Essay on Language as uniting and divisive force


Language, as Samuel Johnson said, is the dress of thought; it is only the instrument of science, and words are but the signs of ideas. When the ideas are good and constructive, language promotes unity and cohesion, but when the ideas are basically faulty, ill-conceived, deceitful and subversive, language has the contrary effect.

Instead of promoting harmony and serving as the means of purposeful communication between human beings, it begins to corrode the mind, feeding the base instincts of man and encouraging tendencies that inevitably lead to divisive and fissiparous tendencies. It then breaks up society into warring factions, each fighting for its own linguistic rights and preferences.

So language does to necessarily ensure unity and harmony. Bernard Shaw’s witty saying that “England and America are two countries separated by the same language” carries a subtle meaning. Language controversies also developed in Pakistan (Urdu Vs Punjabi), Bangladesh (Urdu Vs Bengali) and other countries.


Much, of course, depends upon the quality and content of a language; a living language, Jawaharlal Nehru used to say, “is a throbbing, vital thing, ever changing, ever growing and mirroring the people who speak and write it. It has its roots in the masses, though its superstructure may represent the culture of a few.” Both language and the faculty of speech are “immediate gifts of God”, and language should do anything it is told, undertake any job required and not be a stubborn one-idea thing.

Trouble arises when language and those who speak it develop a one- channel mind. When language becomes an obsession and when some people think their own language is the best in the world and must have primacy over others even if such primacy is not in the national interest, there is endless discord, disharmony, even violence and riots, supposedly in the name of a good cause. But no religion and no language propagates the cult of violence and murder. Those who quarrel and kill in the name of language or religion do a distinct disservice to both.

Linguistic controversies on a national scale (mostly about the advisability of adopting English or Hindi or both for education arts administration) and also in the various regions (in Punjab, West Bengal, U.P. and elsewhere), have done havoc in India.

The decision to create States on a linguistic basis, following prolonged agitations in several part of the country, beginning with Andhra Pradesh for which there was fast unto death more than three decades ago in the name of language and linguistic States—separating the Telegu-speaking areas (to form Andhra Pradesh) from the Tamil-speaking areas. As a result we had Linguistic States Commission many of whose recommendations for splitting up certain regions into separate and small States had a distinct! divisive sequel. The divisions thus effected had a far-reaching effect an at times even cut at the roots of national integration.


Article 343(1) of the Constitution of India lays down that the official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script. The provision for the use of English (Article 343(2) has all along been interpreted by the founding fathers, and countless others, as essentially a transition; measure. But the southern States of the country strongly oppose am Central measure that smacks of as intention to impose Hindi on them. Every time there is talk of promoting the use of Hindi for administrative purposes at the Centre and in Centre-State communications in accordant with the provision in the Constitution, there is much resentment in the South.

It was this resentment that prompted a leader of the South to co: the slogan: “English ever, Hindi never”. The language issue is among the principal causes of the strains in the relations of the Centre and the southern States. After every few years the near-crisis on this issue is got over by an assurance that there would be no “imposition” of any language and that there would be no linguistic switch-over without the consent of the southern States. The linguistic issue thus hinders the progress of nation unity and integration.

The deadlines in this regard have lost credibility. What is more, students seeking bright careers in the national context. ° often indicated a preference for English as the medium of instruction for postgraduate courses. To some extent the students’ preference ft countered the linguistic fervour among the political leaders of the southern States.

Languages has at times prompted fanaticism. For instance, some zealous advocates of Hindi have insisted that the Head of State should always deliver formal addresses in Hindi. A young man disturbed form President Reddy’s address to the Sangeet Natak Akademi in March, 1979 insisting that Mr. Reddy should speak in Hindi. The fanatic was downright impertinent and the President remarked: “I do not like fanatics an: don’t want to encourage fanaticism.” The interests of any language a ill-served by linguistic purohits claiming a monopoly of cultural patriotism.

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