Monday, August 18, 2008

Language politics and lack of Science in Tamil

The following post is set of rambling collected from my emails to a Tamil enthusiast, this needs to be edited but posting it here for now.

Here is a continuation of what I wrote yesterday. A friend referred to Sankaracharya being opposed to Tamil as Neesha Bashai etc.. There was a time when publishing the Bible or even attempting a translation of its Latin / Hebrew original was considered blasphemous sometimes inviting death too. Martin Luther who started the reformation movement in Germany for many other reasons promoted a German Bible so that the common man can understand the word of God. In fact if one traces the roots of Protestantism it is astonishing how the "clergy" or "priestly" class have always wielded highly disproportionate influence over the common man. And any historian of the papacy will tell you shocking stories too indecent for any mail. The papacy was in close nexus with Emperors and waged wars. All of this is global phenomenon due to much deeper anthropological reasons of how man venerated gods and thereby venerated godmen. Atheism has been in vogue as far back as Aristotle and Lucretius but it has always lost the race, again to very deep anthropological reasons. Linguistic elitism has always served as a "tool" for the clergy to preserve their heirarchy.

Let me take this argument even further on a little more scholarly level. Forget about languages that we understand, from time immemorial men have had fascination for priests or priestly underlings who can talk in incomprehensible blabber that needs specially blessed devotees to decipher. This is called "talking in tongues" in christianity (in Tamil X-ians call it as 'pala baashai pesuvadhu'). This actually is similar to "kuri solvadhu". The tradition stretches back to the Oracle of Delphi in Greece (yes Oracle corp gets its name from that). There used to be very attractive girls who spoke in "divine language" that was then deciphered by the priests. When X-ianity took root the apostles decided to continue this tradition so as to give a historical continuity. St.Paul who assailed this grudgingly accepted its necessity.

Linguistic elitism is interwoven in the human fabric in not just religion but in music too. I know that many ridicule the Telugu kirtanas and Carnatic music, finally by extension Brahmins on this score. In western classical music Operas are written almost exclusively in Italian, even by German composers. The movie "Amadeus" (fictional spin on Mozart's real history) has a telling scene. The German emperor suggests a German opera and his court composers are flabbergast saying that it will not be opera unless its in Italian. Mozart, being impish, crude and would love to stick his thumb on tradition agrees to compose it in German.

The Latin influence and its notion of elitism is very explicit in US. A nation that broke away from the old world still had its defining motto inscribed in Latin, not spoken by any of its citizenry much less not understood by then hugely illiterate population. "E pluribus unum" (out of many one). Look at that irony now.

Now look at how Spanish is taking over English in America. Even Obama and Clinton agreed that this is an English speaking country and that immigrants should learn English but added carefully that the US is becoming a bi-lingual country. I am not enthusiastic about it but I that is reality.

I am all for promoting Tamil but it should be done constituitionally, ethically without muscle power masquerading as popular will..

A language does not acquire prestige by how many speak it or how old it is, it does not even depend on the quality of literary output. Scientific achievements are what is important.

Churchill was made to study English in his school Eton. His comment on it was that he was thought too dull to study Latin or Greek which the other brighter students learnt. This was in 1870's England, the land of Shakespeare and Milton. Only dull students learnt English as a language.

Once Greek passed into the shadows because no Greek think after Aristotle came to dominate the continent with scientific or philosophic thought. Aristotlean science, most of it turned out wrong, held sway over Europe for well over 1000 years. Then started Renaissance period that lifted Europe out of the Dark ages (Yes it was called Dark ages). Latin was everywhere. A profusion of scientific revolutions flowed along side a cultural upheaval and everything was in Latin. Wikipedia has this comment on Latin " the de facto international language of science and scholarship in mid and western Europe until the 17th century". Every scientific thought well into the 17th century was written in Latin. Isaac Newton's magnum opus "Principia Mathematica" is completely in Latin. When asked if he frames hypothesis, Newtion replied in Latin, "Hypothesis non fingo" (I do not frame hypothesis). In fact Shakespeare himself was mocked as lacking in literary education as the "fellow who knew little Latin and less Greek".

