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Mother tongues and their bleak future in India

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By Arka Mondal

“Polak and I had often very heated discussion about the desirability or otherwise of giving the children an English education. It has always been my conviction that Indian parents who train their children to think and talk in English from their infancy betray their children and their country. They deprive them of the spiritual and social heritage of the nation, and render them to that extent unfit for the service of the country. Having these convictions, I made a point of always talking to my children in Gujarati. Polak never liked it. He thought I was spoiling their future. He contended, with all the vigor and love at his command, that, if children were to learn a universal language like English from infancy, they would easily gain considerable advantage over others in the race of life. He failed to convince me.”  –  Mahatma Gandhi

Every mother tongue has a unique identity that speaks volumes on a distinctive heritage, culture, melody and color. Besides being the most precious treasure in our lives, the mother tongue has a very powerful impact in the formation of an individual.

Since the sound that a baby hears while being inside the womb is the mother tongue, it has an obvious role in shaping the personality of an individual. Therefore the need to preserve one’s own mother tongue is underscored in the fact that the psychological and emotional development of a child depends on what is conveyed to him right from the beginning. It matters tremendously that language expressions and vocabulary are chosen with care when we speak to children.

An individual’s initial understanding of the world around him, his first learning of things, the perception of concepts and skills begin with the mother tongue, the language that is first taught to him/her. Similarly, the child expresses his first feelings, his happiness, fears, and his first words using his mother tongue.

As the most integral stage of an individual’s life is spent in the imprints of the mother tongue, it plays a pivotal role in shaping our thought process, emotions and our concept of the spiritual world. Such is the impact of the mother tongue that there is no denying the fact that an Indian feels comfortable in saying “Ram and Shyam” rather than “Tom, Dick and Harry” even after graduating from an English medium institution.

It has been witnessed that children who come to school with a strong foundation in their mother tongue pick up sustainable literacy skills in foreign languages. This can be attributed to the fact that the ability to converse in a foreign language is developed through the mother tongue.

The mother tongue familiarizes a child with the nuances of a language, how to learn it and use it. This facilitates him or her to learn other languages as well. A strong foundation in their first language contributes to learning another language and helps to develop stronger literacy skills in the language that is taught in the school.

It is evident that when children continue to develop their abilities in two or more languages throughout their primary school years, they gain a deeper understanding of language and gradually acquire knowledge about how it can be manipulated and applied in different ways.

Unfortunately, in a developing nation like India, children face tremendous dilemma when their mother tongue is replaced by a foreign language at the nursery level. Neither do they learn their mother tongue proficiently, nor do they become an expert in the foreign language. The colonial hangover and the notion that English language makes a man smarter and fetches him a job have an adverse effect on the mother tongue.

With English medium schools cropping up like mushrooms after an overnight rain, mother tongues in India are staring at a silent death.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his native language, that goes to his heart” Nelson Mandela.

 

 

 

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English Words: How Words from Different Languages Find Their Way into English Dictionaries

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English words, English language, entries English dictionaries
English Words: How Words from Different Languages Find Their Way into English Dictionaries, Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Every year there are new English words that get incorporated in English language from other languages. When something fantastic catches your attention, what would you exclaim—jhakaas, bombat or semma? Is a cunning guy chaalu, chatri or shaana? Would you call your friend yaar, macha or bondhu?

The world of words is the most extraordinary of things as it gives expression to everything under the sun. Every single word that we use daily stands, often without our realisation, for something unique, something that the given word is used to give expression to.

But while most words are common in speech, there are several that have rarely been written down.

For 54-year-old lexicographer Peter Gilliver, words like “spuggy” and “netty” were perfectly ordinary as he had been familiar with them since his childhood, but he was surprised that neither of them had made their way into the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

“I can recall some words which my grandmother used, like ‘spuggy’ meaning a sparrow, or ‘netty’ meaning a toilet, which were very familiar to me, but which are little used outside the northeast of England, where grandma lived,” Gilliver, the OED Associate Editor, told IANS in an email interview.

He said he brought these words with him as “just about everyone, who comes to work for the OED, brings some regional dialect words, which they learned when they were young, and which are not familiar to people from other regions”.

There are now entries in the dictionary for both words, which exhibits that their history can be traced back over 100 years, actually 200 years in the case of “netty”.

“I think there must be similar words in every region of the English-speaking world, which are very familiar to people living there but little known outside the region; we are glad to learn about such words, so that we can research them and consider adding them to the OED,” Gilliver said.

Closer home in India, almost everyone can certainly recall a moment when a word in their native language—the language they’ve known and used for years at home—baffles people from other parts of our own country.

Again, most such words are common in speech but some are rarely written down and so they can easily escape the attention of dictionary editors.

There are also many English words, commonly used in India, that haven’t found space in English dictionaries.

English words, new entries in English dictionaries
English Words: How Words from Different Languages Find Their Way into English Dictionaries, Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Angus Stevenson, OED’s Head of Content Development, said that their dictionaries of current English, in particular the online text, contains many hundreds of examples of Indian English as well, and many that derive from Hindi and other Indian languages.

“We are particularly interested in words such as ‘air-dash’, ‘batchmate’, and ‘calling bell’, which are genuine examples of an Indian variety of English, and would very much like to expand our coverage,” Stevenson said.

Yo may also like to read: If you look carefully at English you will see Sanskrit hidden everywhere: Jeffrey Armstrong

“We are planning projects to gather and define words from Indian and other under-represented areas of English—for example, we cover South African English but have not yet attempted to describe the English used in other parts of the African continent,” he added.

The first English dictionary goes back to at least the 16th century and the era of the Renaissance, which was a time, somewhat like our own, in which there was a huge amount of rapid change, and many new influences on the English language.

“The first Oxford dictionary of English was the OED, first published between 1884 and 1928.”

The OED claims to draw on expertise from all around the world. Their lexicographers are not confined to the UK, according to Judy Pearsall, Dictionaries Director at OED.

“The OED focuses on usage wherever in the world English is spoken and used. We have a large team of editors in the UK, but we also have consultants and colleagues from a much wider field and we rely on the whole team to ensure that our outlook is global and outward-facing, just like the English language itself,” she said.

With the rise of social media networking, usage of acronyms and abbreviations are also on the rise. What is still the need to have dictionary words?

“For us at Oxford Dictionaries, words are ‘dictionary words’, as long as they are used, and that includes abbreviations and acronyms,” said Pearsall.

Also readThe Indian influence on English Language

“The OED looks to include terms that originated on social media, such as LOL, just as much as any other words.

“We regard all of them as part of the language, and recognize that people use and need both,” she maintained. (IANS)