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By Prakhar Patidar

How many languages can you speak? One of the blessings of being born in India or belonging to the Indian diaspora is multilingualism. We are gifted with so many languages that speaking 2-3 becomes second nature. If not multiple, most of us speak two languages minimum, one that you speak at home, another you learn in school.

Imagine a student in an esteemed English medium school in Mumbai. He/she learns English, Hindi/Marathi and maybe a third language that's his/her mother tongue. There isn't much difference in the languages spoken at home or school. If we move towards public schools, regional medium schools or towns around Mumbai, the influence of English wanes, replaced by that of Marathi and Hindi. Further in the villages, there would be a difference in the Marathi taught in schools and the dialect spoken in the region. What does this mapping of languages tell us? As we move towards the centre, in this case - Mumbai, the capital city of Maharashtra, not only does the regional language get standardised but the opportunity to engage with other languages also opens up.

This is what the standardisation of language looks like; adoption of one particular dialect of any language to represent its purest form. It is not necessarily a bad practice; we need standard forms of languages for official, academic and administrative purposes. However, it does come with a cost. One is the extinction of other dialects if efforts aren't made to preserve them. Another is the impact of it on the social realities of individuals.

If you have never been looked down upon for your accent, pronunciation or using your native language then congratulations; you are privileged enough to enjoy the upper rungs of the social ladder. Social reality is a dynamic space, heavily layered and determines a majority of our experiences in the world. Several factors come together to form an individual's social identity like background, religion, caste, ethnicity, economic status, nationality, language, etc. These in themselves have sub-categorisations making it a webbed terrain difficult to navigate.

An Indian start-up co-founder was schooled on LinkedIn recently for ridiculing an employee's sub-optimal usage of English. This is not new, it's been a common practice even before the internet allowed a public space for trolling. Those who can't speak a language are looked down upon by those who can, who in turn are deemed inferior to those who can speak it better. It makes one question the multiplicity of class determiners. Do we need language to be another one too?


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