Monday, December 05, 2005

The Neighborhood is About to Get a Lot Larger

An interesting scholarly essay that argues that English is about to become the de facto official language of India:
There is something exciting in being surprised by a turn of events, and proved wrong. I spent a quarter of a century agitating for India to do like Japan, China and Korea, for the government to take the initiative in integrating the elite with the non-elite by having school education only in local languages. And restoring to Indian languages the top end of their functional range, now occupied by English. But it didn’t happen. The elite simply won’t give up English.

So now, the non-elite has taken charge of the situation by laying claim to the language associated in India with a middle class existence. They are ready to turn India into a vast English-speaking country, where we, the elite will have to scramble to keep our footing. Where interesting things are going to happen.
As I said, it's a bit scholarly and assumes a familiarity with India readers may not have, but the idea that within a generation or so the Anglosphere will grow by about a billion people, with a different but common culture to mark them out, is exciting.

We're seeing the leading edge in the telecommunications market, where call centers can be staffed by moderately competent English speakers at a fraction of American wages (but that are still generous wages in India), and in computer software.

Look at how Japan and Japanese are slowly infiltrating American culture, and the Japanese have little interest in learning American English, preferring to adapt our words into their language. Apaato for apartments, konbini for convenience stores. Still, the Japanese culture, via anime and technological innovation, enters American culture. But a nation of a billion speaking native English and trying to enter the Anglo market will have a much larger influence on our culture.

Will it come to displace African-American or Hispanic cultural influences, where those culture are contiguous or interpenetrating to ours? It should be interesting to watch.

And the other upside is that all those Bollywood extravaganzas won't need subtitles any more! The Indian cinema dance style is already being seen in music videos here. Can't wait to see if the musical style -- pulsing, rhythmic and lyrical -- makes it, too.

India seems to be trying an incredible experiment. Rather than going through the Industrial Age to get to the Information Age, as China is doing right now, they seem to be trying to leap directly into the Information Age. Ubiquitous English speaking is a part of that formula. Rather than trying to build an industrial infrastructure, only to then disassemble it to become Info-centric, the Indians seem content to import their industrial needs (as Info Age countries learn to do) and immediately start in on building the information infrastructure they need.

It will be interesting to watch India and China compete. Each wants to be the regional superpower in that corner of the world. China seems content to merely protect itself by being on par with the world. They still view China as the Middle Kingdom, the center of the world, just as Americans view America as the center of the world. Their ambitions, though, don't seem to be bending the world to their desires but to being strong enough to keep the barbarians out of their world, or on its fringes.

The Hong Kong model, of assimilation into the world of the Anglosphere, of being uber-capitalists and business leaders world-wide, isn't going to be adopted, but subsumed into the larger Chinese autocratic system. The New China will not really resemble go-go Hong Kong, but Europe without the social safety system. Heavily regulated with strong governmental controls.

India, though, seems to be seeking assimilation into the Anglosphere. They seem to want to become on a par with America or Australia, freely interacting with other English-speaking nations as a business equal.

The next twenty years will be fascinating to watch.

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