Jump to: navigation, search

English


English (in Bengal) The introduction of English in Bengal is linked with the introduction of east india company rule in the country. Ever since the East India Company established its trading stations in Hughli and Bassore in the 1630s and came in direct contact with the trading people, English as a commercial medium began to be cultivated by the local officials of the company. In commercial dealings, the Company engaged local people as interpreters, who became the earliest natives to communicate in mixed Persian, English and Bangla. The firman granted in 1651 by shah shuja to the east india company was issued in Persian accompanied by its English translation.'

The use of English was given governmental sanction during the third decade of the 19th century, first with Lord macaulay's famous Minute recommending the teaching of western subjects and then with william bentinck's decision that Indians should be taught at schools through the medium of the English language. Until then, English was used as a commercial language of the English factors and their native banians.

Obviously, the initial form of the language was pidgin, but many banians were bright and enterprising and, by the early 18th century, could speak and write English with reasonable accuracy. Apart from the banians, those natives who helped the British in their endeavours of writing Bangla grammars, translations, missionary books, etc, also acquired a fair knowledge of English. ramram basu, for example, was able to help william carey in his works of translation.'

tarachand chakravarti joined the Calcutta Journal as its translator in 1822, and later helped h.h. wilson to translate the puranas into English. Subsequently he compiled the English-Bengali Dictionary (1832) and published an edition of Manusamhita (1832), in the original sanskrit with Bangla and English translations.

raja rammohun roy (1772-1833) was, perhaps, the most important of those who had learned English through their contact with the British. A was undoubtedly exceptional. A linguist, Rammohun had learned Bangla in his village home, persian and arabic in Patna, and Sanskrit in Benares. He started learning English at the age of twenty-two and improved in the company of John Digby, with whom he became acquainted in 1801 and for whom he worked as diwan from 1805 to 1814. Rammohun learned English well enough to write 47 tracts, letters and books in English. He also gave evidence in the British Parliament, in English, about colonial India. His contemporary dwarkanath tagore also acquired considerable efficiency in English.

Recent research has also revealed that deen mahomed wrote what was the first book in English by an Indian: The Travels of Dean Mahomet, A Native of Patna in Bengal, Through Several Parts of India, While in the Service of The Honourable The East India Company Written by Himself, In a Series of Letters to a Friend. Published by subscription in 1794, its epistolary style conforms to the popular convention of the 18th century.

This early acquisition of English was, however, sporadic and based on individual efforts and circumstances. The large-scale spread of English came with the setting up of schools. As early as the 17th century, schools were being set up for European children. The first English institution established in Kolkata was in 1731 by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. In 1759 Rev. Kiernander opened another English school with 48 students. By the end of the year the number had risen to 174. It was not, however, till the Free School Society of Bengal was founded in 1789 that Kolkata became the centre for English medium education. Side by side with the numerous missionary schools, English teaching schools mushroomed in and around Kolkata. Unlike the missionary schools, these were commercial ventures Along with accounting and bookkeeping necessary for procuring jobs with the British factors these schools trained students in reading and writing English. Among the prominent writers and thinkers who had gone to these academies were radhakanta deb (1783-1867), who studied at the Calcutta Academy run by Mr Cummings, and henry derozio (1809-1831), who studied at Dhurramtallah Academy run by David Drummond.

Two other associations that furthered the spread of English were the calcutta school-book society (1817) and the calcutta school society (1818). The Calcutta School-Book Society was set up to provide good texts in English as well as in Indian languages. The Calcutta School-Book' Society was established to help improve old schools and set up new schools where needed. One of its objectives was to promote in Kolkata, and elsewhere, higher branches of education, including English.

The most important institution, however, which contributed to the spread of English education was hindu college (later Presidency College). The role played by Rammohun in the setting up of this college reveals the controversy regarding English education in the early 19th century. At the same time, Rammohun's writings in support of his stand reveal his command of English. Rammohun believed that, in the colonial setting, the Sanskrit system of education would keep India in the past and that it was only through the medium of English that Indians could acquire gainful knowledge.

