An increasingly modern and diverse world no longer looks at language as a barrier. Instead, it is becoming a converging point. If you know the language, it is easier to comprehend the nuances of a culture, country and even the quirks of its workplace.
Responding to the times, University of California, Berkeley, created a Telugu Studies Chair at its Centre for South Asia Studies in 2006, which now offers an introductory course in Telugu to students.
According to Rao Vemuri, the man behind the creation and maintenance of the ‘chair,’ “With the growth of Telugu-speaking people in California, awareness of Telugu — both as a language and a literary wealth — is witnessing a leap.” Vemuri adds that with India’s widespread presence and expansion in global trade, there is a need to learn region-specific languages.
A professor of applied science at University of California, Davis, and a lexicographer too, Vemuri in his last visit to India, observed that Indian languages were losing their sheen. This led him to take the initiative and seriously think about preservation of Telugu as an ancient heritage.
The Centre for South Asia Studies, Berkeley, provides language instruction at three levels, from introductory to advanced, in six of the major literary and spoken languages of five countries in South Asia. They include Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi, Sanskrit and Telugu.
The Telugu Studies Initiative at the Centre supports instruction in Telugu language and literature at Berkeley. The centre offers a course in basic Telugu and intermediate Telugu. Hepsi Sunkari, with a PhD in Telugu, is the instructor. Each course is one semester — 15-week duration. “As far as credits are concerned, it is transferred to the main academic record like any other course. When a student takes a course, it appears in the student transcript,” informs Vemuri. Each course is worth four credits and these credits count towards a degree. Typically, students majoring in political science, anthropology and sociology opt for this course.
The programme, apart from a range of initiatives, creates innovative materials to enhance the study of Telugu and also creates a lecture series to bring Telugu scholars, artists and performers to the Bay Area.
As far as its future plans are concerned, the centre plans to offer beginners, intermediate, and advanced Telugu courses on a permanent basis; support an annual public lecture on Telugu language, literature, or society; and hire an advanced graduate student to catalogue the growing number of Telugu manuscripts finding their way to the library from India.