The State celebrated November 1 as Malayalam Day for the first time this year following the ‘classical language’ status accorded to the language. In spite of the status and several programmes proposed to promote the language, Malayalam scholars fear the language may have lost its charm among youngsters of the State.

Malayalam is still not the first language for many students in school. Most children prefer to study either in English medium schools run by local managements or with English medium boards that have various schools in the State. The trend contradicts what the State is struggling to achieve, say scholars.

The fault in some part perhaps lies with the way the teaching of Malayalam has changed, says writer M.K. Sanoo. “We have lecturers in Malayalam who cannot appreciate literature. We have postgraduate students of Malayalam who have not read even one of M.T. Vasudevan Nair’s works. They haven’t even read works by new authors such as K.R. Meera,” he says. Mr. Sanoo suggests the qualifying examination for Malayalam teachers should be reworked so as to better assess their appreciation for the language.

K. Jayakumar, vice-chancellor of the newly formed Malayalam University, says Malayalam language teaching may have suffered from its failure to keep up with the changing times. “There is a view that it is difficult to study Malayalam. The conventional pedagogy of Malayalam is chasing people away from it,” he says. Mr. Jayakumar says Malayalam teaching still relies on the old methods which were the best ways at the time. The varsity, he says, is working on a project to develop a new pedagogy for Malayalam in schools. Another project in the pipeline for the varsity is a study on whether studying English even before learning the mother tongue affects the intellectual capacities of a child. “We hope to test this hypothesis scientifically so we can present the findings before Kerala society,” says Mr. Jayakumar.

Vedic scholar and professor of Malayalam Thuravoor Viswambharan says the lack of appreciation for Malayalam does indeed affect the faculties of a person. “There is no teaching of linguistics or a sense of poetry appreciation as literature appreciation is missing in teaching the language,” he says. Malayalam scholars believe that the problem probably started with the introduction of objective questions in language tests. Students of Malayalam, even when they score a high percentage, have little actual command of the language. There is no process in schools or even colleges to make students write and develop their own style, says Mr. Sanoo.

Mr. Jayakumar says the varsity is also trying to add to the training of teachers in Malayalam. “We are planning short-term refresher courses for teachers so they can also improve their use of the language,” he says.

Mr. Viswambharan, however, says the Malayali psyche continues to be mesmerised by Western culture. People are yet to leave colonialism behind and take stock of their own cultural heritage. “It is a kind of internal slavery towards the past masters,” he says.

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