Is Tamil Nadu Becoming The Hub Of Linguistic Narcissism?

Posted on April 17, 2013 in Society

By Tarun Surya:

It is said that India is a nation of languages, teeming with a variety of tongues that makes the linguist’s ears quiver with ecstasy. But all this becomes propaganda in the face of the domination of one single language: Hindi. Right from the government, everyone in India seems to be in the business of promoting Hindi as a common medium of exchange, either intentionally or unintentionally. For the government, it offers relief from one of the many problems it faces in terms of governance. A large section of North India believes Hindi to be a national language and expects it, in some way, to be present even in the culturally and linguistically foreign South. Such is the pervasive power of a language that it reflects even in the attitudes of the working class and more specifically, auto drivers. In large cities of the South, like Bangalore, calling an auto driver ‘bhaiya’ immediately grants you passage to any corner of the city, even if the same request without the honorific term had been rejected earlier. Add to this the fact that most workers, maids, ration shop owners and other such members of this class respond almost immediately to an ambiguous query in Hindi, shows the subversive power of a language even in areas where it is not popular.

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Despite this subversion, one bastion of the South still resists the incessant pounding of Hindi upon its linguistic walls. The state of Tamil Nadu, where Tamil is spoken, has always been inordinately proud (sometimes bordering on narcissism) of its own language and has resisted all attempts to even think of introducing Hindi as an alternative official language. In fact, it was the only state to oppose the adoption of Hindi as a national language after India was declared independent. In areas of the state entrenched in Tamil culture and history, the mere mention of being able to speak only Hindi makes one a social outcast, a leper of sorts. An attitude of ‘learn the language or leave’ develops from such observations.

Upon analysing the apparent pride that Tamilians take in their history and the fact that Tamil is considered one of the oldest languages of the world, it does not seem likely that such an attitude will change anytime soon. In certain senses, the elevation of the language to such a high level gives the impression that Tamil Nadu is an entity unto itself, cut off from both India as a whole and South India too. The inability of any other party to establish itself in the state, where the existent parties are founded on a linguistic basis, is an ode to the power of language as a medium. Multiple attempts to dislodge this linguistic narcissism have failed miserably, aided by the fact that the parties in power at the Centre must appease the ruling party in Tamil Nadu to ensure it has some say in the state’s jurisdiction.

No other state in India exists without a significant Hindi speaking population within its borders, a fact that is unbelievable but true. Thus, it remains to be seen if Hindi will ever be able to breach the walls of the land where ