Back at it again with the imperialism

The English language has changed from the time of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary to Macaulay’s a call for English language in India. Johnson’s standardization seemed to be more technical in trying to find a universal use of the language, while Macaulay uses language to exercise power.

The English language has been more than just words, it has been about power. English holds no power if it were to only be kept among high society or England for that matter. The fact that English has reach most parts of the globe has been a form of verbal imperialism. It’s unbelievable how righteous these people feel that they deem the Indian language as insufficient for the grasp of knowledge. As Macaulay explains, “that the dialects commonly spoken among the natives of this part of India contain neither literary nor scientific information, and moreover so poor and rude that, until they are enriched from some other quarter, it will not be easy to translate any valuable work into them”. There seems to be a negative connotation when people refer to a language as a dialect. When a language is called a “dialect” it sounds as if the language is considered to be untamed and unrefined. As if people of little to no intelligence speak dialects because language is for those who are refined.

Macaulay admits that he “[has] no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic”, but that his decision is well informed because he “[has] done what [he] could to form a correct estimate of their value. [He] has read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works”. That’s like saying, “I’ve only tried Little Caesars’ pizza, so I have a good idea about the quality and value of all pizzas”. The fact that he has only read translated works is not enough to form an opinion about the value of language. He doesn’t seem to consider that works can get lost in translation, especially considering who translated the work. How can he trust that those translations he has read are the best translations? He is reading translations, not the language itself and therefore cannot judge the language. English works translated into other languages do not sound the same, sometimes they even suck or loose the significance they had.

In some way, it seems that Macaulay is criticizing the English language itself without even knowing it. He is judging the “most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works” because of their English translations. Maybe the English language isn’t sophisticated enough to translate the greatness of these texts. Furthermore, in trying to consider English as the greatest language and deemed other languages as less than, Macaulay has impeded the pursuit of knowledge by limiting knowledge as something that is exclusive to the English language.

Nancy Sanchez

Evolution Of English

The English language is a tangled web that takes influence from many different european languages. Some of the influence that lead to the creation of english include French, Spanish, Latin and German. English, like most active langangues, evolves alongside the ever changing tide of cultural views and societal norms. In 1755, Samuel Johnson released Dictionary. Johnson objective for this release was to impose structure and untangle the english language. Johnson did not withhold his bias when choosing what words are acceptable to be included in his Dictionary. This attempt to control the english language studies the evolution of the language. In the preface to the book Johnson writes about the “energetic” unruliness of English. In his view, the language was a tangled mess, and was in desperate need of some discipline: “wherever I turned my view”, he wrote, “there was perplexity to be disentangled, and confusion to be regulated.” Yet through the process of attempting to fix the English language and give it structure Johnson realised that language is impossible to fix, because of its constantly changing nature, and that his role was to record the language of the day, rather than to form it.

Spreading the English language was a major aspect in British colonialism. When comparing the views of Johnson and T. B. Macaulay there are many similarities and differences. Johnson saw english as a broken language that could eventually serve the world, while Macaulay felt that “intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is indeed fully admitted by those members of the committee who support the oriental plan of education.” Basically, Macaulay viewed english as a language that could better and promote the advancement of the sciences in all corners of the british territories. Both men saw the impact and importance of English, but due to almost century long gap between these two writings the cultural view of English had evolved.

-Conor Morgan


A World of Words and the Roots of Global Erudition



A genius requires a powerful language that has been enriched by scholars and thinkers alike, to convey his aptitude.


Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.


English education in India was spurred by an overwhelming eclectic inquisitiveness of its people. Like the Japanese in the 19th century, isolationists hitherto, who were in a sense enamored by the daunting naval fleet that  Commodore Perry possessed, and desired to advance themselves in a way that would be deemed most appropriate in relation to the ever so increasing globalization of the world. The life and immense lexicographical project that Samuel Johnson undertook, describes a time of incredible sociopolitical movement, and his work of compiling excerpts from what he considered as the most substantial to language, would inevitably be a key proponent in insinuating at a massive sociopolitical scale, the standardization of English in India.

Samuel Johnson devoted his existence to a language, and gave life to the words he defined. Looking across the entries of his dictionary —in addition to uncovering unique vocabulary of the time— you are able to glimpse upon some of the concerns of an era, as well as read of some of the historical context that was critically relevant to the period. Examining his definition of tory and whig, allows us to better understand through blatantly worded examples, the state of affairs in England. “Tory: One who adheres to the ancient constitution of the state, and the apostolical hierarchy of the church of England, opposed to a Whig. Whig: The name of a faction.” As a fervent tory, through his dictionary, we can constantly see as well as among Johnson’s other works, his devotion to the conservative order of the church and state. At the time, his focus was not on entirely to set forth to standardize a language for an entire world to better comprehend and advance technological achievements, but evidently in India, this would be the case.

