The magic of ignorance - English a false prophet

Anthea Fraser Gupta A.F.Gupta at
Fri Jan 21 21:45:26 UTC 2005

We were discussing Malaysia and Trond said, "I guess that the question will always be "to what price". English
skills can always be improved (I talk of personal experience here), but
from what you tell it doesn't seem that Malay, Tamil or Chinese"

You seem to have accidentally deleted something! What was it? I don't think that that the development of English skills in Malaysia is at the expense of the other languages that are used in education. As Hal well knows, Tamil, the educational language of a rather small minority, is under threat in a number of ways.  All the languages that are not used in education are also losing native speakers, and high-proficiency speakers, at the expense of languages used in education. The opposition is language-of-education vs. language-not-used-in-education rather than an opposition that sets English aside from other languages. I do not think that Finns learn English at the expense of Finnish, and people across Asia are also accustomed to learning and using many languages.

Trond said, "My experience is limited here, but i conducted a survey of the position
of lgs other than English in the computer and software industry in
India, of different langauges on the internet, and of lg technology
resources for the lgs other than the Indian state lgs. What I found was
that English has a far stronger position within these areas than it has
in the Nordic countries. This was the impression that made me
generalise to the phrase "too many domains" above."
It is not surprising that English should be so visible in internet sites in India. English is very dominant in anything functioning at a national level. I don't see that this is a bad thing. The alternative would be either Hindi (with its regional associations) or the EU model of multiple translations (cumbersome).  And as access to internet, wealth, and a high level of educational achievement are linked, it's unlikely (in the present inequities) that anyone who could not use English would be using the internet.  This is what makes India so different from the Nordic countries -- there isn't a national dominant language, and English (as Hal has also mentioned) is the most accepted national language in many parts of India. Incidentally, penetration of English across the social classes is highest in India in those regions which speak languages unrelated to Hindi. English is not associated with specific ethnic groups in the way that Hindi is.  It must be emphasised that English is one of the languages of places like India, Malaysia, and Nigeria, and not a foreign language.

Trond said, "No, the legacy of imperialism doesn't have to be grim, and French and
English aren't in themselves enemies. The "enemy" part comes in only
when they replace and thereby destroy the native education system."  Historically, the Indian education system began with the 'vernaculuars' and then went on to higher skills in Persian and/or Sanskrit. English, since Macaulay's famous minute, slotted in replacing Persian and Sanskrit, but posed no threat to the vernaculars. I don't think many people would want to being back Persian and Sanskrit in higher education, and the system introduced under colonialism is much better accepted that a return to that past would be! 

Trond said, "The last thing I want to do is to "come down from
Europe and tell people what to do". But I think the Nordic and Finnish
experiences represent an alternative to the British model that ought to
be part of the total picture for lg and education planners. "  I know of no former British colony that has an education system like the British one. The dominant pattern is one involving some kind of bi/trilingual education system. And that is STILL very much the pattern in Malaysia.
And I bet a lot of Malay (or whatever is needed) will be used in these supposedly English-medium science and technology classes too..... Teachers are usually pretty sensible.
Anthea Fraser Gupta
University of Leeds

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