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Espousing language mom taught us

Harish Barthwal, Feb 21, 2015, DHNS 23:32 IST
Lambasting those apathetic to nativity, Walter Scott, an English poet says, “Breathes there a man with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, this is my own, my own native land.”

Staying in sync with one’s roots via the native language imbues one with such enormous strength, rather an ability to outperform, that no other language can. It is so because the mother tongue or the language learnt in the childhood environment is close to one’s ethos and pathos.

Bonding with the mother tongue also strengthens one’s sense of belongingness and self esteem, so vital for growth. Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to (someone) in a language (he or she) understands, that goes to (the person’s) head. If you talk to (somebody) in (his or her) language, that goes to (the) heart.

Taking note of the dismal fact that most of the approximately 5,100 languages of the world are on their way to extinction, and recognising the necessity to keep them alive, UNESCO has been observing International Mother Language Day (IMLD) on February 21 since 2000 for working out the modalities for their preservation.

The theme for IMLD 2015 is ‘Inclusion in and through education: Language counts.’ It is logical that the native language can survive only if it continues to be taught to the younger generations. For promoting and preserving linguistic diversity globally, the Linguapax Institute, in Barcelona, Spain has been annually presenting the Linguapax Prize on this day each year to those who have done outstanding work in the fields of linguistic diversity or multilingual education.

With an increasing number of people reluctant to study in indigenous languages, over 3,000 languages are spoken by fewer than 10,000 people each. About 417 languages are already on the verge of extinction. It is, therefore, imperative that the task of reviving regional languages is accorded due priority in international and national development targets.

UNESCO’s former Goodwill Ambassador for Language Vigdis Finnbogadotter had said, “Everyone loses if one language is lost because then a nation and culture lose their memory, and so does the complex tapestry form which the world is woven and which makes the world an exciting place.”

Fascination for foreign language, especially English, and the politicisation of language issue have been the major barriers to the growth of native languages. To maintain its exclusivity, a pro-English section of academia has long been resorting to tactics to arrest the growth of regional languages.

Pro-native stand

Various linguistic studies have conclusively demonstrated that proficiency in one or more additional languages in childhood does not negatively impact proficiency in mother tongue. Endorsing the pro-native stand, Jnanpith award winning novelist Bhalchandra Nemade held that while English language is instrumental in learning foreign cultures, it is not the best medium to understand Indian history and culture.

At the same time there are others who raise the issue of promoting regional language only to woo voters. Barring a few genuine efforts like those by Hyderabad-based Centre for Applied Linguistics and Translation Studies, which has been advocating progressive use of Odia in administrative, judiciary, business purposes and as a medium of instruction in schools, the ulterior purpose of such groups is political.

Another Jnanpith awardee contributing significantly for the cause of Kannada is UR Ananthamurthy, who was firmly of the view that making Kannada as the medium of instruction at the primary level in Karnataka will help children gain knowledge in the true sense of the word.

As a welcome measure to inculcate respect for indigenous language among students, the two apex bodies regulating the national educational planning and monitoring – University Grants Commission and Central Board of Secondary Education – have asked the schools to celebrate the Mother Language Day this year.

Instructions had been issued to universities and affiliated institutions to undertake year-long activities in line with intents of UNESCO, like song recitation, general knowledge quiz, elocution competition and essay writing to mark the occasion.

For those hesitant to send their children to vernacular medium schools, many studies have implicated delays in cognitive development to delay in learning mother tongue. Further, children with a solid foundation in their mother tongues fare better in literacy skills. Unless timely measures are taken to re-establish faith in indigenous values and in the preservation of languages, the development of our children shall remain skewed.

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