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Babel is where the buzz is, leave languages alone

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar  

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Lullabies, not linguistic chauvinism, save dying tongues

With so many languages, it seems we Indians have a problem of plenty. Our States were reorganised on a linguistic basis, but disputes over language linger on. Do we need a three-language or two-language curriculum? Why not learn only the mother tongue? Do we need English as the link language? The debate goes on.

The other day, I attended a meeting of ex-servicemen in Kerala. They were concerned at the recent protests demanding weightage for Malayalam in the recruitment examination for the newly introduced Kerala Administrative Service.

The Kerala Public Service Commission already conducts matriculation-level exams in Malayalam, and ex-servicemen feel it spoils the chances of their children as most of them were brought up outside the State and have limited knowledge of the regional language.

They request the government to treat the children of soldiers and ex-servicemen as linguistic minorities (just like Kannada- and Tamil-speaking minorities in the State) and be allowed to take such examinations in English or Hindi.

Massive efforts

Every year, the State government issues fresh orders and guidelines to its offices to popularise Malayalam. Employees take oaths, and commit themselves, to communicate only in the mother tongue in offices.

There are never-ending efforts to improve Malayalam software programs. Cultural and literary meetings are held in offices to promote Malayalam.

Working language

The government advocates writing English words in the Malayalam script if Malayalam substitutes are unavailable.

The Kerala Bhasha Institute has brought out publications with Malayalam equivalents for English phrases that were earlier liberally used by officials. Since making Malayalam the language of administration a few years ago, the government has been continuously trying to codify the practice of working with the language.

Are government interventions necessary to protect and propagate languages, especially those popular and widely spoken? Can protectionism or imposition result in the growth of a language?

Just a decade ago, very few in Kerala could speak Hindi, though the Rashtrabhasha has been a compulsory subject in the school syllabus. But today, Hindi is perhaps the most popular language in the State after Malayalam because of the influx of migrant workers from the north. Though these workers gradually learn to speak Malayalam, we prefer talking to them in their own language.

The governments, and certainly politicians, of this linguistically rich nation believe they have a responsibility to preserve and promote the language of their choice. But even without any patrons, English has been gaining acceptance among the youth for the world of possibilities and opportunities the global language opens before them.

A language develops and propagates passively and silently, not through ballistic efforts. Lullabies, not linguistic chauvinism, save dying tongues.

harichitrakootam@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2019 11:35:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/babel-is-where-the-buzz-is-leave-languages-alone/article30061296.ece

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