Mother Tongue-Tie

The very fact that I am writing (and you are reading) this piece in English is proof enough of the tongue-tie most of us (Indians) suffer from, thanks to the flaws in our education system. It has become almost impossible to come across any average educated Indian who can talk for at least a minute in his/her mother tongue without using English words. The condition worsens when we look for such a native among the younger age groups. In fact it is worst in the kindergarten where we are supposed to find the freshest and unspoiled of our nation's citizens. Generations after generations have fallen easy prey to the Macaulay trap and the damage will be irreversible unless remedial measures are initiated without delay.

There are many who would argue that English is as good an Indian language like any other. And there are others who are willing to give all credit for our growth in IT & Industry for the kind of English education that prevails in our country. The first one is indeed a valid argument in the current circumstances. But the second one is absurd when we have in front of us the Japanese and the Chinese. In the first one too, there is no harm in considering English as just one of the many languages and not some sort of a superior lingua franca.

Language of Missionaries

One of the primary reasons for primacy of English is the concept of English medium schools introduced by the missionaries. English has always been the world-wide medium of the missionaries and propagation of the language was a must for them to train an army of native missionaries. In India, the missionaries came as part of the conquering westerners and they always knew that setting up schools is one of the best baits for attracting local talents. Building schools as part of the place of worship formed the first act of communalizing a secular society like India's. A foreign language like English provided the best medium for premature indoctrination of new converts in Sunday schools. It also provided the psychological superiority for the rulers over the ruled. Speaking English like the English became the ultimate objective of almost all the educated Indians. The ruling British utilized the circumstances to their best advantage by timely introduction of English education through the infamous Macaulay Minutes. But these historical facts can never form the excuse for a formidable nation like India to continue with the system. It is time to forget the British Raj as an unfortunate incident in our family history and erase the unwanted remnants. Throwing out English language from the primary schools will form the first step in that direction. In the age of globalization we can never ignore the importance of a global medium like English. In that respect, English should continue as a language to learn in our schools; but the point to note is that it should begin only after the age of ten. Throughout his/her life, every Indian must be able to think in his/her Mother Tongue and then articulate in whatever language he/she wants. I am afraid most of our children are now being trained to do the other way around, which will keep us psychologically enslaved forever.

Learn From Arabs

Regarding language and culture, we have a lot to learn from the Arabs. As in any other civilization and culture, Arabs also went through their ups and downs. But whenever they went through the ascent, the emphasis has always been on nourishing the symbols of their culture. In the current phase, which is fuelled by the oil boom, the Arabs have invested heavily in advancement of their language and dress. We can never come across an Arab ruler speaking in any language other than Arabic in any international forum nowadays. Also, they will dress up only in their national (or cultural) attire. Compare this with the Asian leaders who always struggle in their three piece western suits and English language with funny accents. The very sight of an Arab leader in full traditional dress speaking in Arabic at the United Nations is definitely more appealing than our own. In this age of visual media, sight and sound plays a very important role in development of our young citizens. Any Indian child who grows up seeing & hearing his/her leaders struggling with foreign dress and tongue will only aspire to become a second grade international citizen at best. He/she will always have the inhibition for excellence in front of the original owners of those foreign tongue and dress.

Weak Will

Though Mahatma Gandhi was fluent in English, he made it a point to write, speak and dress in Indian ways. Most of his so called successors failed to understand and carry the political signals he wanted to convey by those simple acts. The situation is far worse today when the first alphabets most Indian children study is that of English. Our political parties have failed miserably in realizing this national folly and correct it before it is too late. In Kerala, one of the most literate states in Indian union, there is a near unanimous political consensus on the need to have the primary education compulsorily in Malayalam. One of the strongest advocates for it was the revered communist leader EMS. Many communist and non-communist governments have ruled over Kerala for the past 50 years, yet none of them could bring the necessary legislation to implement this. This inordinate delay will only make matters worse. The powerful and ever growing non-resident community will have a different perspective and agenda. The western lobby in the non-resident community does not stand to gain anything from emphasizing Malayalam in primary education and can thwart all efforts to keep it subordinate to English.

Language is the most visible symbol of any culture and it is a shame for a great country like ours continuing to be confused in expression. We have gone wrong in understanding the concept of a 'national language' and the continuing opposition of South towards Hindi reveals the misunderstanding. After all we needed only a language for all our national documents and a link language for communication. And Hindi was indeed the best bet available. Perhaps we made a mistake in designating such a language as the national language. We could have designated all our native languages as national languages and avoided the confusion. Now we have Hindi as the link language in India and English as the international link language. Let us recognize it as such and develop all the fifteen odd full languages we have in our country. Let us spend our money to develop our own languages. Let our children think in their mother tongue and translate for a world audience rather than the other way round as of now.   


More by :  J. Ajithkumar

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