Recently, a Bengali lecturer of an English course in a
private university was unable to translate “Nogorayan” - a Bengali word that
stands for “urbanization” - in a class when a student asked her for help. The
teacher proudly said that she could not translate the word, since she was more
familiar with English, had forgotten many Bengali words and felt more at home
This is a common scenario for Bangladeshis, from lecturers to rickshaw drivers;
they feel proud to learn English and wish to forget their mother language of
Bangla. Even though these people dream in Bangla, think in Bangla and have
their inner growth and imagination begin and end in Bangla, they still want to
deny its existence. Some feel sad that their mother tongue was not English by
birth; they feel cursed instead of blessed by the Bangla language.
The triumph of English and and the belittling of the mother tongue of Bangla in
tragic. The mushrooming growth of English-speaking schools recalls colonization
to mind, where the education system controlled by the colonial powers
propagated and institutionalized English.
In British India, the colonial forces tried their best to learn the native
Indian languages, but found it really hard to master the more than 29 spoken
languages present in India.
They found it was easier to have the Indian people learn English instead.
While prominent Christian missionary William Carry was translating Bible into
Bangla and Baptist missionaries Joshua Marshman, William Ward and John Clark
Marshman were mastering Bangla and publishing the first Bangla newspaper, the
Samachar Darpan, the colonial forces were projecting and propagating their
racist and imperialist tool, using English to set up the empire for the future
by getting the best minds of India through "brain drain" and by
controlling their language. The politics of language were also practiced by the
Pakistani government, when it forced Urdu as the official language upon the
people of then East Pakistan, which is today Bangladesh.
When the colonial forces were kicked out from the Indian subcontinent, the
nation needed to slowly make reforms in the use of language and counter the
negative impact of having English as the primary and formal language used at
the administrative level. In 1935, Calcutta
University took the initiative and
introduced Bangla as the language of education together with English. In Bangladesh,
the use of Bangla at the college level started in the 1960s. This system
continues on the Indian subcontinent.
After its independence from Pakistan,
the government of Bangladesh
made the decision to replace English with Bangla at the administrative level,
but after the death of Sheikh Mujib, this process came to a halt and English
continued to be the primary language. The process was continued when Hussain
Muhammad Ershad introduced the Bangla Procholon Aeen, or Bangla Implementation
Act, of 1987.
The scenario has changed in Bangladesh.
At different administrative levels, Bangla is the official language. But,
although the lower courts carry out their activities in Bangla, English remain
influential since many of the judges in the high courts and Supreme Court give
their verdicts in English.
The influence of English is even greater in the areas of science and
technology, for the sake of higher education. Major problems include the fact
that there are not enough books in Bangla to teach with and that most of the
books and references are in English or other languages.
Everyone is obviously not learning English because they like English or
Shakespeare or Elizabeth Bishop, etc. They are learning it because the English
language has established itself as the language of the world. The English
language has an influential history. It started its journey as a West Germanic
language in the early 5th century A.D. and, gradually, with the growth of
British Empire, it spread beyond the British Isles; by
the late nineteenth century, it had become the first global “lingua franca”.
From the Roman invasion of England
by Julius Caesar in 55 B.C. to any aggression against other countries, the
English language was often a tool of imperialist politics. Nowadays, English is
used as the official language in 53 countries and 300 to 400 million people use
English as their primary language all around the world. Many religious and
state entities have patronized English.
On Feb. 21, 1952, several people were killed by police as thousands protested
for their right to use the Bangla language. Rabindranath Tagore, given the name
Gurudev, and other Bengalis have given the Bangla language a place of honor in
the world. If we Bangla-speaking people can focus on Bangla, the rest of the
world be in our hands; many "Gurudevs" will shine before the world. Then,
the imperialist politics of English will collapse.
William Nicholas Gomes is a human rights activist and
freelance journalist.He can be reached at E-mail:email@example.com