Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Bharateeya Languages

**Warning**: This post contains various threads of thought and would be a long post. Don't complain later that you got lost :P

I was reading Radhika's recent post. She talks about being pulled up by her daughter's teacher because her daughter wasn't well-conversant in English (and she is only 5 years old!!!!)

The post set me of thinking. When I was a child Amma and Appa made sure that I was well-conversant in Tamil. According to Amma, it is imperative that every child should know his/her mother tongue properly. I am not very fluent in reading and writing in Tamil, but I am learning. Amma is only too eager to teach me. Initially it was only tamil for me. Later as I started playing with my building friends, I slowly started picking up Hindi and gradually was well-versed in Mumbaiyya sadak chaap Hindi. I joined an English medium school though the medium of my communication with my friends, peers was mostly in Hindi. My usage of English was very minimal. After my 10th, during College, usage of English became more dominant and now I speak both Hindi and English with ease.

It is very funny as to how English is viewed in our country. English is considered as an elite language, a language of snobs. Ok....I am not making a genralistic statement. English is viewed as a language of opportunity. Sending your children to a English medium school is viewed as a sign of progress, as an ascent in the life of the child. I once asked Amma who takes immense pride of her language if she would have ever sent me to a Tamil medium school. Amma replied in negative and said that she wouldn't have sent me a to a non-english medium school because KNOWING ENGLISH is very essential and that she couldn't afford to jeopardise my future by sending me to a non-english medium school. Quite a honest answer and that's sadly the reality.

When I was in my Junior college i.e. 11th and 12th, I had many students in my class from Gujarai, Hindi, Marathi medium schools. With a sudden transition to English in 11th std after having studied in an indigenious language is very tough. I used to see merit holders struggle just because they didn't know English well. I felt that was very unfair.

I sometimes feel very sad because of my inability to enjoy some classics in Tamil. Tamil is a beautiful language but my knowledge of it is restricted to colloquial Tamil. I know zilch about Tamil literature though I keep hearing from Amma and Paati time and again. I am very fond of Hindi too. But I never read much of Hindi literature either. My speaking in Hindi is restricted to speaking alone. Also nowadays I hardly read anything in Hindi. I realised how pathetic I was when I first read Premchand's Gaban in English. :| It really hit me that time. I just thought as to what the hell I was doing reading a translated version of a Hindi book when I can perfectly understand and read Hindi. Offlate I have picked up a few books in Hindi and I intend reading them soon. The problem I faced was that being in a English medium school, my reading was restricted to English only. I was too lazy and never even bothered to make an attempt to read books in Hindi or even Marathi for that matter. I have realised I have lost out on a lot and don't wish to any further, better late than never as they say.

I think English-medium schools hardly encourage the students to read books other than English which is pathetic and extremely sad. Ours is a multi-lingual society. It is very important that we KNOW our languages well and not in the fractured way that I know. Also there is ridiculous thing of branding all Indian languages as vernacular. VERNACULAR has a derogatory tinge to it as it was a label given to the Indian Languages by the BRITISH. Our Languages have a rich heritage and we need to respect it. Either it is disrespect or it is complete ignorance.

I was reading Mark Tully's NO FULL STOPS IN INDIA. He is an amazingly observant person. I like that about him. The second chapter of the book is called NEW COLONIALISM. It's an amazing write-up. Guys, if you ever get hold of it, please do read it. It is very ineresting to note the objective observations made by a Non-Indian about the Indian society.

I have a subject called Indian regional journalism in my course. We had been given this project which made it imperative for us to have a compulsory interaction with the editors, journalists of both English and Indian languages. It also has us reading newspapers in couple of Indian languages. There are glaring differences. There are differences in the readership, the content published etc. English newspapers in comparison to regional languages contain shit load of fluff. Regional language newspapers address real issues of real people. It was also observed by us that English newspapers are cut off from the reality. English newspapers amount to a miniscule readership in India. It is the Indian language press which is experiencing a big boom. But it is a big irony when majority of the ad-share goes to the English press leaving the Indian language press in doldrums. Many of the regional papers just plainly ape English papers with a hope that it would sell more. For example, I don't understand what is a cut out of Britney Spears doing in the front page of Navbharat Times? It is seriously ridiculous. The support to the regional languages is very poor.

