Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Mother On languages


To unite East and West, to give the best of one to the other and make a true synthesis, a university will be established for all kinds of studies. Our school will form a nucleus of that university.
In our school I have put French as the medium of instruction. One of the reasons is that French is the cultural language of the world. The children can learn the Indian languages at a later stage. If more stress is laid upon Indian languages at present, then the natural tendency of the Indian mind will be to fall back upon the ancient literature, culture and religion. You know very well that we realise the value of ancient Indian things, but we are here to create something new, to bring down something that will be quite fresh for the earth. In this endeavour, if your mind is tied down to the ancient things, then it will refuse to go forward. The study of the past has its place, but it must not hamper the work for the future.

Should French be considered as a special language, to bring the children into contact first with you and then with a certain vibration of beauty?

Something like that.
All I can say is that we are considered to be one of the best – perhaps the very best – school in India for teaching French and I think it would be a good thing to deserve this appreciation.
In my relations with the children here, I always speak to them in French.
Page – 218
Why should science be taught in French?

There are many reasons of which the deeper ones you ought to know in your heart without needing to be told.
Among the exterior ones I can say that French, being a very precise language, is better for Science than English which is far superior for poetry.
There are also a few practical reasons among which is the fact, for all those who will have to earn their living when they are grown up, that all those who know French thoroughly well have most easily found employment.
9 February 1969

French is indeed the most precise and clearest language. But from the spiritual point of view it is not true that French is the best language to use; for English has a suppleness, a fluidity which French does not have, and this suppleness is indispensable for not deforming what is vaster and more comprehensive in the experience than what mental expression can formulate.
January 1950

(Concerning translation)

Bonté = Kindness and goodwill Bienveillance is to see the good side of everything. It is not mere optimism which closes its eyes from bad. It is rather a psychic vision which sees the Good everywhere.
There are many words which cannot be translated. Sri Aurobindo's humour and irony cannot be translated into French. English humour when translated into French sounds stupid and flat; French humour when translated into English becomes cruel
Page – 219
and meaningless. These two languages seem to be so similar and yet their genius is quite apart.
4 July 1956
I shall send you the book [Prières et Méditations] tomorrow; but you must study grammar well if you want to understand what you read.
20 June 1932
Where should I learn good French style?

It is taught in advanced grammar courses, and there are also special books. One of the principal rules of style is that in a prose passage one should not use “I” except when it is absolutely impossible to avoid it, and in any case one should never begin two consecutive sentences with “I”. This gives you an idea of what you must do to give some style to your daily report!
20 July 1933
French must be written with simplicity and clarity.
29 September 1933
French gains by being written with simplicity and clarity; an accumulation of complicated images always renders the style pretentious.

My dear little smile,
You are absolutely right, and I don't see why, instead of reading interesting things, you should start doing boring exercises.
Page – 220
To learn a language one must read, read, read – and talk as much as one can.
With all my love.
10 July 1935

I want to resume my study of French, particularly for speaking. Can I have some hints?

The best is to speak… courageously at every opportunity.

Mother, will You tell me the names of some good writers I could read?

If it is to learn French you should take a textbook of French literature to study and read one or two books by each author mentioned in the textbook, beginning at the beginning, that is, with the earliest authors.
22 September 1936

If You like, I will take one book that appeals to me and another from the earliest authors, as You advised me.

I did not say that you should read only the earliest authors; I said you should read one or two books by each author mentioned in the literature course, beginning with the earliest ones.
24 September 1936
Page – 221
Mother, I have started to read French books – S has given me a list.

It is good that you read a lot of French, that will teach you how to write.
7 April 1969

Today I took class E5 and we continued the reading and explanation of Words of the Mother. Although I am constantly pointing to the beauty of the language with which Words is written, I am also conscious that I am putting more emphasis on the explanation than on the teaching of English.

It is quite all right because it obliges them to think in English which is the best way to learn a language.
2 May 1946

X has asked Your guidance in a difficulty concerning the education of his two young sons. He has put one of them in an Italian missionary school in Bombay where the medium of instruction is English and he also intends to put the other one in the same school shortly. But now, because of the current controversy about the language problem in India, he is feeling puzzled because he finds it difficult to decide whether it is good to give education to his children through the medium of English or whether it should be done through the mother tongue, i.e.
Page – 222
The mother tongue is all right. But for those who want to do higher studies, the English is indispensable.
3 November 1967

At present many of our Higher Course students do not know sufficiently well any one language in which they could express their thoughts and feelings adequately and sensitively. Is this required or not, Mother? And if so, which language should they learn? Should it be a common or international language1 or their vernacular?

If only one language is known this is better.

From the point of utility some of our students do not want to learn classical Hindi.

Teach both, the true language and what it has become – that will be very interesting indeed – and more than anything else can cure them of the habit of speaking bad Hindi.

Do you want me to continue teaching Hindi in spite of the apathy of the students?

Continue without hesitation.…
Amrita says that the situation of his Tamil class is much

1Mother underlined these words and drew an arrow to them from her answer, thus indicating her preference.
Page – 223
worse than that of the Hindi one. He says that he will continue even if the students come no more – he will teach to himself!
30 September 1959
Hindi is good only for those who belong to a Hindi-speaking province. Sanskrit is good for all Indians.

I have the deepest respect for Indian languages and continue to study Sanskrit when I have time.

The Sanskrit ought to be the national language of India.
19 April 1971

On certain issues where You and Sri Aurobindo have given direct answers, we (Sri Aurobindo's Action) are also specific, as for instance… on the language issue where You have said for the country that (1) the regional language should be the medium of instruction, (2) Sanskrit should be the national language, and (3) English should be the international language.
Are we correct in giving these replies to such questions?

4 October 1971
Page – 224

(Languages to be studied in Auroville)1

(1) Tamil
(2) French
(3) Simplified Sanskrit to replace Hindi as the language of India
(4) English as the international language.
15 December 1970
Page – 225

1 comment:

Brian Barker said...

Please do not overestimate the position of English.

I live in London and if anyone says to me “everyone speaks English” my answer is “Listen and look around you”. If people in London do not speak English then the whole question of a global language is completely open.

The promulgation of English as the world’s “lingua franca” is impractical and linguistically undemocratic. I say this as a native English speaker!

Impractical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.

Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential. As a native English speaker, my vote is for Esperanto :)

Your readers may be interested in seeing
A glimpse of the global language,Esperanto, can be seen at