Why Is Speaking English A Matter Of Pride And Speaking 5 Different Indian Languages Not-So-Impressive?

Posted on August 16, 2013 in Specials

By Rangashree Thirumalai:

Having grown up in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in India, Bangalore, I took to English like a fish to water. Neither my school nor my family took notice of how most of my daily communication – with my teachers, friends and even my parents and grand-parents, was in the world’s third most commonly spoken language, namely English (pardon me if the ranking has changed now).

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Tamilian by birth, Kannadiga by domicile and tracing roots to Andhra Pradesh and currently living in Delhi, I have always wondered about the hullabaloo surrounding one’s command over the English language and its precedence over one’s native language. I am not advocating the abolition (or even regulation) of the usage of the language. For, it would be impossible for my professors in college to correct answer-scripts written in 22 different languages (the number of scheduled languages in our constitution). I recently read an article which enlisted how being the second-largest number of English speakers in the world was something we should be proud of. I am all for the enculturation of the language by us, Indians. Call me an idealist, but as a 19-year-old, my only concern is regarding our inability to over-come the idea that our country’s identification in today’s world must lie beyond the fact that we house the world’s second largest number of English speakers. Blame our rising population for such statistics, if you wish to. But, our identity (and identification) is a celebration of the multitude of languages that have originated from our land and the richness and glory of their infusion into not only English, albeit gradually, but also within one another.

If “Kolaveri Di” could be used by my classmates in Delhi, and “Kanjoos” become a staple word in my conversations with my grandfather in Bangalore, and the amusement on my friends’ faces when I tell them how I know of people who can speak in up to 5 different Indian languages (my grandfather for instance – who also quotes Milton and Rousseau at the drop of a hat), I ask you, is this not what we should be proud of? Is celebration of our linguistic diversity too much to ask for? Are we “scared of being left behind” if we did not become the world’s largest English speaking country? Or are we so incapable of national unity in the absence of a language that was imposed upon us by men who could not have wished for greater misfortune? At a time when “the local” is hailed, is it not necessary that we protect what is ours before it gets too late?

The though of that (apocalyptic) day when, decades hence, Sanskrit or Maithili would have become officially extinct (in cities at least; for, the rural heart land may be the harbinger of the language protecting it from vanquishing off the earth’s surface) and Hindi, a passing phrase in Bollywood films, gives shudders, isn’t it? In place of this, wouldn’t acknowledging and celebrating the plurality of mother tongues be a more pleasing vision of the future?

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sg02

First of all, very nice article Rangashree. :) My 10 yr old nephew can speak 5 languages. Even I speak in 4 languages. i am happy to be part of a country with such diversity. Often, I have thought about how English is being over-hyped in our country. (*I am convent-educated, with many of my teachers being Irish or English). Its just a language after all! it does not provide any means or measures to judge a person by his/her command over the language. Language is always just a means to communicate.
Maybe, one thing about English is that its ‘all-around’ and somehow its ‘easier’ to pick up and that’s why its gaining so much popularity. Even maids and rickshaw-pullers feel elated after managing broken and grammatically incorrect sentences. Speaking in mother tongues or Indian languages is considered being ‘ganwaar’ by many even today. It is indeed sad- not celebrating the multilingual crowd in India.
In a diverse country like India, there is a constant danger of flare-up over just any issue. Political parties are always waiting to seize the moment and create cultural divides. So, then you can imagine what nuisance will be caused if one out of the many Indian languages is to be chosen as the official or business language. Since English is a language not native to India, its foreign to all cultures, its acceptance is less of a disputable matter. (ironic). Armed with English, people from two very different states can communicate (like all of us here on this forum) or people from two different countries can communicate. My emphasis is on English being nothing more than a language and its use being connecting the multilingual population in India. Though, knowledge of English is important, young people should communicate with parents in mother tongue to keep the culture in you alive… and some day.. one day.. we shall overcome and celebrate unity in diversity. :)

(* the nuns and the non-nuns had taken up Indian citizenship. these people were really working for root causes like quality education to poor for free with midday meals-part of which we contributes very gladly. so, till i was in school i was in a very healthy environment- in patriotic and education terms. it was after i left school that i had to face the real India. Reservations based on caste system was the first national issue that hit me hard when i was fresh out of school. i realised, when people really care to bring about a change, they rise above religion, national and cultural differences. They work for human beings. we cant all be nuns and saints, but atleast we can try to be good Indians.)

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