In Mumbai, the numbers in a Marathi medium schools are dwindling like crazy. There are simply no takers for it. Also the local langauge schools consist of students from the lower strata of society. I sometimes wonder, are Indian languages only for the lower strata? English is gaining such prominence in India that the Indian languages are sure isolated. If Indian languages were given their due respect and the atmosphere such that the opportunities were aplenty, I don't think my mom would thought twice about sending me to a local medium school. I am not saying 'DONT PROMOTE THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE" Promote it by all means, we need it in order to succeed globally. What I intend to say is that DON'T NEGLECT INDIAN LANGAUGES IN THE PROCESS. Well.....*sigh*

I think I have rambled enough..... bye for now! :)


Akruti said...

Hello, i saw u r writeup on Indian languages, and i totally agree with u,if only we could make the people understand that its not english that matters but the way u think or the way u evaluate things or the confidence which u build,but many of them donot understand it. nicely written, keep going

Shobha said...

Hey Neelima, Thanks for dropping bye. Keep visiting :)

Shobha said...

I, Me and Media!

BlogBack Closing 13th October 2005.

im prob. double minded about this. but what is clear is that theree is an inherent relationship b/w information and language. one can extract a credible amount of knowledge from the presented information only if there is a good understanding of the language used. if we had been not as open as we are today towards english and its likes then we might have not even reached th eposition that we are in now. remmember china is pretty much ahead of us in many fields(yup they catching up in the s/w domain too) but the language barrier is a big disadvantage to them. on the other hand we have lost valuable stuff due to our lack in undersdtanding the language of the vedas.
every coin has two sides to it, huh??

2004-09-15 14:54

A blog written with tremendous passion, I must say.

I do agree that, here, in India we try to make our regional languages subservient to English. However, one of the reasons could be the sheer diversity in the linguistic distribution across the country and the uncountable number of languages and dialects spoken across the country. Forget about communicating with the world, do you think we would be able to communicate amongst ourselves if we actually postpone English language education to senior school. Trust me, I am from Eastern India and only too well aware about the brouhaha it will generate, even if we discount the possible development in the state we will not get to see.

However, I do agree that we can not let our mother tongues to play second fiddle to a foreign language. It also goes to show how much pride we have in our country. Look around and you will see innumerable instances when people will judge the caliber of others by how well they can see or write English. From College admissions to job interviews to winning a crucial business project, this feeling of superiority of English pervades one and all.

And, what you say about the quality of the vernacular press could not be more correct. However, I do not understand why they try to ape the English language press which has proved time and again that it is the least interested in common people's interests and greatly cut off from their needs and desires. And what an example. Most of the English language press can be described as tabloids with hardly any editorial content. If I only wanted to see pictures of semi-nude women everyday on the front page of my newspaper, I'd rather buy Cosmopolitan and Debonair !!!

Apart from the press, the condition of the vernacular book publishing is also appalling. The only NEW books in Hindi you see are third grade pornographic material available with small time stands.

It is high time we did something about our mother tongues, otherwise the next generation will be tongue-tied when we have to speak in them.

2004-09-15 20:35

well…can c anoder blog in da comment box…anyways true wat u say…but guess its more profound for junta in cities like delhi or mumbai where da crowd is esssentially cosmopolitan and so da child gets to speak his mother tongue just at home…more so if da child is tamil….my tamil frnds in delhi are more north ndians and they dont even speak tamil at home..
anyways guess its da vast oppurtunities that knwin english brings for u..which makes it all da more attractive…nwadays stress is not on knwin but also on speakin wid da proper accent…possibly some days later we will b mini england again…and as far as maintainin both english and regional languages r concerned…i bet tht wud b tough….after all most self respecting nations have given more importance to their languages rather than engllish…but in our case guess da damage is already done…most we can do is shield our culture lest it too becomes a thing of da past and kids 20 yrs hence think of micheal jackson as our guru…i myself am quite strained to figure out somethin abt my culture…wonder if damage in also has been done:(

2004-09-16 06:02

btw, the name of your post is Bharteeyta languages… Don't u think 'Bhartiya Bhasaein' would have been more appropriate….

2004-09-16 07:38

What u say is true.. its a shame that we have allowed our respective mother tongue to play second fiddle to English.. but at the same time, its a fact that there are inherent benefits coz of English. One of India's major strengths is its large English speaking work force.

We should have had a broad national policy on education vis-a-vis languages. My suggestion would be to have some of the subjects taught in regional language while teaching some subjects in English, so that the kids are at least familiar with one of the Indian languages.

This is a broad topic and a debatable one too. Well written Shobs!

