While one might expect a text on linguistics from the title, An English Made in India is fact rather closer to travel-writing: no bad thing, for Kalpana Mohan in an engaging writer and the result is a pleasant and often erudite ramble around India. Along the way, she talks to school teachers in the hills, her family chauffeur and Uber drivers, students, Delhi booksellers, a Kerala princess and some leading Indian literary lights from Jerry Pinto and Arunava Sinha to Nabaneeta Dev Sen. Mohan is very good at this.
In a place like Hong Kong, where every child seems to be learning at least two languages, there is, at the very least, a practical argument for bilingualism: learning a second language (in Hong Kong, usually English) opens doors for future opportunities. For Hong Kong’s anglophone minority speakers this argument continues with many parents hoping their children gain exposure to Cantonese and Mandarin at school. And it is increasingly not uncommon to see a child speak one language with one parent, a second language with another and then two to three languages at school.
That use of first-person plurals in the title of Early Indians: The Story Of Our Ancestors And Where We Came From should not put non-Indians off. Tony Joseph has, based on and catalyzed by the most recent genetic research, written a clear, readable and, for those unfamiliar with the subject, fascinating history of Indians as a people. It will also serve both as a primer to the way the ability to read the human genome is revolutionizing archaeology as well as a salutary alternative to the eurocentric perspective of many if not most treatments of early human history.
In mid-19th century China, after suffering multiple humbling defeats by imperial powers, a movement to modernize China’s military developed. The idea was that the national essence or culture of China could be better defended with superior Western methods and technology than outdated Chinese methods—seen as the extension of a static political culture. That the methods and technology were Western did not matter—they were not tied to the imperial aims which produced them; they could be adapted by anyone, and were essentially culture-less.
Princeton University, or at least the HR department, recently promulgated new policies discouraging if not quite banning such terms as “man made”, “manpower” and “man” (as a verb); these are to be replaced with such gender-neutral terms as “artificial” and “staff” (as noun and verb). “Workmanlike” is to become “skillful” (although they don’t seem exact synonyms to me). It’s easy to make fun of such pronouncements; after all, the use of male terms for gender-neutral concepts predates even English itself. Exactly, women might reply.
It was with this political-linguistic issue in mind that I read Womansword: What Japanese Words Say About Women. Japanese is, or at least seems to be, an order of magnitude more gender-layered than English and Womensword is an attempt to pick these meanings apart and does so with clarity and good humor. But it seems that on the whole, author Kittredge Cherry is of the view that gender differentiation in Japanese is a flexible device rather than one constituting an instrument of social exclusion; indeed, she intends the book “to honor the women of Japan”.