How English is taking Over

De Swaan divides languages into four categories. Lowest on the pyramid are the “peripheral languages”, which make up 98% of all languages, but are spoken by less than 10% of mankind. These are largely oral, and rarely have any kind of official status. Next are the “central languages”, though a more apt term might be “national languages”.

These are written, are taught in schools, and each has a territory to call its own: Lithuania for Lithuanian, North and South Korea for Korean, Paraguay for Guarani, and so on.

Following these are the 12 “supercentral languages”: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Malay, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swahili – each of which (except for Swahili) boast 100 million speakers or more. These are languages you can travel with. They connect people across nations. They are commonly spoken as second languages, often (but not exclusively) as a result of their parent nation’s colonial past.

Then, finally, we come to the top of the pyramid, to the languages that connect the supercentral ones. There is only one: English, which De Swaan calls “the hypercentral language that holds the entire world language system together”. The Japanese novelist Minae Mizumura similarly describes English as a “universal language” . For Mizumura, what makes it universal is not that it has many native speakers – Mandarin and Spanish have more – but that it is “used by the greatest number of non-native speakers in the world”. She compares it to a currency used by more and more people until its utility hits a critical mass and it becomes a world currency. The literary critic Jonathan Arac is even more blunt, noting, in a critique of what he calls “Anglo-Globalism”, that “English in culture, like the dollar in economics, serves as the medium through which knowledge may be translated from the local to the global.”

Behemoth, bully, thief: how the English language is taking over the planet

This article seems a bit tired and the entire tone of the Guardian moaning the supremacy of the English language reminds me of the whole furore over white privilege, sometimes it’s simply an exultation that one has it.

Even though I’m writing this in English I don’t think English is taking over; it’s simply reflecting the Anglo-American supremacy from Queen Vic to QE (Trump represents the high water mark of this era).

As China grows in power; 1 point something billion Chinese aren’t going to magically shift to English. Furthermore beyond the Old Commonwealth (the White Dominions + US); English gains its prominence from its usage in the New Commonwealth (Africa & Asia).

One shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a Lingua Franca but neither extol or exaggerate its significance. Just as the Dollar can be easily replaced so can the English language.

As a final thought this is why my idea on Languages + Script = Civilisation is so important (if I say so myself).

Density of Cows Worldwide

I have been wondering this the past week is that how and why did India become vegetarian. Was it simply a theological quirk or were there some geohistorical reasons for it (the cow was such an economic necessity that it made sense to forgo protein). Was it also an Aryan feature or Dravidian or does that question make no sense?

Another thought that came to mind was that would ancient Indians have been wealthier had they been avid meat-eaters. If there had been lesser resources to go around the population densities would have been lighter perhaps but of course this pales in comparison to bad leadership.

As an aside I definitely concede the fact that more often than not local leadership is almost always better for the population than foreign dynasties. Therefore Hindu dynasties probably were better for India than Muslim ones simply because India was home for the former. The Mughal’s great accomplishments were in art and architecture, which may be very well for posterity but didn’t make them a match for the modern age in contrast to the Safavids who built Iran into a successful nation state.

I would hazard that Ashoka was probably a better Emperor of India than Akbar simply because the former gifted the world India’s most successful export, blue-eyed Buddha (believe it or not the Buddha had blue eyes). We sometimes forget that Buddhism probably ranks as India’s greatest accomplishment in the wider world; it transformed all Eastern religions and became the dominant philosophical paradigm for so much of the ancient world. It’s reflective of Western bias that Indian academics and historians are more concerned with ancient India’s influence on the modern West; the Mitanni were a footnote in history compared to the great accomplishments of Indic civilisation in the East.