2004-09-16 12:06

A thoughtful post. The main reason for the popularity of English in India is obviously the Bristish rule or else may be would be some country like China(in terms of "English" literacy). China is gearing up big time and the next generation should see a significant surge in the number of Chinese who are "English literate", the reason to take this initiative (though its late) -> as Shodz pointed out, its a big barrier to their economic development and if they can overcome that then there is no turning back for China. Now these British people had such a big empire where the sun never sets !! and like India English is spoken in most other countries(brit colonies ?). Ofcourse the main purpose of language is communication and it would be so much better if we had one single language which ever knew, isnt it ? Which language to choose ?

English is spoken in so many countries so its a good candidate for an "International Language". Now coming to a county like India, people always have a feeling and ask why English ? why not Hindi or Tamil ? If only our fore fathers had spread Hindi through out the world like the British spread English, then may be we would be basking in their glory, may be people in USA would be saying "kya mia sab khairiyat ?" instead of "hey how you doing ?" Then people in other countries like Seychelles might have problems with Hindi …like.. why Hindi ..why not Creole ? This problem is always there.So many people in India understood that English literacy is key to a bright future and embraced the language. English to the World as Hindi to India, Hindi itself is not being embraced by so many people in India !! If you know just Hindi and try to survive in some state deep down south like tamil nadu(barring cities?), life can be tough cuz most people dunno a shit about Hindi. When we have people in India who are not interested to learn their national language, we can imagine how complex the problem can be at the international level. I would say, if a person learns one International langauge like English(for survival), national language and his native mother tounge(spoken at home), the languages can be kept alive. There is no point arguing why this and why not that language, better to learn both of them. Easier said than done ..*sigh*.

2004-09-16 16:04

Lemme first introduce myself. I'm an Indian too. A Tamil, to be more precise. I'm from Singapore and I love India. I'm thinking of going there again this year.
Ok, so I was reading your post and all and I noticed with relief that there are people like you in India who want their native languages to prosper even in the midst of this English revolution going on there. I can totally understand what your Mom said about the school she'd send you to. Luckily in my country, Tamil is one of the four official languages and I studied it as my 2nd language while also having English as the primary medium in all other subjects. Maybe India should adopt a way in all school wherein English is taught as a 2nd language to everyone in private or government schools while the mother tongue remains in the syllabus too.
And yes, the English language itself is a sign of neo-colonialism that's still taking place in post-colonial societies like Inida and Africa. Just that Indians have it better than the Africans, who sometimes have no mother tongue left because of the way it was forced to be forgotten with "help" from the European colonisers of course.
Anyway, I'm rambling. I'm glad to have visited your blog:) I should say I'd be returning for more updates.TTYL!

2004-09-17 03:44

I beg to differ.
"I think I have rambled enough….."

Firstly. it is because we dont have constant touch with our mother tongue,we forget even to read in that.
After my 10th - that was the last time I got exposed to Tamil - the only thing that kept me in contact with Tamil was Ananda Vikatan and Kumudham, and mostly jokes, and if time permits, the other good articles - The Hai madhan section and all that (its a riot…)

Well, now, half my knowledge of the Tamil classics has gone, but I am pretty confident that I can read and write Tamil. And with me joining this "Tamil Cultural association" - rather a surprise here, I hope to renew my interest in that language.

And about the language problem.

You know whats one of the biggest problem facing the EU.
more than 15 countries, and that many number of well-established languages that ppl from other country dont know of. U do the math - its TRANSLATION. There is a huge demand from translators and interpretors there.

In India - thats an even bigger problem - more languages and more dialects. The only way out is to have a common language. True Hindi is one. But can we communicate to the outside world in Hindi?
No… We need a language that is atleast understandable by many others.

And thats why English….
(No, I am not pro-English in any way)

And everbody learning english would probably only help in the development of the country.

But I am not saying that the other languages should be neglected. Rather, the local languages should be made compulsory for the students.

(I exit now. My eyes, and my fingers are paining… )

2004-09-18 06:32

Shodz: Um….true.but I still feel Both Enbglish and regional languages can co-exist….:) and I don't mean in the skewed way that they currently exist though!

Kpower: Thanks! Well, u said it…_ The superiority of English pervades all…."_ How sadly true! Arrey the name of the post was kept intentionally……doesn't it convey what I am trying to say! well…….

Sush: Hmmmmm….

