Saturday, July 03, 2010

Mind our own language.

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…..


Priya Sivan said...

>>What happens if every state in the country mandates that its language alone can be used in any correspondence, name boards, etc. <<
What language would we have chosen now if it wasnt for the British, I wonder!:) But for them shoving English down our throats, we would have become fanatical about our own regional language or chosen Chinese which is what is going to happen if any language is thrusted on us:)

Anonymous said...

Once a friend of mine had this to say about the language debate:

No developed country conducts its business in a language other than its own, there's a good reason for that. Unless the language of the administration and education, in its totality, is not in the native tongue, the societal discourse will always suffer from a communication gap. An example: a literate farmer, if he's interested, should be able to step into a bookshop or a university library and read up current literature on the cultivation of a certain crop. This cannot happen in India if the farmer doesn't speak english, since almost all higher education and research is conducted in English and the agricultural universities produce their research reports in English. This is only an example, but the malady holds in almost all fields, creating a divide in the everyday discourse. When thought on these lines, if India has to become a developed country, decolonization of the mind, in terms of the language we use, is one of the important steps.

Raj said...

Anon, the key word in your comment is 'country". At the level of the nation, it makes sense to have a common language and try to encourage the use. As Indonesia did. In a nation like India with as many languages as there are states, mandating the use of local language will be detrimental to the national cause.

Besides, who is stopping anyone from popularising the local language?

usha said...

I studied Tamizh for 11 years in school and am quite comfortable with the language But I'd never have known that
Thooval maiyam is a pen shop.
I suppose this whole project is an attempt to familairize Tamilians with Tamizh words rather than be content with words that have seeped in from other languages. May be this will pave the way for evolution of technical language in tamizh which might further pave the way for reference material relating to modern science and technology.
But unless we improve literacy levels how useful these attempts would be is a moot point.

(I said valadhu pakkam poppa to an auto driver and he stared at me and asked right a ;left a. idhu epdi keedhu?)

Raj said...

Usha, classicism ( is there such a word) alone cannot keep a language alive. Vibrancy comes in only when there is flexibility and adaptability. That's why English has found more acceptance globally. And Hindi in most parts of India.