Every two weeks a language disappears
I read the other day a column by Mr.H.Y.Sharadaprasad,the longtime press secretary to Indira Gandhi.
The title of the article is: what is the future for Indian languages? He was writing about the Kannada language and literature. Kannada language, among the Indian languages, is considered (by Kannada enthusiast at least)as the most vigorous and powerful language.Reasons? It got, among other things, seven Jnanpeeth awards, its literature, prose, poetry, theatre are as active any other language literatures.
How to dispute this claim? No way, it seems.
Mr.Prasad was however, worried about the fact that most under 40 don’t buy or read much Kannada books. The reason:the new generation gets English-medium education, become IT engineers or doctors and migrate in large number to the US shores. The Internet is a powerful tool and now the Internet language content, the web language is two thirds in English. So, in the age of Internet communications, even the English is being “killed”, so what chance for the old fashioned belief that our mother tongues would grow?
This is a serious thought for everyone. I thought more so for the Tamils who, among the Indian language speakers are more extremist in their outward demonstration of Tamil love! And yet, the modern Tamil literature didn’t get even a decent Jnanpeeth award, the lone prize itself was considered by many experts as not really deserving. In such a situation where the Tamil, Dravidian leaders themselves are posing as great Tamil writers, what chance for serious Tamil literature being written or the serious writing getting noticed.
The Dravidian leaders have mastered the art of diverting issues, they had held different strategies to suit their politics. From separate Dravidian state to anti-Hindi to co-operating with Delhi in politics to changing the parties at the Centre every time an election comes along! In journalism, there is no serious Tamil literary magazine or even a strictly serious magazine or newspaper to write the language in a modern way. All cheap and sensational or rhetorical, flowery platform orations.
A recent survey by The Economist magazine (Jan.1st 2005) on”Endangered languages’ there are some chilly reminders for language enthusiasts or language fanatics. Here are some facts. Of the about 6,800 distinct languages Europe has 200 languages, Africa 2,400, Asia and Pacific 3,200. The average number of speakers per language is 6,000, which means half the world languages are spoken by fewer than this number.
Now, globalisation and better communications had put pressure on many languages, every two weeks one language is disppearing! The more dominant languages are only three:English, Spanish and Chinese, the number of people who speak a language determine their chance of survival! The Unesco gives the first eleven languages, according to the number of speakers:Chinese, nearly sixth of the world’s 6 billion speak Mandarin Chinese. Then come English, Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, Bengali, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, German, French.
The pressure to learn a language comes only when the language is seen growing, English is growing by leaps and bounds, a language is associated with economic success and progress.
If a language is seen as backward or backward looking, the speakers prefer the other more successful language or languages for their own success in life. Also, when a language creates obstacles to progress, like the pure Tamil movement, the difficult language is left behind, the ones who adopt easily to changes and use new words from other languages, go ahead. Again English is cited for its capacity to absorb all sorts of words and expressions, it had absorbed words from some 300 odd languages. The more variety of languages, the more richer the life of man. Say ecologists and environmentalists and many other ‘Greens’! But there is no chance for all the languages of the world. Some cultural Darwinism is in operation! Unesco, more than any others, had realised this cultural loss to mankind. What to do?
The conclusion of the survey seems to be:learn more languages, learn to appreciate diverse languages. There have been a spate of books on the dangers to world’s languages. Hebrew had been promoted by Israel. But it had killed another Jewish lingua franca, Yiddish. The lesson? Says the authors: “languages can be saved only if their speakers are prepared to become bi or multi-lingual”Use one language for office, or work, another for home, for family conversations! Linguists point out for mankind bi or multilinguism has been the natural state of affairs. Children pick up several languages if only exposed early. If you cheapen the language, use language for distorting its literary qualities, or don’t innovate your expression or thoughts, then the language becomes weak and the more richer and expressive and creative language rival would throw your language back. Any lessons for language fanatics? Or, for those who cheapen the language by carelessness?