However the reason why I think India never really matched China in national identity, sovereignty and political cohesion (even when the Chinese were ruled by foreigners they still managed to maintain their cultural coherence to a very great and recognisable extent) is simply because of caste. The greatest faultline in South Asia, after creed, is caste and that made Indian society vulnerable to foreign despots. The court of Mughal Kings is littered with Brahmins and Rajputs and let’s not forget Urdu was an invention of Khatris and Kayasths. The Brits didn’t only come up with divide and rule; the fissures were inbuilt Into Indian society.. The Sikhs achieved the dominance they did was because they welded a caste-light community to achieve assabiyah, which the different children of Brahma frankly eschewed from time to time. This is something to thank Pakistan and the Muslims; they are such a galvanising force for Hindu society to reconsolidate and shed away such internal divisions..

Interesting Links:

Food Writer Becomes A Butcher To Better Understand The Value Of Meat

Pakistan elects first non-Muslim in modern history to general national assembly seat

Only catastrophe truly reduces inequality, according to a historical survey

Thoughts on the Open thread

I thought I would share some of my thoughts on the open thread:

(1.) with regards to ethnicity; there is no doubt there is a post 1947 fork. For instance most Sindhi Hindus do not know that there are Sindhis in Pakistan and vice versa. Sindhi identity is super-strong to each religious group but it doesn’t transcend it.

(2.) It most likely has roots in pre-1947 where the Hindu minority (which was substantial) was the majority in the urban areas (I believe they were the majority in Karachi). As soon as Partition happened their role was essentially swapped for Urdu-speaking Muhajir. Sindhi Muslims are definitely not winners from Partition; Sindh has a whole suffered tremendously. The relocation of the capital from Karachi, for political reasons, was another blow to the province.

(3.) Ethnicity and religion have a start relationship in South Asia and guides most intermarriages. For instance I wouldn’t feel comfortable to marry a Muslim and my choice of marital partners were accordingly limited even though I’m ethnically from a much more Islamicate background. However I remember my Gujarati Ismaili boss telling me his mother was relieved that he was marrying a Gujarati (his wife was a Hindu) so that’s an instance where ethnicity trumped religion in marital preferences (the same goes for me; marrying another Bahai was not a priority for me).

(4.) with regards to Indian Muslim; my experiences are thus. When I go to India if I were to tell a Hindu I’m of Pakistani heritage while they may not hate me but they would be uncomfortable. It’s a bit like being African-American in the US; everyone loves Will Smith but not the kid from the ghetto. It’s a bit like that.

(5.) Of course I have noticed a stark generational divide in India; the uncles and aunties were Congress but the kids are now BJP. There is a latent Islamophobia coupled with Islamophilia; most Indians will interact and be close to Muslims at some point in their lives. Like all things it’s a complicated tapestry.

(6.) the difference between Indian Muslims and Indian Hindus (anecdotally) is their antipathy to Pakistan. It simply not there to the same extent among Indian Muslims; I’ll happily tell them that I’m of Pakistan descent whereas generally with Hindus I’ll tell them I’m Parsi-Persian simply to diffuse tensions. Vidhi calls this “dial the Muslim up, dial the Muslim down” and my best friend call me a chameleon but these are simply my observations.

(7.) Pakistan does hold a fascination for all Indians; it’s not simply just another country. The culture, the music, the heritage and the history have a particular pull on India so much antipathy is towards the State of Pakistan. Pakistan and the Indus have a strong weight on the immediate region simply because it is a border region between many different cultural zones. After Afghanistan got wrecked that exoticness shifted to Pakistan; however this is why I advocate AfPak confederation simply because two Stans are stronger than one. On a personal note I do think a SAARC Confederation is a way to go (Iran has a split identity since 30% of the country east of the two Dasht’s are tied in South and Central Asi) but initially various countries can couple up as a first step. Maybe instead of religious identity we should try Pan-Aryanism; whoops I think someone’s already tried that before ?

(8.) I think if India were to approach 10k USD per capital (with decent HDI & Gini coefficient) it would be a Asian hyperpower. It’s not only by virtue of her large population and economy but because the strong civilisational heritage can rapidly translate into global influence.

