At the recently concluded World Tamil Conference, various steps were initiated with a view to popularising the use of Tamil in the state. Sign boards must not merely carry the name of the shop or establishment in Tamil, it must provide a literal translation into Tamil. The Madras University VC has issued an order that requires members of the faculty to sign only in the Tamil script. And many more.
How practical are these measures? Will it lead to increased usage of the language in communication, documents, research papers, etc? How can you shove something down people’s throats. Isn’t it one’s fundamental right to speak or write in a language of his choice? What happens if every state in the country mandates that its language alone can be used in any correspondence, name boards, etc. Won’t our national structure collapse?
By now, those who have such questions in their minds or hold views that are contrary to the ruling party’s in TN have stopped expressing them. Hence there is no debate any more. The argument is closed.
With this cynical attitude, I happened to read Pawan Varma’s, “Becoming Indian”. He is extremely proficient with the English language but argues passionately for the use of one’s own language.
All Indians need to seriously introspect where we are in relation to own language. We need to do this in our own interest because citizens of a great nation cannot afford to appear like linguistic photocopies or caricatures. Photocopies are a convenience for the benefit of others. To win respect we need to be rooted in our own cultural milieu and language is an indispensable element in that effort. At present, we are fast becoming a nation of linguistic half-castes, who can never speak English as their first language, but who are adrift from their mother tongue and unsure in the official language.
..The brilliant Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o who begins his book Decolonising the Mind with the statement that this will be his last book in English, and henceforth he will write only in Giyuku and Kishwahili, makes the basic point that every language has a dual character: it is both a means of communication and a carrier of culture. Take English. It is spoken in Britain and in Sweden and in Denmark. But for Swedish and Danish people, English is only a means of communication with non-Scandinavians. It is not a carrier of their culture. For the British, it is additionally and inseparably from its use as a tool of communication, a carrier of their culture and history. We need to urgently understand this difference.
I am not convinced on the validity of this argument, but I am thinking…..