Chakra: Its not that we don't have other languages taught in the syllabus Chakra. I had Marathi and Hindi compulsory till my 10th grade. But the fact is that they are just anopther subject. No attempt is made to encourage us to read books in other languae, its juts plain academics…..No motivation at all. Therefore the attitude is Score marks and then forget abt it. The saddest part is that we don't even seem to realise that we are veering away from the locval languages coz it doesn't affect us drastically like monetarily or sumthing of that sort. The ill-effects will take sometime to show up but then the damage wud have been permanently done. Thanks Chakra! :)

Keshav: Hmmmm…..Ya Better learn both of them. Sure, but we gotta learn both the langauges WELL!

Siren: Welcome to my blog :) Siren, I could have elarnt Tamil had i studied in tamil nadu. But i stay in Maharashtra wherin marathi is the state language. Also, in India, students do learn the state language. It is compulsory. For instance, Marathi was compulsory for us. However, the entire focus is on English. Reading in regional langauges is not encouraged in English medium schools. So we loose it out on tht aspect! :) Keep visiting :)

Sat: As you said, we need English in order to succeed at the global level. However this doesn't mean that we ignore the regioanl languages. As chakra said, there should be some policy to set things right.

2004-09-18 07:30

whoaa…wht comments…jhakaaas….! wud read in free time..
ur post reminded me of arindham chaudhary;s phrase "americanization of india"

i never cared to learn my mother tongue properly becuz that was the way..:( but now i just want to read those grreat books by bengali authors/.//
i ve read few of premchand..n i loved them.
kudoss./..u gonan make a great journo…do read arindham's "the great indian dream " if u has great points about the media n everythinggg happein in india…

bbyeeee and thz for all bday ppl so special by wishing them sabse pehle….

2004-09-18 08:45

so many biggg comments…so i'll keep it short and just say .. I agree with you ;) :P

2004-09-19 20:20

shobz u r right :) agreed!

2004-09-20 05:25

Rediff looking for editors: http://www.rediff…

2004-09-20 13:32

a very thoughtful post - about an issue that i've revisited a lot of times. well, i agree that in india english has become the primary language, at least in urban centers. there is of course, nothing wrong with this - for two reasons actually. one, as you observe we need it to communicate with the outside world. forget about right now, even most of our freedom fighters who fought so hard to give us a sense of national identity had an amazing command of English. they realized back then how important it was.

but secondly, it does give india some kind of national identity. just think about it. would i be reading your blog if it was in tamil - no way i could have! india has so many languages, so many dialects. english definitely is one unifying factor using which we can communicate across the country.

as for the standards of the english media - language is hardly to be blamed. its simply that urban "cool" folk in india sadly prefer that kind of material. there are plenty of regional newspapers that have the same kind of trash as well. and there really is no dearth of english publications that are quite good - take rediff, the indian express, the asian age, the hindu for news and outlook, frontline, public affairs magazine for magazines.

of course none of this means that indian languages should be neglected. i think my school had it right - they said "parents, don't bother about english at your home. we are an english language school, we will bear the responsibility of ensuring that your child is well versed in english. your responsibility is to inculcate a love for the mother tongue, since we aren't teaching in that language." we have to be conscious of the beauty of indian languages - and make the effort that it requires.

2004-09-20 19:05

wonderfully put!!! :)

2004-09-21 04:26

I wish I had the opportunity to learn my mother tongues Bengali and Assamese… I could have enjoyed the books more.. Though I know how to speak I wish I knew how to write… English was the only and only medium of language in my school… SIGH.. hindi was there only till a certain class.. but…. SIGH

2004-09-21 09:19

Shona: Hieeeeee, howwie u sweetie?

Ashwin : U better do :P

Kaidon: Cool…:)

Kpower: Thanks for the link ya…:) was sweet of you :)

Manan: Ur school said it right, perfectly right :)

Pramila: Thanks Pramila. Glad u dropped by :)

Pallavi: Hey Pallavi! I think u can still learn Bengali or Assamese. I mean if u rso keen, u can learn it na…….wish it was easier said than done! :)

2004-09-21 20:18

are u confused or wat???!?!
1st u say english is taking over
then u say indian languages loom large over it so it cant affect them in anyway
then u revert back to NO NO English is being harmful
and wats all that about going to english schools. tis all called GLOBALISATION u see. its all because u need to know the lanuage which works as - and has always worked as - the office language of countries around the world. when did we ever hear about the Gandhis and Nehrus studyin politics and law in Gujarati or Kashmiri.
and dont think of me as a firang lover pls, just trying to make u look at the right picture.

2004-09-22 09:27

One must learn the local lingo to better understand the immediate environment and one must learn the lingo that has greater coverage globally so one may spread their wings and fly .

