[Professor 's discussion of Macaulay's role in British policies toward bilingualism comes from her multi-part essay in my Postcolonial Literature and Culture site — George P. Landow]

Thomas Babington Macaulay was a central figure in the language debate over which language(s) should be used as the medium of education in India. The Orientalists were in the favour of use of classical languages of Indian tradition, such as Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic, which were not spoken as native languages. The Anglicists, on the other hand, supported English. Neither of these groups wanted to suppress the local vernaculars, mother tongues of the people. Both the groups agreed that education would be conducted in the vernacular during the first years of education. The Anglicist group included Charles Grant (1746-1823), Lord Moira (1754-1826) and T.B. Macaulay (1800-59); H.T. Prinsep (1792-1878) acted as the spokesman for the Orientalists" group (Kachru 1986a: 35).

The Anglicist group's views were expressed in the Minute of Macaulay, which is said to mark "the real beginnings of bilingualism in India" (McCrum et al. 1988: 325). According to the document, which had been prepared for the governor general William Bentinck, after listening to the argument of the two sides, a class should be formed in India, a group of people who would act as interpreters between the British and Indians, "a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinion, in morals and in intellect" (Bailey 1991: 138). Macaulay's proposal was a success; and the following year Lord Bentinck expressed his full support for the minute, declaring that the funds "administered on Public Instruction should be henceforth employed in imparting to the native population a knowledge of English literature and science through the medium of the English language" (ibid).

According to Bailey, in Macaulay's thinking Indian languages would be enriched by English, so that they could become vehicles for European scientific, historical and literary expression (ibid, 140). English gradually became the language of government, education, advancement, "a symbol of imperial rule and of self-improvement" (McCrum et al. 1988: 325).

Macaulay justified the imposition of British power on the country by simply arguing that although this policy in India might seem controversial and strange sometimes, it can be so, for

the Empire is itself the strangest of all political anomalies...that we should govern a territory ten thousand miles from us, a territory larger and more populous than France, Spain, Italy and Germany put together...a territory inhabited by men differing from us in race, colour, language, manners, morals, religion; these are prodigies to which the world has seen nothing similar. Reason is confounded...General rules are useless where the whole is one vast exception. The Company is anomaly, but it is part of a system where everything is anomaly. It is strangest of all governments; but it is designed for the strangest of all Empires. [Bailey 1991: 137].

According to Kachru, the far-reaching Minute was highly controversial because of disagreement about whether it was correct to impose an alien language on Indians. The Orientalists expressed their disagreement in a note dated 15 February 1835, but they could not stop it from passing and had to give way (Kachru 1983: 68-69). On 7 March 1835, the Minute received a Seal of Approval from Lord William Bentinck (1774-1839), and an official resolution on Macaulay's resolution was passed. This resolution "formed the cornerstone of the implementation of a language policy in India and ultimately resulted in the diffusion of bilingualism in English" (68).

There are many sharing the view of Alastair Pennycook that in fact both Anglicism and Orientalism really worked together towards the same direction. He rejects the view that Orientalism was somehow a "good and innocent project that only had the rights of the colonized people at heart". He claims that, in reality, Orientalism was as much part of colonialism as was Anglicism (Pennycook 1994: 103). Although Orientalism is usually considered more sympathetic towards the local languages and cultures than Anglicism, it acknowledged the superiority of Western literature and learning, and it was a means to exercise social control over the people, and imposing of western ideas (Pennycook 1994: 102).

Pennycook claims, too, that although Macaulay is credited the most influential individual in the language question, the issue is more complex than simply Macaulay arriving in India, writing the Minute on education. and then heading off back to England with having English firmly transplanted in the colony. In his view, then, it is important to understand that Macaulay just articulated a position which had been discussed for a long time already (Pennycook 1994: 77). He goes on further to argue that the Indian bourgeoisie was demanding English-language education as much as the missionaries and educators (79), seeing knowledge of English as an essential tool in gaining social and economic prestige (76).


Victorian Web Overview T. B. Macaulay Political Contexts

Last modified 16 November 2006