Dr. Ballantyne and his quest for Hindi language

In 1840s, a certain Dr. J. R. Ballantyne was the principal of the Benaras College. The  Education Department’s Annual report of 1846-47 tells of him making several attempts to “improve” the Hindi style of his students. The result, it appears was not his liking. Exasperated, he asked his student to write an essay on the following ‘provocative’ question,

“Why do you despise the culture of the language you speak every day of your lives, of the only language your mothers and sister understand?”

IT appears that his student could not figure out what Ballantyne had in his mind; nonetheless, one of them spoke up on the behalf of the group,

We do not clearly understand what you European mean by the term Hindi, for there are hundreds of dialects, all in our opinion equally entitled to the name, and there is here no standard as there is in Sanskrit… If the purity of Hindi is to consist in its exclusion of Mussulman words, we shall require to study Persian and Arabic in order to ascertain which of the word we are in the habit of issuing is Arabic or Persian, and which is Hindi. With our present knowledge we can tell that a word is Sanskrit, or not Sanskrit but if not Sanskrit, it may be English, or Portuguese instead of Hindi for anything we can tell. English words are becoming as completly naturalised in the villages as Arabic and Persian words, and what you call the Hindi will eventually merge in some future modification of the Oordoo, nor do we see any great cause of regret in the proposal.

Dr. Ballantyne, on the other hand, was not bemused. “It was the duty of himself and his brother Pundits,” he admonished the student,

not to leave the task of formulating the national language in the hands of the villagers, but to endeavour to get rid of the unprofitable diversity of provincial dialects, by creating a standard literature in which one uniform system of grammar and orthography should be followed; the pundits of Benaras, if they valued the fame of their city, ought to strive to make the dialect of holy city the standard of all India, by writing books which should attract the attention and form of taste of all their fellow countrymen.


Report is cited in Christopher King, “Forging a new lingistic identity : The Hindi movement of Benares, 1868 – 1914′. Published 1990.


About Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.
This entry was posted in Hindi language, Indian History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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