At Hindu College, English was the medium of instruction for all subjects except classical and modern Indian languages. This institution not only played a significant role in the intellectual renaissance of 19th century Bengal, but also imparted to its students a love of English literature and an enviable command of the English language. The English syllabus for Hindu College included Richardson's Selections, Shakespeare's plays, Bacon's essays, Milton's poetical works, Addison's Essays, Johnson's Rambler and Rasselas, Goldsmith's essays. It also included a history of literature and rhetoric. The popularity of Hindu College led to the establishment of 9 such schools in Kolkata and one in Dhaka.

Perhaps more important than what was taught at the college were the debates introduced by Henry Derozio that trained the students in oration. The ability with which the students debated in English on a variety of topics was remarkable. Before Derozio's unfortunate departure from the college-he was accused by the management of corrupting and misguiding the young men under his care-he had formed the nucleus of the Academic Association and encouraged the students to publish a journal named Parthenon.

Though the Anglicist-Orientalist controversy continued through the first few decades of the19th century, it came to a close with Macaulay's famous Minute of 1835 and the subsequent decision by the government (1844) to recognise English as the official language of the government. English education thus acquired special significance for the people since then.'

The setting up of literary societies and associations also contributed to the expansion of English. The proceedings at the meetings of these societies were drawn in English. Thus, the Society for the Acquisition of General Knowledge, founded by Tarachand Chakravarti in 1838, the british indian society, the asiatic society, the Calcutta Literary Society all helped in the development of English in the region. The papers read at these societies reveal not only the erudition of the speakers but also their command of the language.

One of the most important factors that led to the establishment of English as the language of higher education was Charles Wood's Educational Dispatch (1854), which laid fresh emphasis on primary education, but also encouraged the development of high schools and colleges by a grants-in-aid system. Most important of all was the recommendation to set up universities in the three presidency towns: Kolkata, Madras and Bombay. The medium of instruction at the lower levels was to be the vernacular, while English was to be the medium of instruction at the universities. university of calcutta was founded under this programme in 1857. By the middle of the 19th century, English became the medium of instruction at the higher stages of education. Because all aspirants for higher education were required to know the language, an impetus was also given to the development of English at the school level.

A major role in the spread of the English language was played by English language journals. Not only did Bengalis contribute to these journals, they also started a number of them. The first newspaper to be published in Bengal was the bengal gazette in 1780, by James Hicky, but the paper was better known as Hicky's Gazette. The Bengal Gazette lasted for only three years, but was followed by other newspapers published in English: the India Gazette (1780) the Calcutta Gazette (1784), the Bengal Journal (1785), the Oriental Magazine or Calcutta Amusement (1786) and the Calcutta Chronicle (1786). Perhaps more important than these papers, as showing the state of English-language journalism in Bengal, were those published by Indians, such as Ramgopal Ghose's Bengal Spectator which echoed the title of Addison and Steele's well-known periodical and Tarachand Chakravarti's publication, Quill. The Bengal Herald (1829), of which Raja Rammohun was the proprietor for a few months, also displays the interest of Indians in English-language journalism. keshab chandra sen also started several periodicals: The Sunday Mission, The Liberal and The New Dispensation.

English, however, was not just the language of everyday discourse; there were a few Indians who had literary aspirations as well. nawab samsudaullah of Dhaka (1770-1831), for example, despite his attempts to oust the British from Bengal, was fond of writing poetry in English. Imprisoned on charges of conspiracy, the nawab was found writing inside the jail by William Hickey. When asked what he was writing, Samsudaullah replied that he was writing a Shakespearean sonnet. Hickey in his Memoirs notes that the nawab was writing grammatical English. bishop heber (1783-1826) met the nawab in Dhaka after he was released. In his Narrative of a Journey (1827), Heber too avers that the nawab spoke good English and had literary skills.

