The Language Factor


Dr. Ravi P. Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

The world over, languages play a dominant role in the history, culture, education and academic work of nations. One can see several examples in everyday lives of people.

After the Holocaust committed by the German leader Adolf Hitler, many Jews had to move out of their countries — Russia, Germany, France and others, and tried to settle elsewhere. Fortunately England was relatively safe from this onslaught. The Jewish people after several years were adjusted in Israel. In addition to cultural changes in the new region, the question of integrating different languages spoken earlier became important.

The new country decided to make integration of all people by teaching Hebrew language. It is an ancient language akin in some ways to spoken Arabic language, but while Arabic is written from right to left, Hebrew from left to right like many world languages— English, French, German, Russian, Sanskrit, Hindi, etc.

India got independence from England in 1947 and was divided in two countries — India and Pakistan, the latter into West and East Pakistan which were dominated by Moslems. However the dominant language in the western part was Urdu, written from right to left as was Arabic. The western part was also politically and culturally the dominant region. This, the western part of Pakistan, wanted to impose its dominance on the Eastern part in terms of language and culture.

However, the Eastern part had its own distinctive culture, language and even food habits. Thus the East Pakistan people did not accept the dominance of the western part since they spoke Bengali and even had a strong academic background with some well known academics and poets working in this region. The differences between the two parts were too glaring and ultimately in 1971, the people of East Pakistan decided to become a separate country called Bangladesh with political and military help of the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Bengali language had several distinctive academics and poets including Rabindranath Tagore. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913 for his poems Gitanjali and other distinctive writings. He is also credited for writing the lyrics of the Indian National Anthem which was accorded this distinction in 1950.

India is a vast country with 22 languages accepted by the Indian Constitution. These include Hindi, Punjabi, Marathi and several South Indian languages — Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and so on. Even Nepali and Sindhi, which are not part of India, are recognised by the Indian Constitution. Of course, English is widely used in our official documents and in law, Science and Technology and several academic writings.

The most popular spoken language in India is Hindi with about 540 million or about 44 % of people in India speaking it.

The country of Sri Lanka has its own spoken languages. When I visited the country about few years ago, it was difficult to communicate with people except those dealing with Indian business houses. An interesting observation I made was that although they generally did not speak Hindi, their TV sets used to play popular Hindi film songs for entertainment.

I conclude my essay by noting that Hindi film songs are popular not only in Sri Lanka but also in some Mid East countries like Dubai, UAE, etc.

I salute the musicians and singers of these beautiful songs.


Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 23 Jan 2023.

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