I have recently returned from a conference in India (the “Prakrit International Conference” or प्राकृत अंतर्राष्ट्रीय संमेलन्), about which I may or may not say more in a subsequent post, but I wanted to share this observation, which seems like a relatively urgent problem for “our field,” whatever we take that phrase to mean.
Almost all of the Indian representatives gave their talks in Hindi. The conference took place at Śravaṇabeḷagoḷa, in Karnataka, but hardly a word of Kannada was spoken: Hindi is now the “link language” among Indian academics, at all but a few places. All of the European and American representatives (including me) gave their talks in English.
This would be fine, if we could actually understand each other. But I know that not all of the English speakers knew Hindi well enough to follow the talks in Hindi, and vice versa. This is a problem: we have two communities of scholars working on Indian thought (in this case, primarily Jain thought) and essentially not talking to each other, not reading each others’ scholarship, etc. What is worse, it can sometimes seem like these two communities don’t particularly want to talk to each other, as if the concerns of one community were alien to the concerns of the other. I am sure that this is not the case—I am sure, in other words, that everyone is fully aware that each community of scholars has its own traditions, its own set of core questions, its own way of thinking about and talking about certain topics—but this situation is a powder-keg for the kinds of culture-wars (or “battles”) that have been erupting in the last couple of years, which are based on the premise that real scholarly conversation across cultural boundaries is either impossible or undesirable.
When I began my PhD program, my supervisor required me to learn Hindi, since it has now become a sine qua non for working in India with Indian colleagues. I wonder: how many students of Indian philosophy, who are not from India, learn modern Indian languages? How important do you, reader, think it is? What do we miss (or not miss?) by conducting the vast majority of our conversations in English? What have been your own experiences in multilinguistic contexts? How can we try to improve the situation?