While the attempt of Samsudaullah remains a footnote in history, the efforts of others at using the English language for poems and stories is part of the literary history of Bengal. Even though these were perhaps not much more than experiments, the experimenters acquired considerable literary skill which they later transferred to Bangla writing. Both michael madhusudan dutt (1824-1873) and bankimchandra chattopadhyay (1838-1894) were part of the emerging intellectual and well-to-do Babgali middle class that benefited from English and western education. Madhusudan joined Hindu College in 1833, after the departure of Derozio. Thus the influence of Derozio on him was indirect. Nevertheless, the spirit of free thinking and love for English literature at Hindu College, part of it due to Derozio, undoubtedly lingered. Madhusudan converted to Christianity, adopting the name Michael. He left for Madras in 1848 where his poem 'The Captive Ladie' was published in the Madras Chronicle. In the poem Madhusudan used the English language and the ballad form to write an Indian story. It was not, however, through this English poem that Madhusudan made his name but through his Bangla epic, meghnadbadh kavya (1861), and his Bangla sonnets. Though, like Bankimchandra later, Madhusudan discarded English to produce his Bangla masterpieces, he drew upon his English learning to write his sonnets and epic based upon English models.

Bankimchandra, acknowledged as one of the first masters of the Bangla novel, initially tried his hand at English fiction: The Adventures of a Young Hindu and Rajmohan's Wife. Though neither of these two English books nor his earlier Bangla attempts drew the attention of readers, his English reading, particularly of Walter Scott's romances, helped to inspire, and also occasionally to structure, the subsequent novels which brought him fame.

Rev. lalbehari day (1824-1894), less famous than either Madhusudan or Bankimchandra, is nevertheless an acknowledged folklorist whose English writings have stood the test of time. Though Lalbehari was born in a poor family, his father, Radhakanta, realised the importance of English education and sent his son to alexander duff's free school. Lalbehari, like Madhusudan, converted to christianity, but unlike Madhusudan, he was actively involved in the Church. It was while working in Burdwan, that Lalbehari saw the life of the rural Bangali from close quarters and wrote about his observations in Bengal Peasant Life (1874). Lalbehari also collected folk tales, which were published as Folk Tales of Bengal (1875).

Toru Dutt (1856-1877) was educated in England along with Aru, her sister (1869-73), and learned both English and French. When Aru died of consumption, Toru published A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields, consisting of English translations of 165 French poems. Barring eight poems, which had been translated by her sister, Toru had translated the rest. The collection was favourably reviewed in both England and France. Toru returned to India and started contributing poems and essays to local magazines, especially to the Bengal Magazine. At the time of her premature death in 1874, Toru left behind French and English manuscripts. Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan was published five years after her death. Though Toru died young, her English contribution along with that of her better known male contemporaries suggests the ferment that English language and literature were causing in Bengal.

rabindranath tagore (1861-1941) was essentially a Bangla writer. Nevertheless, he too wrote fine English. His translation of the Gitavjali (1912) made his name known in the western world and merited him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. He also translated a number of his other writings such as The Gardener (1913), Fruit-Gathering (1916), Fugitives (1921) and The Crescent Moon. Some of his prose writings were originally in English such as Personality and The Religion of Man (1932).

English had been introduced in madrasah education by the third decade of the 19th century. However, opposition to English was so great that English classes were practically boycotted. Some Bengali Muslims like Nawab abdool luteef (1828-1893) realised the importance of English. At Calcutta Madrasah where he had studied, Abdool Luteef had realised the necessity of English for success. Accordingly, he had taken advantage of the English classes offered at the madrasah and gained considerable fluency in the language. He also tried to explain to his fellow Muslims that English was necessary if they wished to improve their lot. It was with this aim in mind that he offered a prize for an essay written in Persian on the benefits to Muslim students of a scientific education acquired through the medium of English. Abdool Luteef also founded the Muhammadan Literary Society (1863), where the proceedings were in English.