The Siraiki question

Spats does give some good points that West Punjab (and by extension her Indus peripheries) were outside the pale of Vedas.

However the key question is the question of the Siraiki language.

* More than Urdu being an “Indian linguistic invasion” into the Indus; the Punjabi language also seems to be a Hindawi pushback from the East into the Lahnda speaking West.

* The remnants of Lahnda, which descends from the same Prakrit as Sindhi, are Hindko and Seraiki.

* In a way Lahore functions a bit like Delhi in diffusing a more Gangetic/Indic bias to the Indus region; one Seraiki leaning website claimed that the invading Sikhs brought Punjabi into the Punjab.

* The Punjab and Sindh are disproportionately influential provinces and “Seraikistan”/Bahawlapur would dramatically rebalance the federation (Pak Punjab hasn’t had its Haryana moment yet).

* The question of Gilgit-Baltistan, Hindko and Pathans in Baluchistan raise up more dilemmas as to provincial rebalance.

* The historic Indo-Gangetic axis, the GT road, is Kabul-Lahore-Delhi-Dhaka. Perhaps if our great British overlords had adopted a more sensible approach to the Subcontinent we could have seen many Indias based on these great cities. I don’t know what would have been equivalent cities in the South; Mysore, Hyderabad?

Some interesting links:

A language buried by Partition

WIKITONGUES: Lillotama speaking Seraiki

Morali Laal : A Hindu living in Pakistan

Reham Khan speaking Saraiki

The Seraiki Subai Bandwagon

Naya politics in South Asia

As an English medium Indian, for a while, I was taken in by the ‘corrupt politicians’ are the problem narrative. I thought that any news about them getting taught a lesson, losing power or even getting incarcerated was good news. For some other members of my class, it went much further. I remember reading news about a Bihar politician dying. But what I recall most is the frustration of the few commentators who actually knew about the politician’s work and were trying to pay homage to him, but getting overwhelmed by the ‘good riddance’ type comments most Indians of my type were expressing.

This narrative remains predominant in the English medium class in India even today. With a preponderance of STEM graduates, who are not accustomed to critical thinking and subjective analysis, the ‘great man’ narrative is easy to fall for when it comes to explaining (and solving) social problems. Every achievement is the result of a ‘stern’, ‘uncorrupt’ leader, while every shortcoming is because of ‘corrupt’ or ‘weak’ politicians.

The politics of newly politicized, upper middle class South Asian youth thus revolve around a ‘great man’. The manifestations of this are of course, Narendra Modi in India, and Imran Khan in Pakistan.

In India, with its deep levels of politicization, the influence of the upper middle class is not that great, but played no small part in getting Narendra Modi elected. Modi has moved things since he came to power, demonetisation, GST, RERA, insolvency act, ease of doing business and so on. But a Congress government with the same kind of mandate (a full majority) would have done exactly the same things, with the exception of demonetisation. More importantly, there isnt a single program or policy of the Congress that Modi has substantially altered, be it NREGA (hated by economic conservatives) or RTE (hated by extreme Hindutva folks).

Modi, like any smart politician knows that politics in a feudal and agrarian society like India revolves around patronage. And the key to this patronage is massive state spending on rural development, agrarian subsidies and government salaries. In every budget that the Modi government has presented, the proportion of spending on these patronage enabling items has remained unchanged from previous administrations. Corruption is simply the informal channel that actually makes this money trickle down.

In Pakistan, even though the proclivities of the English class are similar to their Indian counterparts, the situation is different. The scope for patronage spending is already constrained by the high budget demands of the army, its control of key economic sectors and the need to service existing debts. From this perspective, one can speculate that the conflict between Sharif and the army was a structural consequence of the demands of South Asian patronage politics on the one hand, and the vested interests of a small, but powerful group of people (the military). It is not clear what will enable Imran Khan to sidestep this reality. His party is filled with turncoats from other parties who know for sure that without patronage power, they dont stand a chance at getting reelected. But he does not seem to have the will or even the inclination to constrain the military.

