End of the Mother Tongue?

Posted: June 29, 2012

“Wanna be my Chamak Challo?” croons the singer as a crowd grooves to its entrancing beat.

“Why this Kolaveri d…” was yet another recent Internet rage…

 “Mujhe aapke Ears me kuch batana hai,” I overheard a Mom telling her four year old….

By now you must have got the drift of what I am trying to say. Tune in to any radio station and one finds a strange language cocktail of Hindi, English and the local language.   Increasingly we use more than one language in our conversations and often the usage is in the same sentence.  New communications devices mean we have new ‘words’ to use that are abbreviated forms of the original ones…

Is this merely a reflection of western influences on our lifestyles or is it the language of modern Indians?

As far as education is concerned, many students have told me that it’s not easy to locate reference books or scientific manuals, information in local languages. They have to turn to publications in English (either print or via the Internet). English is almost a universal mode of communication and enables conversation with people from all walks of life from any country.  Often grooms stress on ‘convent education’ or ‘English speaking’ in their list of ‘preferences’ in their would-be brides.

Earlier, it was Indian words that were incorporated into English and even listed in the Oxford Dictionary. Now its English words have made their way into Indian languages.

I am worried that such a language fusion may spell an impending end of Marathi, Hindi or any other Indian language in their pure form. Most of us prefer to send our children to ‘English medium’ schools instead of Marathi or Kannada medium ones (or any other regional language). We still do speak our ‘mother tongue’ at home but with increasing external influences, our conversations begin in one language and end up in another. Grammar is often forsaken at the altar of simply getting our message across. Thus the family ends up speaking the so-called Minglish (Marathi + English) and I am sure other versions exist in other states.

Increasing urbanisation, intercommunity marriages (where the husband and wife speak different languages), work-related migration to new cities (either in India or abroad) are few reasons for this change. Children’s’ academics demand English proficiency as do requirements for jobs.

As a result our children grow up often able to ‘speak’ their mother tongue but unable to read, write hence unable to enjoy and appreciate its rich literature, their tragic loss I would think. Poets, authors of yesteryears have left a treasure trove of books, poems, plays that may only remain in memories of our grandparents… Such ‘old’ books are often discarded with old newspapers and some may find their way to the road side book sellers – ‘gems’ waiting to be discovered by a discerning reader.

Of course some works have been translated, which is but a poor substitute for the real thing.

When travelling abroad, leaders of many countries always speak in their own language using interpreters as required. I have heard visiting Bonsai masters often speak in Chinese/ Japanese etc during workshops and attendees have to depend on interpreters or the actual ‘demonstration’ to figure out the details.

In this so called ‘flat world’ it’s vital to master a universally understood language but we must nurture our heritage as well. I recently read an article that described ways to save ‘dying’ languages and was happy to find none of our languages mentioned there.

I have nothing against English, far from it. It is the language I think in, write in and the one we use to communicate on Women’s Web… My reservations pertain to the combinations instead of the pure form of the language…

So are we just confused or is it a successful language evolution or just a new norm of the new India? I am simultaneously saddened, enraged, defeated about this possible withering away of our rich languages.

Then you may well ask me… ‘Why this Kolaveri di…”

Archana is a physiotherapist, fitness enthusiast, amateur field botanist and nurtures a few bonsai. Happiest

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4 Comments


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  2. Hip Grandma

    I live in Jamshedpur (Jharkhand) and my father in law migrated to this town in 1930. Two of his brothers joined him later. Till I got married in 1973 children spoke Tamil at home and my MIL clung on to Tambrahm culture and tradition so much so I was surprised that customs no longer practiced in Tamilnadu were followed here. By then my FIL had spent over 40 years in Jamshedpur. It was the same with other families from whichever state they came from.

    I am afraid that I cannot speak a complete sentence in Tamil even when i speak to my husband with whom i converse only in Tamil (Okay something that can pass off for Tamil) unless we are amidst people from other states of India. With my children it is a merry mixture of Tamil/Hindi and English.

    Why have I contributed to the lack of monolingual communicative skills to the next generation you may ask.

    For one it is the exposure I got due to my job that improved my fluency in Hindi unlike my MIL who spoke in Hindi only when absolutely necessary. The other reason is the intrusion of the idiot box in our lives perhaps?

    That said I must add that I enjoy good literature in all three languages so I get the best of both – no all three worlds something that my children cannot boast of.

  3. CP

    I don’t agree that the medley of language what we see today around us means that we are losing our mother tongues. Language is like a river, it keeps flowing, the main purpose of it is to communicate not to maintain its purity. We all involve and add in the process of evolution of a or all the language we come across in our life time. If languages haven’t got mixed and influenced with one another, we wouldn’t have got beautiful hindi and urdu from mixing of persian and sanskrit in different ratios. All the existing Indian languages today are apabhransh and have evolved from mixing. So why stop mixing of languages, languages will survive only through its flexibility and not through its rigidity. English the most widely spoken language of this world have survived just because it has absorbed words from all over the world, ‘guru’ from sanskrit, ‘bazaar’ from arab and ‘restaurant’ from france.

  4. Archana

    I guess this is yet another inevitable ‘evolution’ of our languages that we must accept.
    Thanks for your comments!

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