By Shyamal Sinha
The Australian National University (ANU) is a national research university located in Canberra, the capital of Australia. Its main campus in Acton encompasses seven teaching and research colleges, in addition to several national academies and institutes.
Founded in 1946, it is the only university to have been created by the Parliament of Australia. Originally a postgraduate research university,
Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, in partnership with Open University Australia, will offer eight “less-commonly-taught” languages by 2020—six of them directly relate to Buddhist Studies and the Buddhist world. The eight languages are: Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Thai, Hindi, and the Austronesian language of Tetum.
Mandarin is critical for engaging Buddhists in Mainland China, the island of Taiwan, and the broader Sinophone world. Korean, Japanese, and Thai are essential languages for engaging in scholarly work about the Buddhist cultures of those countries, while the addition of Tibetan and Sanskrit could facilitate an interest in Indo-Tibetan studies, particularly in the fields of Buddhist language, philology, history, and philosophy.
Dr. Nicholas Farrelly, associate dean of ANU’s college of Asia and the Pacific, concedes that the offering of Tibetan, along with the “less-commonly-taught” of the seven Asian languages, was a calculated but necessary risk. However, according to Farrelly, such languages are important on campus. “We are also looking to the future. We are imagining what’s going to be important later in the century.” (sbs.com.au)
The Tibetan language course, launching in the first semester of 2019, is described as introducing students “to the Tibetan Language in both its spoken and literary forms. It includes: (a) Development of conversational skills in Tibetan; (b) Instruction in reading and writing the Uchen script as used for Tibetan; (c) Explanation of the grammar of spoken and written Tibetan; (d) Reading of graded texts in the Tibetan script.” (anu.edu.au) It will be offered by the School of Culture History and Language at ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.
The Sanskrit course, also to be offered in 2019 by the School of Culture History and Language at ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, is described as a demanding one: “It involves the rigorous study of grammar, a considerable amount of memorization, and high and sustained level of commitment. Previous language learning experience is a distinct advantage. All prospective students are encouraged to make an appointment with the convener, McComas Taylor, to discuss the course before enrolling.” (anu.edu.au)
“I would hope that we can all work together to build a country where learning Tibetan or Mongolian is no longer considered such an unusual thing,” said Farrelly. “It is a bold choice to learn an Asian language and to heavily invest in it. But Australia benefits a great deal by continuing to sustain the rich traditions of culture, language, music, dance, spirituality, and family bonds.” (sbs.com.au)
Farrelly also told SBS that Tibetan had “great reservoirs of cultural knowledge,” and that learning such languages would help students to “understand the world on somebody else’s terms.” (sbs.com.au) He said that ANU took language very seriously as a vehicle for facilitating “cross-cultural relationships based on mutual respect and understanding.” (sbs.com.au)
With a strong culture of education and several world-class institutions of tertiary learning, Australia is well placed to promote greater understanding of Asia, especially given its geographical proximity to the continent relative to Europe or the US. Its economic and political relationship with countries like Indonesia, Japan, and China heavily influences the landscape of Oceania and Asia. Australia’s multicultural history is also gradually prompting more interest in the cultures and religious traditions enriching the country’s national fabric.