He Got the Job.

From Timothy Garton Ash’s NYRB review of Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature by Robert Darnton (incidentally, I find the title odd, seeming to place censorship in an antique past — I would have gone with “Have Shaped” or “Shape”):

In British India, the censors—not formally so called—were scholars and gentlemen, either British members of the elite Indian Civil Service (the “heaven born”) or their learned Indian colleagues. Harinath De, a candidate for the post of imperial librarian in Calcutta in 1906,

had mastered Latin, Greek, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Sanskrit, Pali, Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, Oriya, Marathi and Guzerati, along with some Provençal, Portuguese, Romanian, Dutch, Danish, Anglo-Saxon, Old and Middle High German, and a smattering of Hebrew, Turkish and Chinese. He got the job.

Compare James Murray‘s failure to get a job with the British Museum Library three decades earlier.


  1. Or Max Muller’s defeat in the election for the Oxford Boden Professorship of Sanskrit, around the same time as Murray’s rejection.

  2. I knew a guy who always wanted to be a polyglot. Unfortunately he was unable to master English, so he decided to make up for this failure by going for quantity…

    He was an ethnic Azeri who grew up in Uzbekistan and he spent most of his engineering career working throughout the Soviet Union.

    His CV claimed fluent knowledge of twenty something languages (Russian and the rest all Turkic).

    His employers were greatly impressed.

    It’s hard not to be impressed with person who knows Karachay-Balkar….

  3. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    It’s hard not to be impressed with person who knows Karachay-Balkar

    But if I claimed to know Karachay-Balkar how would you know it wasxn’t true (other by the fact that I’ve never slipped into the discussion before)?

    I’d be more like to claim that I knew Mapudungún, but that wouldn’t be true either, though I do posses a Mapudungún grammar.

  4. Karachay-Balkar is very typical language in Kipchak branch of Turkic languages. It is quite intelligible to someone who speaks Kazakh for example

    In other words, the language has very exotic sounding name but in reality there are tens of millions of people in the region who can understand it spoken or written or even can converse with its speakers and be understood.

    Ideal for putting in CV to impress people. If you know some Turkish and Cyrillic alphabeth. you can boldly claim to know some Karachay-Balkar too.

  5. If Karachay-Balkar is not exotic sounding enough, there are several other closely related languages which are just as awesome.

    “My name is Aidarbek Aidarov, I am a linguist who is fluent in Kazakh, Kirghiz, Karaim, Kumyk, Karakalpak, Krymchak and Karachay-Balkar,

    You have to give me this job!”

    I would be very impressed with such line….

  6. And he wouldn’t be exagerating at all. He probably would know these languages better than 90% of American college graduates who studied Spanish for ten years…

  7. If knowledge of extinct languages is a plus, a few dead languages can be easily produced.

    “My name is Aidarberk Aidarov and I can read fluently several extinct languages including Cuman, Mameluke-Kipchak of Egypt and Armeno-Kipchak of Ukraine.”

    “Mr. Aidarov, you claim you know extinct Armeno-Kipchak language. Can you please translate these lines?
    Atamïz bizim ki köktäsen,
    Ari bolsun atïŋ seniŋ,
    Kelsin χanlïχïŋ seniŋ,
    Bolsun erkiŋ seniŋ nečik köktä alay yerdä,
    Ötmäkimizni bizim kündälik ber bizgä bügün,”

    And it would be piece of cake….

  8. Yeah, well, that is one of those texts anybody can “translate” as soon as they understand the first couple of words. 😉

  9. With my limited expertise in Turkic, I can predict the last word will be “amen” 😉

  10. marie-lucie says

    Atamïz …

    The Lord’s Prayer, I presume?

    90% of American college graduates who studied Spanish for ten years…

    There is a difference between being exposed to instruction in a language, and actually studying it.

  11. “Guzerati”? Google Ngram suggests this started out as the earliest English spelling of ‘Gujarati” (Wikipedia says it’s the Portuguese spelling, and “Guzerat” is still the name of a breed of cattle of Indian origin found in Brazil) and was running at around 50/50 with the spelling ‘Gujarati” as late as 1869, before “Gujarati” pulled well ahead. In 1906 “Gujarati” was five times commoner than “Guzerati”.

  12. <The Lord’s Prayer, I presume?


    A few interesting words. Kingdom of Heaven is translated as xanlix (Khanate), which is to be expected.

    And "Ari" is used for "holy". The word means "clean, pure", so transition to "holy" is not that strange. Resemblance to Aryan is probably coincidence.

    Or maybe not…

  13. Stephen Bruce says

    My guess is that Guzerati has something to do with Persian/Urdu, z being an originally Persian sound borrowed into Hindustani, but I’m not sure. In modern Urdu, at least, it’s گجرات, with a clear j, as in Hindi गुजरात.

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