Raja Rammohan Ray saw the potential of his people to propel themselves into ingenuity, and embraced the concept of standardizing a more practical and relevant language. Samuel Johnson, Thomas Babington Macaulay, and Rammohan Ray helped dig the grave of Sanscrit. Macaulay felt strongly about the obsolete presence of Sanscrit.” I believe that the present system tends not to accelerate the progress of truth but to delay the natural death of expiring errors. We are a Board for wasting the public money, for printing books which are of less value than the paper on which they are printed was while it was blank– for giving artificial encouragement to absurd history, absurd metaphysics, absurd physics, absurd theology– for raising up a breed of scholars who find their scholarship an incumbrance and blemish, who live on the public while they are receiving their education, and whose education is so utterly useless to them that, when they have received it, they must either starve or live on the public all the rest of their lives” (Macaulay). Roy also believed that it was necessary to switch and standardize English for the populous of India. “But as the improvement of the native population is the object of the Government, it will consequently promote a more liberal and enlightened system of instruction, embracing mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry and anatomy with other useful sciences. ” Macaulay references the transformation of English from Greek, as an advancement, and that Sanskrit would benefit from similar means by adapting a similar evolution of language. “Had our ancestors acted as the Committee of Public Instruction has hitherto noted, had they neglected the language of Thucydides and Plato, and the language of Cicero and Tacitus, had they confined their attention to the old dialects of our own island, had they printed nothing and taught nothing at the universities but chronicles in Anglo-Saxon and romances in Norman French, –would England ever have been what she now is? What the Greek and Latin were to the contemporaries of More and Ascham, our tongue is to the people of India. The literature of England is now more valuable than that of classical antiquity.” (Macaulay).

Throughout my life, as a student of various subjects, and as a barista for the tech-company Yahoo, I have encountered numerous examples of sheer intellect of people who have come from India. Many of which, possess an insatiable hunger of knowledge, which is both inspiring and admirable at once. I now know through the writings of Macaulay and Roy, of the beginnings of such a prevailing display of intelligence. Without the introduction of English to the people of India, there ingenuity evidently be present, but perhaps not in a manner that would be proudly shared to us. Rammohan Roy that his people were incredibly capable and his last words to William Pitt entail a sense of desperation to standardize a more cohesive language, that was spurred forth by the efforts of Johnson and the powerful writers before him. “In representing this subject to your Lordship I conceive myself discharging a solemn duty which I owe to my countrymen and also to that enlightened Soverign and Legislature which have extended their benevolent cares to this distant land actuated by a desire to improve its inhabitants and I therefore humbly trust you will excuse the liberty I have taken in thus expressing my sentiments to your Lordship” (Roy). I conclude my blog post with an excerpt from Macaulay that explains and sums my beliefs and points sufficiently.

 We know that foreigners of all nations do learn our language sufficiently to have access to all the most abstruse knowledge which it contains sufficiently to relish even the more delicate graces of our most idiomatic writers. There are in this very town natives who are quite competent to discuss political or scientific questions with fluency and precision in the English language. Indeed it is unusual to find, even in the literary circles of the Continent, any foreigner who can express himself in English with so much facility and correctness as we find in many Hindoos. Nobody, I suppose, will contend that English is so difficult to a Hindoo as Greek to an Englishman. Yet an intelligent English youth, in a much smaller number of years than our unfortunate pupils pass at the Sanscrit College, becomes able to read, to enjoy, and even to imitate not unhappily the compositions of the best Greek authors. Less than half the time which enables an English youth to read Herodotus and Sophocles ought to enable a Hindoo to read Hume and Milton.




Spelling bees are a whole lot more entertaining, likely in part by Raja Rammohan Roy. You’ve allowed for the youth of an entire nation to rise intellectually to global prominence. Thanks Roy.



Thomas Pham


Speaking English at a taco truck

To look at this matter in a much more modern and less depressing way, let’s play around with the individual experiences both Samuel Johnson and Thomas Macaulay would have had at a taco truck somewhere in southern California, surrounded by “non-native” speakers. This scenario is meant to bring our attention to the change in language and mindset between both the persons; their interactions with the people around them (i.e., other customers, the workers) will vary through the same common “problem”: language.

