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  • Category: Miscellaneous

    How foreign visitors to India used to converse with local people in the past?

    Historically many foreign travellers visited India in the past e.g. Megasthenes from Greece came during the period of Chandragupta Maurya, Fa-Hien from China visited during the era of Chandragupta II and Hiuen-Tsan from China during the reign of Harshavardhana. Other notable visitors were Al-berun from Persia, Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta etc.

    Nowadays, English has almost become an universal language and an international traveller can manage with the knowledge of English language in most parts of the world. However, in the past there was no such universal language.

    How foreign visitors to India used to converse with local people in the past?
  • #630123
    As far as I know, Chinese travellers learnt Sanskrit and Prakrit (Pali) to talk to Indian royals and common people, Some Arabic travellers and businessmen also learnt Prakrit and other regional languages. Ibn Battuta and Al-biruni knew Sanskrit. Portuguese people learnt Arabic and Persian. Moreover, they used sign languages to converse with local Indians.
    Beware! I question everything and everybody.

  • #630124
    We understand from the history , that those who embarked to visit other countries in those days, are well prepared and planned to know the languages of those region they are visiting. That is why there was a proverb in Tamil referring to this " Yadum vooray yavarum keleer"that means knowing fully about the places of that region and that includes the local language and dialect. Though they may not speak that fluently as expected, but they did convey the message with the understanding level of those kings and rulers. Even many comedy films on this has been shown in Tamil language as to how the visitors of the foreign countries must have conversed and conveyed in South . But there are also chances that the visitors might have engaged the local translators who knows the visitors language and thus earned the name and fame.
    K Mohan
    'Idhuvum Kadandhu Pogum "
    Even this challenging situation would ease

  • #630147
    I think they used to hire local people who know their language also as guides for them. These people used to translate the local language into the language of the visitor and the visitor's talk into local languages for the benefit of understanding by the local people. This is the general practice of the people when they go to a place where English can't be understood or talked, to hire guides and translators for the guidance on travel and conversation. Even today also in China and Japan many people don't speak English as a policy. So when we go there we have to use our signs language or learn Japanese or Chinese language or employ a translator. When we went to China, one Chinese person accompanied us to make us understand the local talks and reply to those questions In their language. Similarly When I was in Japan one person who knows Engish and Japnese language helped me in understanding their words and talks.
    always confident

  • #630172
    Really a good question. I am a native of Madurai and seen many foreigners visiting our Madurai over the year. Not only then, even today, they all communicate with little English they can speak and people by understanding their requirement tell in half English. They got satisfied by understanding the reality. Really it is a good situation anywhere in India, I have seen, where no local language people mock or comment them for not knowing the language. Once a Japanese came to our company as a technical adviser, he asked me, as I was in the Personnel Department,a match box simply by showing his cigarette and showing gesture for match box. From these people we should learn that we should never hesitate or shy ourselves that we do not know their or any language other than our own, but trying to learn as many languages is good.

  • #630289
    Nowadays interpreters are available who know both the languages and act as an intermediary. Such scenes are seen even during meetings among the head of states on visit to the other country. However, the possibility of existence of interpreters in India knowing language of China or Portugal in the past, appears to be remote only. Few travellers toured southern states of India where languages like Tamil and Telugu etc. are spoken since ages.
    Let us encourage each other in sharing knowledge.

  • #630297
    The visitors who were coming to our country in ancient times stayed for quite long and tried to learn the local dialect with the help of eminent teachers and scholars appointed by the King in his court. At that time no translators were available and the communication based on broken dialects and sign language.

    If visitors were coming from a particular place they used to come prepared with the language elements gained by the earlier visitors in that particular area.

    At that time communication between the visitors and local people was a tedious and time taking activity. Inspite of all this some visitors gained a lot of knowledge and information about our country and shared it with their people back home.

    Knowledge is power.

  • #630417
    Foreign visitors would be held in awe and looked at suspiciously until the native people feel that the visitors are not a threat. Bags of foodstuff, fruits, clothes, some valuables perhaps a sword or an instrument would be given in exchange first to break the ice.

    Similarly, the visitors to India would have started to barter with their items or even paying gold to buy our spices, our tea, our grains and sadly people to work as slaves.

    All this would have been done with gestures, animations and sign languages for numbers. Many of the explorers would have learnt Arabic or have people who would know the basic language. In fact, the name China is said to be given by a Sanskrit term 'Cina' for the Qin dynasty that ruled ancient China. This name is said to be popularised by the Portuguese travellers.
    They may not have known the dialects but there would have been people on both sides who knew some basic terms in Arabic and Sanskrit. Once the trade routes opened up, then traders and buyers who learn each other's terms that are a need for concluding the transaction.

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