by Candice Stein
Charles Philip (CP) Brown was born in Calcutta, India on November 10, 1798. His father, David Brown, was a devout Christian missionary who came to India to manage an orphanage. David was in many ways contrary to other missionaries of his time. David Brown was an Englishman who thought that a good understanding of the religion of the local people would be helpful in spreading Christianity throughout India. To learn about Hinduism, he learned Sanskrit. David also thought that speaking the language of the local people would be useful in his work.
Thus CP Brown was brought up in a foreign land, immersed in Indian culture and languages. He learned several languages from his father, including Hebrew, Syrian, Arabic, Parsi, Greek, Latin, and Hindustani. After his father died in 1812, CP Brown and his family returned to England.
Back in England, CP Brown was employed by the East India Trading Company, a British joint stock company formed for trade purposes. The trade commodities included cotton, silk, indigo dye, salt, tea, and opium. This company played a leading role in the British conquest of India. At the age of 19 in 1817, he returned to India newly employed by the East India Trading Company. As a requirement of employment, Brown needed to learn the local language of the region to which he was assigned. Until this point he had never heard of the Telugu language. However, he was already a remarkable linguist who had spent a majority of his life living in India. After passing his Telugu proficiency exams in 1820 at Madras College, he continued to study languge. He had a deep intuition that books alone could not teach a living language.
Four years later in 1824, in order to deepen his overall understanding of the Telugu language, Brown began to study Telugu literature. This exploration become the greater part of his life’s work. He spent the next sixty years of his life exploring the depths of the Telugu language and culture, capturing an incredible wealth of knowledge and understanding of the Indian philosophy which might have otherwise been lost to the western world. He was a Man ahead of his time with profound recognition and respect for cultural history, this was not a common quality amongst the British conquestors or antiquarians the world over.
The study of Telugu is still a challenge for Westerners today, for many of the same reasons that CP Brown faced in the 1820’s. Because of CP Brown, resources for the study of Telugu as an English speaker are available. The CP Brown Telugu-English dictionary is to date the most academically noted source of the Telugu-English Vocabulary. His desire to create this Telugu dictionary came from the experience of trying to learn Telugu at Madras College.
His experiences in learning Telugu at Madras College - with an "insufficient grammar," "two worthless native books of exercise," "no dictionary," and "tutors who spoke English but had few notions of grammar," were frustrating. Brown wanted to make it easier for people learning the language who came after him. He prepared a grammar, a dictionary, a workbook etc., Brown needed considerable knowledge of the language. He made an effort to find Telugu literature that a beginner could use to build up his or her acquaintance with the language and slowly acquire a command of the language. In this quest he had to consult Telugu scholars who could translate poems for him and provide commentaries on them.”
CP Brown found that most scholars whose mother tongue was Telugu had a depth of grammatical understanding when it came to the Sanskrit language but almost none in regard to Telugu. This is still true today. One of the main factors behind this is that Telugu is a truly fluid language predominantly spoken rather than written, and can be classified as a pidgin language, a grammatically simplified language that is typically a mixture or simplified version of a primary language. Telugu, as a pidgin language, had become a simplistic blend of languages that interrelated though trade, proximity, and exposure to other languages. This is one of the primary reasons that Telugu is being dominated by the English language today. A pidgin form of any language generally has very low prestige in respect to other languages.
India is an incredibly linguistically diverse place, and for this reason in 1965 the Indian government, in an attempt to nationalize its people to compete in the world market, envisioned Hindi as the sole working language of India. Hindi is written in Devanagari script which is the same as Sanskrit. Nationalizing a language this way in a country as poor as India will undoubtedly have a dramatic impact on the overall decline of local dialects often spoken by the common ‘less educated’ person. Language and culture go hand in hand. When a language is absorbed by another so is its culture. So much is lost in translation and when a language disappears so does a vast amount of the knowledge that was preserved by the culture to which it belonged.
In this regard CP Brown played an incredible role in the preservation of the Telugu language and culture. He almost single-handedly brought the Telugu language and literature to the western world. This truly remarkable man had a deep fascination with Palm Leaf Manuscripts and a profound recognition of the poetic brilliance of the Telugu language.
Reference: Sitaramayya Ari, Sreenivas Paruchuri. http://www.engr.mun.ca/~adluri/telugu/modern/people/cpbrown1.html
is a full-time student and volunteer staff member at the Divine Lineage Healing Center in Laytonville, CA.