Talking Language

To the Editors of The Crimson:

In his piece, "It's a Strange World" (February 17), John Rosenthal complains about the lack of courses at Harvard geared towards Australia and laments the fact that Harvard offers instruction in "strange" and "exotic" languages. We must contradict him. First, there are many courses in English, which is the official language of Australia, and in which language Australia has produced some outstanding writers.

Second, the Urdu language, which seems to pose serious problems for Rosenthal, is not unknown in Australia either, for it is the national language of the Pakistanis and many of the Indians who migrated to that country. In fact, Urdu (along with Hindi, which is a closely related language written in different characters) is a language spoken by most people in the Indian subcontinent, and their descendants in all parts of the world so that it is now the second important language in Great Britain. In terms of the number of people speaking it, Urdu and its Hindustani/Hindi analogues rank third after Chinese and English. We should also mention that its literature, which goes back to the fourteenth century, is much vaster than American literature.

What's Gujarati? A very important Indian language which was, after all, the mother tongue of Gandhi, whose name should be familiar to a Harvard undergraduate. Gujarati merits attention on other counts which we will not go into here for fear of stepping into the intricacies of Indian linguistic and cultural history. We may excuse Rosenthal for not knowing Sindhi, which is spoken by a mere 20 million people in southern Pakistan and various places in India.

Uzbek and Uighar are Turkic (not Turkish--because that is the language spoken in present day Turkey!) languages which have a rich literature from the ninth century onward. For someone who is interested in improving American relations with both China and Russia, it is necessary to know at least the languages and literatures to be found in Central Asia, all of which predate American literature by several centuries. And to keep Rosenthal's soul at peace, Akkadian was there long before even Europe was discovered, and is a major source of our knowledge of the ancient history of the Near East, predating even the founding of the kingdom of Solomon.


If Rosenthal is heartily invited to visit our department and discover that these languages, which sound so strange to him, are part and parcel of human civilization and, with due respect to Australia (which incidentally, has produced some outstanding scholars of Urdu and Indian Islam), are, after all, the heritage of several hundreds of millions of people.

Professor of Indo-Muslim Culture

  Assistant Professor of Indo-Muslim Culture

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