Around the 18th and 19th century the dominance shifted to Germany. Austria and Vienna were the crucibles of western classical music. One genius after another flowered there. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Liszt so much more. But consider this too. Quantum Physics is what it is mostly due to German Scientists, Wolgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg, Max Plack and the greatest of all Albert Einstein. They all wrote and published in German (studied in German too of course as the mother tongue education advocates would like to point but more of that later). Around 1930's more collaboration from British, English speaking, scientists started. Remember that Oxford and Cambridge had existed for 600+ years until then yet they too regarded English as "plebian" (neesha bashai). The Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge has produced 29 Nobel laureates, pretty good record considering that Nobel's started only in 1900 ( )

1940-45 proved the tip over to English. So many scientists chase from Europe due to anti-semitism (like Brahmins are being chased today) came to US. The rest is history and today the US leads the scientific front and English rules.

This might change if China breaks ground on original research (they are good in copying without permission)

Operas are written exclusively in italian, ....more on this later

On language in music, respect for real solid Tamil scientific work, an interesting discussion in Tamil University etc I shall continue later

There is NOTHING in Tamil literature or Tamil heritage that would stand the test of "is it scientific methodology". My brother in his 11th grade had Tamil text with chapters by MK and Anbahazhagan etc. One chapter's claims went like this ( here you really need to take a breath, I am not lying): Kural says that man has to get rid of anger because anger only brings pain to the man who shows it just like a man slapping the ground is pained, THIS is proof that Valluvar knew that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction much before Isaac Newton. Then another couplet from some o ther place was cited:'for a man lying in the lap of a woman a whole night flies by like a second" (or something similar). This shows that Tamilians knew of "theory of relativity". Then ofcourse I have heard outlandish, to put it mildly, claims of Kamban singing of atomic fission (citing a verse that said "splitting the atom and inserting the seven seas", anuvai thulaithu yezh kadal puguthi).the list goes on.

If THESE are cited as signs of scientific attitude no serious thinker of science can help laughing out loud. These are not just stupidities but gross insult to the scientific genius of mankind and in fact shows the writers own total lack of understanding of what science is. I shall explain this very briefly.

Isaac Newton is revered as a genius not because he stated laws. He stated laws drawn from observations and supported by a rigid mathematical framework. The concept of gravity existed before Newton. The genius was in "inventing" calculus to describe it. Newton was a petty man though who denied Leibnitz the rights as co-creator of calculus, its a scandal worth a seperate note.

I am reading Galileo's book "Dialogue concerning the chief world systems" and I am amazed and the scientific "reasoning" employed in a battle to prove to his idea for which he paid dearly.

Einstein's genius is something too breathtaking to even start contemplating here. He wrote just 4 papers. in 1095 he wrote three papers including Special Theory of relativity and in 1915 he reached the pinnacle of human intellectual achievement in his General theory. His big stroke of genius was not in just unifying space and time but putting them in a mind blowing mathematical framework. The math behind this theory was the "curved geometry" of Reimann. Curved geometry is a great leap over Euclidean geometry.

In England one of the highest bodies of scientific membership is the Royal Society. A bust of Francis Bacon adorns the Royal Society. Bacon brought to prominence "induction hypothesis" and "empirical analysis". He is considered the father of experimental science. In fact he died out of infection contracted while doing experiment on a bird in a cold climate. ( please check out the ending pages on Francis Bacon in Will Durant's Story of Philosophy).

Science ultimately boils down to a few things, 1) A theory provable and repeatable anywhere 2)Mathematically sustained 3)Finally falsifiable too....

I am not a big votary of the mother-tongue only approach. Having studied in English medium and very importantly due to my own almost exclusively English reading I now THINK in English and since I THINK in English I can seamlessly express myself in English. So for all practical reasons I could say that ENGLISH IS MY MOTHER TONGUE. I'd suggest converting all schools in Tamil Nadu to English medium AND very very importantly upgrading the quality of teachers. Not even English teachers know good English these days. This is also because the textbooks carry badly written chapters by Indian authors. I studied in Matriculation school and the quality of my English text was 100 times better than the state board one. All of those were factors too.

I think I shall rest for now.

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