Only an industrialized economy in which workers are less dependent on local strong men for employment and crisis-support can really alter things. Can kaptaan take Pakistan there faster than India ?

Pakistan General Elections 2018 – The Silver Linings:

A friend of mine posted this to Facebook and I’m reproducing it below. It’s interesting that Pakistan has a FPTP, like the UK, US, India & Canada. That means that there’s an inbuilt bias for a 2-Party system. At any rate the below is an interesting read. Apparently a Shi’ite lady (PTI) beat a sectarian outfit.

-An absolutely brilliant and inspiring election campaign by Mohammad Jibran Nasir, where he refused to bow down to extremist pressure (ZackNote: he is a Shi’ite and has a bold stance on the Ahmediyya) and never once indulged in condemnation of any community or mud-slinging against any party. It won him 6,462 and 6,109 votes from NA-247 and PS-111 respectively, which in today’s political climate is a huge achievement.

-The first Hindu to be elected to the National Assembly on a general seat: PPP candidate Dr Mahesh Kumar Malani from Tharparkar (NA-222).

-Two leaders of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement – Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar – winning National Assembly seats from South Waziristan and being able to represent the PTM in Parliament.

-Rana Sanaullah, Chaudhry Nisar and Maulana Fazal ur Rehman types being voted out. Just go now, bye.

-The overall underwhelming performance of religious parties such as Tehreek Labaik Pakistan despite all the pre-election hype they had created.

-An over 50% voter turnout despite the targeted attacks that killed three candidates in the election run-up and a suicide attack outside a polling station in Quetta on election day.

-Avoiding a hung Parliament, which would have meant further instability and focus away from governance in Pakistan.

A stellar victory speech by Imran Khan, hitting all the right notes. Much cause for holding on to hope and a reminder of all the crucial work that is to be done.

Now onwards and upwards Pakistan ??


East Bengal/Pakistan catches up to West Bengal/Pakistan

Today I was looking on the internet to get some more information on the Pakistan election. Honestly, I don’t have a strong opinion….

But by chance, I ended up stumbling on articles like this, When East overtakes West:

…a recent article, “East overtakes West,” in The Economist has thrown a spanner in the works. The east is the erstwhile East Pakistan and the west is today’s Pakistan. It shows that the GDP per capita of Bangladesh is $1,538 and that of Pakistan lags behind at $1,470. This is the result of a GDP growth rate of over six per cent per annum in the past 12 years. One-third of the GDP is contributed by industry and the value-added garments exports are larger than India and Pakistan put together.

The truth is that Bangladesh’s better statistics in some measures are due to demographics. Per capita values will change in opposite directions if nation underestimated its population (as Bangladesh did), and another nation overestimated its population (as Pakistan did). Using PPP corrections and such Pakistan is still a more prosperous land per person. But it’s getting close. The trendline is definitely pointing in one direction. A piece at Brookings asks “Why is Bangladesh booming?” The author notes:

Once one of the poorest regions of Pakistan, Bangladesh remained an economic basket case—wracked by poverty and famine—for many years after independence in 1971. In fact, by 2006, conditions seemed so hopeless that when Bangladesh registered faster growth than Pakistan, it was dismissed as a fluke.

But I’ve always thought that the infant mortality and life expectancy statistics in Bangladesh were things that were more important to be proud of (and on this score Bangladesh does indisputably better than Pakistan). And curiously, on this measure, Bangladesh does even better than India! But to a great extent, that’s not a fair comparison, as India is a coalition of regions, while Bangladesh would just be a very populous Indian state.

More comparable is West Bengal. Bangladesh and West Bengal look to be at parity in terms of life expectancy and per capita GDP. And metropolitan Dhaka and Kolkotta now have about the same population, at ~15,000,000.

We live in interesting times.