Johnson is the old, thin haired white man whom spent the last minutes before ordering his food searching through google translate on how to ask for two pollo asada tacos and one carne asada sope, only to get served two pollo asada sopes and one carne asada taco. At this point he’s sitting alone at a bench, feeling a stranger to the people around him, muttering to himself “the great pest of speech is frequency of translation… no [food order] was ever turned from one language into another, without imparting something of its native idiom,” as he takes an aggravated bite into his taco (Johnson, 10). Google translate has failed him. He looks down at his food, reminded of the mistranslation and yet again, laments to himself: “it alters not the single stones of a building, but the order of the columns” (Ibid). He finished his food just after this thought, and rising from his seat, he began watching the customers interact with the workers; the vernacular between them was different, and still, they understood each other. Although “some words are budding, and some failing away,” the conversation carries itself well: their food orders are understood correctly.

Meanwhile Macaulay sounds like the middle-aged white man that goes to a taco truck wearing a hat that he bought from a gas station (picture steve bannon) only to antagonize the people there just shortly after enjoying his fill of fish tacos, ranting about how they ought to colonize themselves: “you’re in America now. Speak the goddam language” and whatnot. He finds himself frustrated and annoyed by the audacity of the people speaking non-English, seeing them as incapable of a promising future. He looks at the people now—as one does a mouse in a snake’s cage—and utters, “[I] ought to employ them in teaching what is best worth knowing, that English is better worth knowing than [Spanish or ‘Taco Language’]” (Macaulay, 33). The people see him staring and turn their back to him, feeling uncomfortable, and yet all Macaulay can see is the color of their skin; he wants to change them into Americans however much he can. He walks away finally, wishing he could save them from their “problem” because he wants to do his “best to form a class of persons [indigenous] in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect” (34).

–Daniel Lizaola Lopez



How I Met Your English Language

In Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, he expresses his feelings clearly in the preface. “…I found our speech copious without order, and energetick without rules: wherever I turned my view, there was a perplexity to be disentangled, and confusion to be regulated…” (1). In this quote, Johnson is clearly showing his disdain for the English language as it is “copious without order” and “energetick without rules” and so on. In other words, he believes that the English language is chaotic and ruleless. In a way, Johnson is eluding that the language is pretty much an anarchy because it has no order or established rules. He goes on to say “…choice was to be made out of boundles of variety, without any established principle of selection; adulterations were to be detected, without a settled test of purity…” (1). Johnson continues to express his dislike of the English language yet again by characterizing it as impure as there have been adulterations within the language. Think of it as a recipe for apple pie that has been ruined by ingredients that aren’t supposed to be there. With the use of apples (European fruit), the chef decided to add lemon (origin from India/China) and watermelons (origin from Eygpt) into the recipe. Obviously, the aftermath won’t be apple pie but something that is made out of “boundles of variety, without any established principle of selection”. The English language is not perfect, but it isn’t great either. However, Thomas Babington Macaulay would like to have a word with Johnson.

Although Johnson expressed his difficulties in understanding and explaining the English language, Macaulay believes the English language is the key to success. Even though Johnson had troubles with the impurity of the English language, Macaulay sees the rich history of the English language. To be fair, Johnson had to write a whole dictionary for the English language where Macaulay was only an advocator for the language in the British colonies. In the Minute on Education, Macaulay expresses his belief that the English language is “immeasurable” compared to others. In comparison to Sanscrit language, the English language puts it to shame in terms of value. As he states in excerpt 11: “…I certainly never met with any orientalist who ventured to maintain that the Arabic and Sanscrit poetry could be compared to that of the great European nations. But when we pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded and general principles investigated, the superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable. It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England” (11). In the beginning of this excerpt, Macalulay talks about the highest form of literature in India being poetry. Sure, the poetry there might be great before but it does match the value those of English poetry. And when people look back in history, the only poetry people will remember are those by the English. Tellingly, he is saying that even though India’s highest form of literature is poetry, the English can do it better. The value of English poetry is much more memorable than that of Eastern poetry. And because of that, it is one of the many reasons why the English language should be implemented in the educational systems of the colonies.

