A Language Ignored

Immediately after choosing to come to Pomona College, I signed up for the SAT Subject Test in Spanish to fulfill my foreign language requirement. I had little to no interest in the languages offered at Pomona, or at the 5Cs as a whole, and really couldn’t find a legitimate reason to spend four days a week on a new linguistic endeavor. I had always wished to take Hindi upon entering college, but I was certainly not distraught when I realized that Hindi was not a language offered on campus.

The more I think about it, however, the more I realize how disconcerting it is that the Claremont Colleges lack even the most basic instruction in Hindi. The 5Cs offer some sort of instruction in eight of the top 10 most-spoken languages, with Hindi being the largest language without any classes. There are an incredible 262 million native Hindi speakers throughout the world, making it the fourth most spoken language, behind only Chinese, Spanish, and English.

But Hindi is familiar to millions more people throughout South Asia. Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, consists of essentially the same vocabulary and grammar as Hindi and boasts an additional 63 million speakers. Different provinces in northern and central India speak Marathi, Punjabi, and Gujarati, all of which are all very similar to Hindi: Aggregated, they are spoken by 225 million people worldwide.

Consider the sheer numeric totality of Hindi as a language: 550 million people speak the language or one of its close variants. By contrast, this is roughly equal to the number of speakers of Italian, French, Japanese, German, and Portuguese combined—all languages offered at the 5Cs in some capacity or another.

Of course, the importance of Hindi as a language is greater than the just large numbers of its speakers. India—where Hindi is the national language and the most widely spoken—has increasingly been seen as a fledgling world power as a result of recent economic and demographic trends. By 2030, in fact, India is poised to eclipse China as the world's most populous country. From 2005 to 2010, India’s gross domestic product effectively doubled. In a world in which India is a great power and economies are globally intertwined, a knowledge of Hindi will become obligatory. 

Hindi’s twin Urdu is one of the most useful languages for those interested in international relations and the Foreign Service. With a rejuvenated Al Qaeda lurking within Pakistan's murky depths, there is arguably no country more important in terms of American national security. Potential government officials and analysts that can speak Urdu have an enormous advantage over those without these skills.

By coming to the 5Cs, we put faith in our educational institutions to prepare us for the enigmatic and bewildering world that we will soon enter. But in this case, our institutions are blatantly failing us by not providing a skill that would be beneficial to many students in the long-term.

Hindi or some variant of it can be observed on campus if one looks closely enough. Pomona’s Oldenborg Center offers a Hindi lunch table every Monday, and Claremont McKenna College offers a two-part class on the grammar of Sanskrit, an ancient language which has influenced Hindi like Latin has the Romance languages. 

At the 5Cs I’ve noticed a general fascination with South Asian culture, perhaps emanating from the high numbers of South Asians at each college, especially at CMC. Ekta, the 5C South Asian organization, usually receives a large and eclectic attendance at its events—most notably Diwali, Sanskriti, and Holi. Without a doubt, there are broad cohorts of students interested in taking Hindi as a foreign language.

The Claremont Colleges need to respond accordingly and offer rigorous instruction in Hindi. Until then, I suppose Rosetta Stone will have to do.