Italian belittles India (and no it’s not Sonia Gandhi)

This is Coloniser Privileger taken far too far!

PM Modi must immediately ban this “fauxgrapher” Alessio Malmo with a lifetime ban and SAARC must follow. I would also ban William Dalyrymple because his faux-Mughal faux-desi act is tiresome but then I’m getting ahead of myself.

The problem with desis is that we bicker over so much trivia (newsflash Nehru & Jinnah are long-dead) that we don’t focus on actually projecting the right image abroad.

India should have given lifetime bans to all of the makers of SlumDog Millionaire and oh yes ask for the Koh-i-Noor. The great mystery of how Duleep’s Singh line mysteriously died out (even when he had 8 children) is a historic tragedy..

Captain Pakistan and the Faustian Pact

Imran Khan of course has made a Faustian bargain and Mephistopheles is probably some shady top-brass general. A few points:

(1.) PTI + Army is the “National” pan-ethnic party of Pakistan that relies on the young frustrated nationalistic religious (but not fanatic) Pakistanis active on social media. As said it’s the BJP equivalent but since Pakistan is an Islamic Republic; the populist right-wing stance is of a different stance.

(2.) PPP & PML are the provincial parties and will have to work some sort of grand coalition deal to survive. The ethnic messy substratum layer of Pakistan that Partition and Paknationalism has tried so hard to erase will form half the country. Pakistani politics must adapt and will be interesting.

(3.) there is no doubt that there has been vote fudging; close seats haven’t been declared. I would imagine there is a PTI wave and approximately 10-20 seat victories are questionable however the PTI has arrived.

(4.) I personally find Imran Khan odd (like the Donald) as Vidhi quipped “Pakistan, like the US, has a thrice married leader.” I find Maryam or Fati much more palatable since women present a gentler side of our Islamic Republic..

(5.) I do think that today has been a victory for Pakistan. Democracy with Mughal characteristics has won the day. I jest but on a serious note; the democratic process is taking seed in Pakistan and the fact that the military are being push behind the scenes is a force for good.

(6.) this is very offensive; after 1948 & 1971, any more meddling in Pakistani sovereign territory is simply unacceptable and I say this as someone who is on the Barkha Dutta/Arundhati Roya spectrum of Pakistan (believe it or not so is Kabir).

(7.) Pakistan’s economy is in a right mess let’s see if Mr. Clean can fix it up but the biggest reason is of course Mephistopheles himself. I’ve seen the Marlow play twice (once with the Game of Thrones chap & Marlow descendant Kit H) and I genuinely can’t remember how the play ends. I’m not going to google it but let the suspense play out; let see how the reality tv version goes..

Is PTI the BJP of Pakistan and Imran Khan, Modi

To be honest to compare the political cultures of Pakistan and India is insulting to the latter.

For instance the condemnable lynching of the Muslim cowherd has been loudly and clearly condemned by the Indian political and media establishment whereas Aasia Bibi is still in jail.

It is furthermore arguable that the more right wing parties in India are still more liberal than the left wing parties in Pakistan since the Indian Right, by and large, accepts the Nehruvian settlement whereas the Pakistani left accepts the Islamic Republic.

Notwithstanding these caveats (after commentators complained of the anti-Indian bias on BP I want to make sure I check myself); if we are to map the Indian and Pakistan political scenes I do see some symmetry between IK & Modi.

One striking one is that they both have rather weird sex lives and haven’t been able to make marriage work for them individually.

Tough times ahead for Pakistan if Imran Khan does get to power. However I will say this that like Modi he does seem rather incorruptible perhaps because he doesn’t have a dynasty.

I would never accept Jemima’s sons in a dynastic setting; Pakistan has a hard enough time dealing with Benazir’s brood. The advantage the Sharifs have with their children is that their children (Maryam et al) exude a Pakistaniness that only comes from being immersed in the environment. Bilawal suffers from the Rahul syndrome (to make another Indo-Pak comparison).

Brown Pundits