Friday, March 27, 2009

Borrowing Vocabulary?

During the whole reservation debate a little while ago, we found the entire nation suddenly using the words 'affirmative action' -- words which, at least to my knowledge, are not the official words that the Indian government uses.

And today, I came across this blog post which calls the constituent assembly as the 'founding fathers'.

Frankly, I find this borrowing of vocabulary from the US, somewhat disturbing.

Update - April 2, 2009: Shanth points out similar trends in fashion.


  1. Disturbing indeed! With "affirmative action", atleast I thought there was a technical difference in meaning between reservation and affiramtive action which was seen as a more vague concept than numerical % based reservation. But "founding fathers" is just gah!! To say the least it is horribly sexist, when as opposed to America our constituent assembly actually had female members!

    As for Advani's challenge to Manmohan for a debate is something I'm ambivalent about. While the main reason for the Congress backing out is that they know that Manmohan is a horrible orator as opposed to the fiery Advani, there is somethingto be said about the inappropriateness of a debate between prime ministerial candidates in a parliamentary democracy.

  2. @ Shanth - I agree, a debate between Advani and Singh would not be constitutionally correct because the Indian election process does not define a prime ministerial candidate in the same way as the US system defines a presidential candidate. We elect MPs and they in turn elect the PM. So Advani technically is a nobody until all MPs are in the parliament and have decided to support him.

    However, I do agree in principle to the idea of public debates. One thing I really liked about the the elections in the US was the presidential debates. It is a good tradition, something we should definitely adopt in some form.

  3. @Vinod: Yes, I agree about the need for more public debates and I do admire the American tradition of the presidential debates. However, I'm still not sure how constructive/useful it is. I think the idea of townhall meetings and discussion with the media/public is more important than the debates, because one-on-one debates tend to place too much emphasis on being a good debater which while it is a good thing for a leader, is probably not the only quality you're looking for, especially when all important decisions are (at least in principle) taken collectively by the cabinet.

    I feel that it would be a very good idea for major political parties/alliances to announce their picks for important cabinet positions. Then, given the nature of our democracy, perhaps some sort of panel debate or something might be a good idea.

    The more important idea that we need to borrow from the American system is intra-party democracy. That is one of the main reasons for so much political involvement in the US, IMHO. Besides, any political party in a democracy should at least make an attempt to incorporate a democratic ethos in its internal functioning, no?

  4. It seems we do the same for fashion as well ...

  5. @ Shanth - You know what, now I'm genuinely puzzled. What does this trend mean? Another example, I can think of is this Vandana Singh story Suchitra ma'am was talking about. Vandana Singh goes on to describe the paranthe-wali gali in painstaking detail and then keeps translating paranthas to flatbread.



    Nothing american about the usage it is quite common in parliamentary parlance.

  7. @ Yossarian - Thanks for pointing that out. Now this puzzles me even more. If it's that common a term, why is it that I don't remember hearing of it even before. :(

  8. @Yossarian: That is interesting, though in all the results the term appears as the "founding fathers of the constitution" and not a stand alone "founding fathers" (which I still think is archaic/sexist). Also, I've never heard the term in either popular discourse, nor encountered it in school in a civics textbook (though that may well be my memory).

    @Khare: I think that it has to do with the idea of English somehow being a foreign language, inspite of the couple of century of Indianisation. However, I think though, that it's just a matter of time, it might be worthwhile checking for instance, when more British accents lost their prestige in New England for instance.

    But paratha as flatbread just makes me laugh out loud, but perhaps you shouldn't thikn of it as a bad translation, and more as a neologism, North Indian flatbread, maybe?

  9. @ Shanth -- That's precisely what puzzled me. I too have not heard the term in popular discourse not read it in my civics textbook. This reduces the probability of it being just your memory considerably.

    And yes, the term definitely archaic and sexist.

    To me it also reeks of the logical fallacy of 'appealing to the higher authority' which is a way of arguing that I find instinctively repulsive.