syed ameer ali (1849-1928) was another Muslim who realised the importance of the English language under the given circustances. Like Nawab Abdool Luteef, Ameer Ali was also a madrasah student, having studied at Hoogli Madrasah before going on to college and then Calcutta University. Syed Ameer Ali believed that the regeneration of Muslims was possible only if they remembered their past glories. Accordingly, Ameer Ali took it upon himself to remind them of their past in several books. Two of these books, The Spirit of Islam (1891) and A Short History of the Saracens (1898), have become classics.

While by the early 19th century, Muslim Bangalis were being educated in English, the knowledge of English-and even of Bangla-was taboo for Muslim Bangali women. The example of roquiah sakhawat hossain (1880-1932), however, suggests how Muslim Bangali women were also learning the language. Roquiah learnt Arabic, Persian and Urdu from a home tutor. It was by dint of her own efforts and with the support of her brother and later her husband that she learned Bangla and English. Roquiah learned English well enough to write Sultana's Dream (1908) in English, later translating the story herself into Bangla. Sultana's Dream, about a female utopia where women reign, is still eminently readable and in recent years has drawn considerable attention for its feminist imagination and lucid English.

Much of the fine writing in English, however, in the first half of the century was not creative but political. ak fazlul huq (1873-1962) and huseyn shaheed suhrawardy (1892-1963) were both fluent in English. Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy later wrote his memoirs in English, as did his sister, Shaista Ikramullah. Apart from a memoir, Hasan Shaheed Suhrawardy, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy’s brother, also wrote poetry in English. While the Suhrawardy family, like that of Fazlul Huq, were born in affluent circumstances, it was also possible at that time for an educated person from a humble background to gain proficiency in English. Thus tamizuddin khan (1889-1963), born in a humble peasant family and obliged to find a jagir or free-hosting to continue his studies, was able to obtain an MA in English from Calcutta University. In later years, he wrote an autobiography in English. Though incomplete, it reads lucidly and reveals the level of English available to the educated person of the period.

Among the other writers of Bengal who wrote in English was nirad c chaudhuri (1897- 1999). Despite the many controversies attending The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (1951), it has become a classic. Though Chaudhuri also wrote in Bangla, he continued to write in English, books such as A Passage to England and Thy Hand, Great Anarch.

University education in English had been available at all degree colleges under the University of Calcutta since 1858. With the founding of the university of dhaka in 1921, English university education became available in East Bengal. English was one of the twelve departments that opened in 1921. The medium of instruction in all departments except languages was English. Academic papers were read and monographs were published in English periodically by the university. A few years after its establishment, the Dacca University Journal was published. In 1935, the journal was replaced by the biannual Dacca University Studies. This publication underwent a slight change of spelling with the change in the name of the capital, but continues to be published today, in three parts.

At the time of partition in 1947, education at the primary and secondary levels was in the vernacular, with the exception of a couple of missionary schools that offered instruction in English. The level of English, however, at the matriculation level was fairly high with students having to sit for two English papers. One could also opt to sit for the matriculation examination in Bangla, Urdu or English. Intermediate, however, was only offered at the colleges in English.

Immediately after partition, the demand for Bangla to be recognised as one of the state languages of Pakistan grew intense. The language movement led to the acceptance of Bangla as one of the two state languages of Pakistan along with Urdu. While the nationalist sentiment led to the growth of Bangla literature, English language remained the medium of instruction at the higher institutions as well as the common link language between the two wings of East and West Pakistan. Although primary and secondary education was mainly in the vernacular, education at the colleges and the universities-first the University of Dhaka and then the universities of Rajshahi and Chittagong-continued to be in English.

