Languages – mother tongues & more

It is really amazing how our perspective changes with age. A decade or two ago, I felt that I belonged or at least was on the fringes of the cool, hip set based on just one criterion – my knowledge of the lingua franca – English. I am ashamed to say that I was what is now bluntly called a ‘grammar Nazi’. I cringed when somebody butchered the language, I winced when there were grammatical errors & I thought the be-all and end-all of sophistication was to get the language right. Don’t mistake me here – neither was I a language snob, nor part of the ‘darling, honey & air-kissing set’.

Unfortunately, the cycle repeats itself now with the next generation. They too feel that  speaking, reading or writing in Indian languages is a bit below them. They however seem to be going the ‘Angrez’ ‘Vellaikaaran’ way much much earlier. Toddlers & pre teens will not be found speaking their mother tongues. Visit any playground in urban areas and you would know what I mean.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying we should not learn English or not teach others English. English is really the gateway to the world. What I am objecting to, is the idea of discarding our languages and going only with English. I understand that this seems to be a pure Indian attitude. French, Germans, Chinese, Italians et al manage very well with their mother tongues and their broken English. I don’t think they are ashamed of their lack of control over the language.

I feel that for once, the education department has got something right. Their mandate for learning the local language as a third language for primary school is in the right direction. I am sure the parents will not agree but that is okay. I am not in a position to talk about the content of the language course here, which actually is the key to make youngsters interested in the language and think about pursuing it further rather than just studying it for the sake of grades.

I feel myself lacking because I do not know my mother tongue as well as I know a foreign language. I regret that I have whittled away more than half my life without appreciating the vast trove of indigenous languages. I am deprived of so many great pieces of literature – prose & poetry – that I cannot really appreciate completely. A huge chunk gets lost in translation – I think the essence is lost too.

Though the realization came late, I am at least glad that now I have started making amends. Taking baby steps in understanding Kannada, reconnecting with my lost connection to Sanskrit, picking up the tenuous understanding with Tamil & re-uniting with Hindi. It is really very difficult to teach an old dog new tricks. 😦 For one, the eyes glaze over quite a lot. The mind wanders sometimes and at other times, just decides to blank out – the chores beckon & so on. The internet, being the Knowledge God, has managed to be of immense help.

What are your thoughts about knowledge about the mother tongue?

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6 thoughts on “Languages – mother tongues & more

  1. Padma

    True Malini. It’s interesting that it took me so many years up until I started living in this country where every student should study their mother tongue from first to twelfth standard. The explanation given is it’s through mother tongue that the culture is realized. How true!!!

    I am glad I did not miss that boat. And slowly seeing things in a different eye. Once, in Bali, we met up with a French family. The lady asked me “Are you British?” When I said no and asked why she thought so, her reply was “as all of you are speaking ONLY in English, I thought so”. We felt slapped.

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  2. thinkinkadia

    Welcome aboard!Firstly, don’t cap it … let it flow!
    And yes, we must publish in our mother tongue too, even if it’s not the best output. It is the only way to get better.
    Enjoy the sabbatical!

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