to another in English when that other person knows as little English as one does oneself. It would only lead to a total misunderstanding, apart from encouraging a bad habit. The right approach would be to use English only when the other person does not know our mother tongue. English may be learnt, but one’s mother tongue must not be ignored. The learning of English must come second to learning one’s mother tongue. Or, one may learn both the languages simultaneously, remembering, however, the general rule mentioned above. We do not believe that those who are not proud of their own language, which are not proficient in it, can have the true spirit of swadeshi. Gujarati, among the Indian languages, is a poorly-developed language, and we also observe that Gujaratis lag behind all the others [in India] in respect of the swadeshi spirit. It is for the Gujaratis to strive for the development of Gujarati. It is in that way that all of us can make ourselves true Indians. 1

If Hindi could take the place of English I for one should be happy. But we realize full well the importance of the English language. We need the knowledge of English for the study of science and of modern literature, for contact with the rest of the world, for trade and commerce, for keeping in touch with the officials and for various other things. We have to learn English whether we wish or not. And this is exactly what is happening. English is an international language. 2 Your question surprises me. English no doubt is the international language. But can it ever be our national language? The latter must be the common property of millions of our people. How can they sustain the burden of learning the English tongue? Hindustani is the natural national language, for it is already understood by 21 crores. The remainder of the population can also easily understand it. But English may be said to be the mother tongue of a mere handful say, a lac at the most. If India is a nation, it must have a national language. English will appropriately remain the international language with the Roman script. But the latter can never be the script of the national language. 3

If I had the time, I would have given a detailed reply to this letter in Harijanbandhu itself. But I have no time for that. I am interested in language as such. What I mean is that whatever language one may speak or write one’s pronunciation should be clear and the grammar perfect. I have not been able to reach this ideal in the case of any language. Gujarati being my mother tongue, naturally, I have love for it. But everyone knows how imperfect my Gujarati is. My grammar is weak, my spelling indifferent. What need I say about my Hindi, Urdu and Hindustani? Yet I have allowed myself to be the president of the Hindustani Prachar Sabha. I spent years running after English and lived for many years in the country of Englishmen. The English language is glorious in its own place. It is an international language. I am also fond of it. But I am conscious that my knowledge of it is also imperfect. 4 

Even during the British rule I had said that English could not be the language of India. I love the English language. I can read and write it. Everyone knows that I am not an enemy either of the English or their language. But everything has its place. English is an international language. If we want to deal with the world outside India, we can do so only through English. English is a universal language. Hindustani has not yet acquired that universality. It is a matter of sorrow that while we have freed ourselves of English rule, we have not been able to free ourselves of the impact of English culture and the English language. 5 

Now remains the English Harijan. I consider it a very small thing. I cannot discontinue the English Harijan. Englishmen and Indian scholars of English believe that there is something special in my English. My contact with the West is also widening. I was never opposed to the British or any Westerner nor am I today. Their welfare is as dear to me as that of my own country. So English will never be excluded from my small store of knowledge. I do not want to forget that language nor do I want the country to forget it or give it up. My insistence has always been on not taking English beyond its rightful place. It cannot become our national language or the medium of instruction. In making it so, we have impoverished our languages. We have put great burden on our students. As far as my knowledge goes, such a sad spectacle is seen only in India. Slavery to this language has deprived crores of our people of considerable knowledge for years. We neither realize it nor feel ashamed of it nor repent it. How strange it is! Knowing this entire pretty well, I cannot boycott English. Just as Tamil and other languages are the regional languages and Hindi is the national language, who can deny that similarly English is an international language? The rule of the British will go because it was corrupt, but the prevalence of English will never go. 6

 

References:

 

  1. 1.      Indian Opinion, 30-1-1909
  2. 2.      Veena, Tributes Issue, April-May 1969
  3. 3.      Harijan, 26-4-1942 
  4. 4.      Harijanbandhu, 16-6-1946
  5. 5.      Prarthana Pravachan—II, pp. 218
  6. 6.      Harijan Sevak, 25-1-1948

 

 

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