Talking Of Languages, Which One Makes You Feel You?

Let’s start the year 2022 on the right foot and wait to see what the new year will bring. Hope it’s amazing!

Life has a wonderful serendipity. Though last two years haven’t been the easiest for all, one can’t deny that it brought people closer to one another and we are now valuing both our relationships and green spaces more than ever.

This is my first blogpost of the year, an opportunity to put forth my views on a topic of positive restoration that I have recently come to care a lot about. How did this come about? It was on Mother’s Day. Everyone spoke the language of Love that day. Baked cakes, said it flowers, splurged on food, planned a picnic or served breakfast-in-bed, and splashed cool-and-caring pics and videos over the social media, expressing love for their moms.

I too, did much the same and spent time with Aai (my mom) to make her feel extra special. In the evening she asked me if I’d like to join her to solve the Sunday crossword in Sakal that is in marathi – the native language of Maharashtra, and also my mother tongue. It triggered a memory of how my mom and dad used to solve these crosswords just-in-minutes. And, sometimes, one unsolved clue would stress them the entire day. Well, I gladly agreed to a miniscule contribution as I am most comfortable in marathi; can read and write, know the grammar and also the most commonly said words and phrases. So, that day and every other day after, I became her new solving partner and together, we took our little break from the world to solve crosswords. It was fun and good relaxing, but most of all, my marathi was getting better every day. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me! Sometimes, things get too real. I had this sudden realization that my mom is my last, strong and precious connection with my native language.

“If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world. Because the limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

You see, the formal education of all us siblings was in English. Perhaps, it is because of the social and economic aspirations of the all the parents born around post-colonial era who desired for their children to learn the world language so they could easily reach for their dreams without language becoming a barrier. For that, we are grateful. By now the generations Z and alpha have long moved out to places all over the world making english-speaking countries their home. And, this diaspora of Indians has evolved and adapted to a socio-economic milieu of their new residence. Compelling as this hybrid culture may be, it is still disheartening to learn that in the bargain, their mother tongue has shrunk to become the other tongue! To what extent? Here this. An Indian-American teen friend recently shared a link to her website that teaches you american slangs and correct pronunciations of all words and the states - the US way. That’s dope if you want to get in the groove and all and also if you care to pronounce a certain state like the French do, long after the flavor has faded and gone!

You know how the English are about their language. Everybody has to speak theirs!

Polyglots are smarter than the rest and multilingualism builds better brains, makes you good at multi-tasking and helps you to solve problems rationally – we know. But when has that ever been a worry for the multi-tongued India? Even so, Indian academia offers a choice to learn one foreign language. As I recall it, for most students like me for whom it took quite a lot of effort and persistence, the experience ended with just a beginner’s level skill, unlike for the others who were half way over. But a smattering few gave it their all. Since they had dreams to study and work abroad, proficiency in a foreign language was surely going to be handy. After all, learning a language is not merely about syntax or a getting your message or thoughts and ideas across, but it’s about knowing how people think, their culture and more than anything else - making that intimate connection. Of course, it can get a lot easier if the country speaks only one language. Like in France, Germany, Russia or China.

India is quite different in that way. As Indians, we take pride in telling the world about our extraordinary linguistic and cultural diversity. How we speak 38 languages and have multiple dialects that change every few kilometers.. how it has shaped the cultural ideas and beliefs that are so diverse.. and, mainly, how though every state has its own language, and how though our customs keep us apart, we have still evolved together as one and continue to influence each other socially and culturally. This must be the reason, why for a long time, India hasn’t been able to decide on a lingua franca. For us, english is the commercial language and hindi, the official language but not the national language. And, it appears that any achievable discussion about having a national language always brews up a storm with experts and people alike arguing that mother tongue is the soul of our expression, and so we should prioritize the use of native language of every region.

So be it! In a sense, this is true. We have a treasure-trove of literature and poetry, religious and historical texts, age old medicinal remedies, works of music and art and other philosophical works that we need pass on to the next generations. How else are we going to preserve this essence of Indian culture - our linguistic treasure? I agree with the experts that we need to make our mother tongues a domestic dominance.

“The most important thing to me is to teach the children, so that our culture never dies.” - Blackhawk SanCarlos

In our family, all are encouraged to speak in the native language. Hilariously though, as a kid, my nephew who has a way with tongues, was always happy to speak marathi, carrying it like a secret code whenever he did not want the outsiders - especially his teachers, to understand what he was saying. Very well! If you want to make it your code language, then hone it, I say!

Home to home and heart to heart... I wish all my readers an amazing start... and a HAPPY NEW YEAR 2022!

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Smita Chaudhari

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