In 1972, Bangla became the official language of bangladesh. The language of the Foreign Office, however, remained English, as did the language of the army. Bangla became the medium of instruction in all schools and colleges. At the universities, apart from the English departments, students had the option of answering examinations in either Bangla or English. The wholesale change, however, saw almost simultaneously the growth of what were initially small, informal, private endeavours to preserve English language education at the school level. A number of English medium kindergartens and tutorials started offering alternative English language education and prepared students for British O' and A' levels. Till the 80s these tutorials were on a minor key. From the early 90s, however, these tutorials proliferated into 'international schools'. The late 90s saw the establishment of a number of full-fledged international schools run as commercial ventures and often headed by foreign nationals.

By the 1980s, however, the general standard of English fell drastically. English was eliminated as a compulsory subject at the BA pass level. This lead to a further deterioration in the standard of English. Some students who had done well in the national examinations and had gone abroad on scholarships were sent back because they could not cope with the English medium of instruction. Affluent parents started sending their wards abroad in an attempt to get quality education in English. With the passage of the Private Universities Act in 1992, private universities, where the medium of instruction is English, have proliferated. To improve the standard of English at the national level, the public universities have also reconsidered their Bangla-only policy and have introduced an English language course in the first year.

In addition to the growth of private universities, the 1990s saw the founding of English language newspapers of a fairly high standard. There has also been a growth of English language periodicals and magazines. Apart from Friday magazines, some English newspapers bring out children's magazines, lifestyle magazines, and literary magazines where columns, stories and poems are published-some of them revealing fairly sophisticated linguistic skills in English.

Despite the emphasis on Bangla, there has been a consistent amount of academic publishing in English. Most serious research whether in journals or books has been in English. All the public universities publish journals in English. In addition, the departments of English at the universities of Dhaka, Rajshahi, Chittagong and Jahangirnagar publish their own journals. Other departments too publish academic journals in English. The dhaka law reports are published in English. Many government publications are in English. The Constitution of Bangladesh is in both Bangla and English. Most of the publications of the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, including its journal, are in English. The Bangladesh Institute of Strategic Studies also publishes an English journal.

Though English is mainly a language of communication with the outside world, and a functional language, there has been a steady stream of translation literature and a less prolific growth of creative writing. While the bangla academy has been mainly engaged in publishing books in Bangla and translating from English to Bangla, it publishes the Bangla Academy Journal in English and, over the years, has published a considerable amount of Bangla literature translated into English. While the quality of the translations varies, this has meant that there has been a fairly large amount of literary material available in English.

Creative literature in English is rather limited. Nevertheless, there is a fair amount of writing in English, which feeds the Friday magazines and literary sections. Among the earliest Bangladeshi creative writers in English was syed waliullah. Though he wrote mainly in Bangla, he translated many of his writings into English himself and also wrote a few short stories in English. Similarly, Razia Khan is another bilingual writer, writing equally fluently in both Bangla and English. Kaiser Haq, who only writes in English, is an internationally known poet.

There has also been some fiction published in English. SM Ali, better known as a journalist, wrote a novel published posthumously: Rainbow Over Padma (1995). Adib Khan, a Bangladeshi writer now settled in Australia, became internationally famous when he won a Commonwealth Writers' Prize for his first novel, Seasonal Adjustments (1995).

Though the standard of English nationally in Bangladesh is not high, and English is still an urban, elite language, with independence, globalisation, satellite television, FM radio, etc, Bangladesh is being exposed to English as never before. The entrance of Bangladesh into the garment industry has created an increasing awareness of the need for English communication skills. The phenomenal growth of the IT industry in Bangladesh has also made people aware of the importance of English as a language of communication. As in the past, English has become essential for economic purposes. The importance of English in Bangladesh today may be gauged by the formal recognition of English as a second language in 2001. [Niaz Zaman]

Bibliography SP Sinha, English in India: A Historical Study with Particular Reference to English Education in India, Janaki Prakashan, Patna, 1978; Niaz Zaman, English Writing in Bangladesh, Book Review, April 1999.