Today if I decide to go to kerala and work … I will have to learn malyalam to be able to understand and the same would apply if I end up in France or Russia … I mean learning french and russian and not malyalam …hahaha

To me all these irritations are a mix of tradition, practicality, pride and respect … and these in conflict …

I do agree with you on the point that we should not ignore or neglect the languages here …

2004-10-02 11:26

I forgot to ask … do you have a marathi blog :)

2004-10-02 11:28

Kishore: Hey kishore, I don't have a marathi blog. I am not very fluent in Marathi. :)

2004-10-02 13:25

But then you are fluent in Tamil …SO … ( just pullin )

2004-10-02 15:54

Shobha: Oh yea…….:P :P I won't mind starting one but ppl wil forget to read tamil, i wil murder itam sure…ehehehee!

2004-10-03 04:39

oops, the above comment was addressed to Kishore……shesssh!

2004-10-03 08:39

Here's my 2 cents worth - I'm a Malaysian Indian and have visited India numerous times - but each time i go there the english/ western is great attitude gets worse - heres my gripe I'm holidaying in a tamil speaking state n most establishments especially the staff at hotels refuse to speak to me in tamil - it was very dissapointing to me and my dad - even if we spoke in tamil theyd answer in english - somehow gives the feeling if u want to be treated as class only speak in english - the same goes to the society there they perceive speaking english as a class thing - so sad - yes english is important for global success - but does that give place for the stepping of ones mother tongue - maybe we should learn from the french - they refuse to speak in english - ppl still go there for business n pleasure - n china - its not really a barrier to not speak in english - ppl go in droves to invest there - armed with a translator - n they do global business regardless if they can speak the language

2004-10-04 07:28

Visithra: Hey! Well.that's very sad. That's exactly the point I wanted to convey. English has got an air of anobbery.well people view it like that. Well…anyways, do you blog? If yes, do leave behing your blog url! :) Keep visiting :)

2004-10-04 16:38

Sorry don't have a blog :) and don't think i'll be jumping the wagon anytime near :)

Actually this worship the west thing isn't just an indian phenomena its an Asian one - we're having the same gripe with our people here in Malaysia though back here if you don't speak you mother toungue someone would tell you off - thats one difference we have - its totally unacceptable to talk to your own race in other languages unless its work or business related where theres a mix of race - we're currently bugged with how people in the service industry (hotels, restaurants, shopping malls - wannabe star places) treat anyone not white skin as second class citizens since they assume we cannot buy their goods - n how you can even dress shabbily to go shopping even if its for a bag of chips - ppl assume we're beggars waiting to steal - lol the same probs anywhere in the world - the majority will always be white ass kissers :)

2004-10-05 03:06

Actually here's a reason why i shouldn't blog http://www.jeffoo…
- lol how ridiculous some people can be

2004-10-05 03:56

Visithra - dude I agree with you over the point you made about the languages … If people had a pride to their mother tongues or native language then they would speak it with their chest high … but the pride has been misplaced towards the western language, as that is considered to be a gateway success or better things …

I know quite a bit of foreigners learning our languages while we market or endorse theirs … so a day will come when all things will meet at the same point … but may take a few decades … well ! that is my 2 cents … or should I say 2 paisa .. hahaha

2004-10-06 05:45

Like i said the majority are blind followers - the minority actually use their brain n learn to appericiate the beauty of different cultures and language and that there is none superior then the other :) by the way I ain't no dude, dudette would be precise. Checked you blog loved the photos - nice eye on the details. :)

2004-10-06 10:06

kshamisa beku … sorry ma'am :)

2004-10-06 11:30

Visitra: Hey, I just skimmed through the link you gave. BTW What exactly is the issue on blogging? Don't you guys have the freedom to express your opinion also?

Kishore: Hey!

2004-10-08 02:19

Shoba : Oh, we do have but occasionally people try to question that. This case was more of one man being irked because the blogger questioned his authority in previous posts. But its finally somehow settelled down though not before the international press got it where instead of going after the blogger they're looking for the commenter through his ip. Ironic is the attempt to close down the bloggers site has resulted in getting him fame, pity the guy who tried, must be pissed off. Small country quite fast to get news around. :))

Kishore : No probs :)

2004-10-08 02:45

Visitra: Ummm….global attention coz of one blog. awesome, aint it? hehehee! Anyways its much more fun and thrilling to have a blog when thr are loads of restrcitions. But well…ehheee!

2004-10-10 13:51


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