Throughout the passage, Macaulay is suggesting that the language of Arabic and Sanscrit are not as great as English. But not in terms of being a language itself, but the value of the language. “I have never found one among them [scholars of Sanscrit and Arabic] who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. The intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is indeed fully admitted by those members of the committee who support the oriental plan of education” (10). As stated before, the value of the English language is so rich and great that the libraries of any European nation would be much better than the literature that has been produced by India and Arabia. Overall, Macaulay is definitely suggesting that the language spoken by the colonies are worthless when being compared to the English language, a language that has such amazing value and history behind it. Macaulay is not only expressing his distaste of the other languages, but also the history and culture behind the language. Not a single literary work can come close to European literature because the language and the history behind it aren’t as good as the Europeans.

But why is the English language need to be taught to these colonies? Because the English language holds the key value of science. “To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge…” (34). Macaulay then puts the language and culture of Sanscrit and Arabic in full blast: “We are to teach it because it is fruitful of monstrous superstitions. We are to teach false history, false astronomy, false medicine, because we find them in company with a false religion. We abstain, and I trust shall always abstain, from giving any public encouragement to those who are engaged in the work of converting the natives to Christianity. And while we act thus, can we reasonably or decently bribe men, out of the revenues of the State, to waste their youth in learning how they are to purify themselves after touching an ass or what texts of the Vedas they are to repeat to expiate the crime of killing a goat?” (31). All in all, he is explaining the importance of the English language because it was them that went through the age of science through the use of the language. In addition to that, he is not a fan of the practices of Indian traditions and sees them as a waste of time for people to learn. Therefore, he is promoting the use of the English language to be the language to promote the knowledge of the Enlightenment to these countries that lacked valuable knowledge.

In the end, the goal is to assume the colony with their own agenda. And in this case, that is to promote the English language. To be more surgical, they would need to promote the language so they could replace the history that is already there with something else. If the Sanscrit and Arabic languages are displayed as inferior to that of the English language, then the culture and history behind it will be diminished as well. And throughout the passage it is seen to be deconstructed each time and deemed less important. And once it is gone, it is justifiable to colonize the nation without any backlash from the colonizers and sympathizers. Regardless of the English languages “impurities”, the language has evolved in Macaulay’s eyes and it needs to expand.

  • Christopher Luong

English, you got some learning to do.

From what I understand, not much has changed from Samuel Johnson to Macaulay and the status of the English language. Johnson and Macaulay still hold English as this imperialist language that should rule over other cultures, other “savages.” As we already know, Samuel Johnson’s goal was to create records of the English vocabulary, STANDARDIZING it; before this, the English language was influenced by other languages; Jutes, Anglo, and Saxons, being the origin of this complex language, following many other languages as talked about in this week’s blog post from my fellow classmates. Whatever Johnson’s intentions with standardizing English, it opened up new opportunities to record the ever evolutionizing language, yet it also created limits, that could be manipulated by people in power such as Macaulay that prevented English from expansion. Macaulay argued against the government “which have hitherto been spent in encouraging the study of Arabic and Sanscrit” which he disagrees and calls it useless, calling it “downright spoliation” (Macaulay 5). I would disagree with Macaulay and say that learning from other languages such as Arabic and Sanscrit would not ruin or destroy the English language, but it would be able to learn other perspectives such as in the sciences, language offers perspectives, if we look back to the Royal Society, their society was built off the Greek and Roman perspectives they did not hinder the language, but was able to expand the studies in other fields such as science. What is spoliation though is the fact that people would be comfortable with a stagnant language, because of the lack of courage to learn other languages for pride on being THE most powerful language.

This offers the perspective that English could be and in fact is the bridging tool to connecting to others cultures and beliefs. Yet, it is being time and time delayed by these elites and/or imperialist beliefs that linger in politicians such as Macaulay. Today in the twenty first century, many people recognize that English is a powerful language and it has been because it has taken from other cultures, other tongues. But it has taken and not really reciprocated and the proof is in media and entertainment, such as music. There are artist, groups or bands for example that are Spanish, Japanese, or Korean etc, and use the English language to write lyrics; but you’ll rarely see a pop song that that includes lyrics of other languages. Why is that? English, you got some more learning to do…

Same Criticism Different Approach

Both Johnson and Macaulay have criticism to offer both do it in a different way, In “A Dictionary of the English Language” by Samuel Johnson states that he finds the English language to be “without order and energetic without rules…every species of literature has itself…choice was to be made out of bundles variety, without any established of reflection…without suffrages of any writers of classical reputation or acknowledged authority (2).  This quote demonstrates that Johnson believed there could be improvement of the English language. He uses many words to describe what is wrong with the English language which is a bit contradictory to his way of writing because he does have a variety of words to choose from hence all the ones he has included.

