Language in the knowledge society

We are currently transitioning to the fourth industrial revolution driven by the fusion of knowledge and technologies blurring the lines between physical, digital, and biological spheres. The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and IT to automate production.

Having missed the first two industrial revolutions to uplift the masses, India jumped on the third industrial revolution’s bandwagon with the supporting but significant role of Indian IT workers in the Third Industrial revolution. The success of Indian IT may be measured as moderate in raising the country and workforce’s economic and social parameters; however, it gave the much-needed confidence in our abilities and belief to achieve world-class competence.

There seems to be a lot of conviction and aplomb among Indian leaders and media that we are on a trajectory to play a significant role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and that too, not in supporting but leading roles.

This confidence is obscured on notions of our demographic dividend and past success in IT. However, on closer examination, it is easy to conclude that severe deprivation plagues Indian society in terms of knowledge, which is the driver and fuel of the 4th Industrial revolution.

This lack of knowledge culture leaves us on a fragile foundation to weave dreams of leading society’s knowledge. Our ranking on the Global Knowledge Index also makes it evident, where we are sandwiched at 75th rank between Moldova(74) and Mongolia(76).

One may consider evaluating the role of our languages in the production, use, and propagation of knowledge. Knowledge is embodied in the language, a medium for transmission, which also acts as the repository. Both language and knowledge are living processes, mutually shaping each other. Knowledge is created, disseminated, accessed, changed, restricted, etc., through language.

An ocean of knowledge exists in English and other world languages and is multiplying by leaps and bounds. Comparatively, only a trickle exists in Indian languages, and neither effort was made to expand it.

Below are the number of articles in Wikipedia for various world languages.

Articles (in millions)

More than 1 million:  Japanese, Chinese, Egyptian, Vietnamese, Turkish, Polish, Italian Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese.

Over 0.5 million:  Persian, Korean, Indonesian.

The statistics for the Indian languages in terms of the number of articles are:

Articles (in millions)

Comparing another measure to gauge our knowledge competencies is the size of the world’s largest libraries with the largest in India.

Largest Indian Libraries

National Library of Kolkata  –     2.2 million books 

Delhi Public Library – 1.8 million

Anna Centenary Library, Chennai –  1.2 million. 

While linguistic proficiency determines the speaker/user’s competence to utilise the accumulated cognizance to drive societal progress, only the languages with necessary structural and lexical complexity would meet an advanced society’s requirements.

Therefore, languages also reflect the intellectual culture of the speakers, and the ‘Language Complexity’ (LC) and the Language Quotient (LQ) of a society determine its growth and development. Imagine the state of human progress and development if there is a language that is (duly) Complex and can achieve 100% Language Quotient among all!

In our world with more than 7000 spoken languages, one may consider English to be a likely candidate. However, the number of English speakers( including use as a second language) stands at  only 1.26 Billion (around 18 percent of the world population.)

Math is the only language that is universal used by each of us and is complex enough to emerge as the language most suitable for the knowledge society in the 4th industrial revolution.

It may be argued that Math is not a traditional language. However, language is not just used for talking, but weaving otherwise distraught information into organised categories. You are not able to recognise the concepts that are not encoded in the language you use. Math has its own vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. And besides Science and Technology, it is well entrenched in almost all domain of knowledge, like, Economics, Arts (Musical, dance rhythm often follows mathematical series, basic geometric formulas can craft impressive art pieces, Photography calculate shutter speed, focal length, lighting angles and exposure time), Literature ( use of meter in poetry), Social Sciences( statistics, data interpretation, forecasting), Psychology, Commerce/Accounts, Trade, and even Sports. Math is also continuously evolving to support more and more emerging domains of knowledge.

Math, however, has a low language quotient. Despite being used by all of us, every day in one way or other, the proficiency of most of us to express ideas in math is low. Imagine the state of human progress and development if all of us develop a 100% language Quotient in Math. This is possible by applying the ‘Mathematics as a language’ approach while learning and understanding mathematics. ‘Mathematics as a language’ will guarantee sustainable growth, peace, equality, socio-economic dignity to all, and real democracy across the world.


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