As seen in the video the English language has developed over time with the influence of other countries and people. Over time there has also been stricter rules about both language and grammar. An example can be MLA handbooks that are often updated with new rules something which Johnson would have approved of.

The following quote is from Minute by the Hon’ble T. B. Macaulay,

“All parties seem to be agreed on one point, that the dialects commonly spoken among the natives of this part of India contain neither literary nor scientific information, and are moreover so poor and rude that, until they are enriched from some other quarter, it will not be easy to translate any valuable work into them.  It seems to be admitted on all sides, that the intellectual improvement of those classes of the people who have the means of pursuing higher studies can at present be affected only by means of some language not vernacular amongst them (8).

It is evident that Macaulay believes that the natives are not advanced when it comes to language, he is also a lot ruder about addressing this. When compared to the language Johnson used it is obvious that Macaulay underestimated their literature abilities. The fact that the natives of India did not focus on literary or scientific information does not make it less valuable at all. Language itself is artwork and should be valued. There are people who are not capable of writing stories that will be published but they can be just as good. Scientific information is also not something that measures the advancement of quality of a piece of writing.

The main point both authors were trying to emphasize is that the English language can always be improved. Could they have used a different way of expressing that? Yes.English was used as a weapon for imperialism by telling other that if they knew english they were already more advanced than they were before.  Due to this English language became more popular and were shamed if you didn’t speak it. This is still true today because English is one of the most popular languages therefore the influence of these authors did influence other people’s thoughts.

-Luz Zepeda

The Linguistic Hegemony of Empire: A Language of Power

On the first page of Johnson’s Preface to A dictionary of the English Language, Johnson indicates a distaste and a frustration with his difficult task of working to comprehend, understand, and taxonomize the English language. He notes that “wherever [he] turned [his] view, there was perplexity to be disentangled,” “choice was to be made out of boundless variety,” and “adulterations were to be detected, without a settled test of purity” (Johnson 1). For Johnson, English far from a perfect, ornate language capable of moving souls and spirits.

While this represents a lexicographer’s desperate, frustrated attempts at wrangling in language (tying it to signs and signifiers, phrases and definitions), essayist, Englishman, and colonial thinker Thomas Babington Macaulay sees English as the only reasonable platform for education within the British colonies. Forgoing and disregarding the problematic, wordy overgrowth that is the process of linguistic evolution, Macaulay expresses concern that teaching the natives of the British colonies (i.e. India)in their native tongue would be a inconsequential waste of colonial resources, noting that the languages of colony, such as Sanskrit and Arabic, “may become useless” and the sciences of those languages “may be exploded” (Macaulay 2). For Macaulay, these languages are simply the platform for “bad” knowledge: “the dialects among the natives of this part of India contain neither literary nor scientific information” (2). Not only do their languages contain little worth knowing, but these natives are “so poor and rude that, until they are enriched from some other quarter, it will not be easy to translate any valuable work into them” (2).

The question then becomes: what information is Macaulay privileging as knowledge worth knowing?

It is certainly not the spiritual practices of India, as Macaulay believes that the indigenous “waste their youth in learning how to purify themselves after touching an ass or what texts of the Vedas they are to repeat to expiate the crime of killing a goat” (7). It is certainly not the poetry, given that Macaulay believes that no many would argue that “the Arabic and Sanskrit poetry could be compared to that of the great European nations” (3). And, it is certainly not the history of India, because Macaulay thinks that “all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England” (3).

So, it is not that the language of Sanskrit or Arabic is naturally worse than the dialect of English, it is simply the ideas that these languages promote and disseminate. Put simply, Macaulay believes that the culture, history, and spirituality of this colonized culture are intellectually worthless; it’s just that the language of these beliefs, truths, and ideologies is part-and-parcel. For Macaulay, the ideas of a society, and the language upholding those ideas, are elements by which a society can be judged. This is to say: Macaulay thinks the language is bad, because the ideas are too.

This is a very convenient, and safe, ideological position for the colonizer to take. As you take away the language, you take away those messy, subversive ideas that make colonial subjects so difficult to subdue, suppress, and repress. While there is no intrinsic value to English as a language, the language of the colonizer must be the language of power, for the colonized must think, feel, and reason with the language of the colonizer, for this is the only way for the colonial psychology to dig its claws in the colonial psyche.


—Nathaniel Schwass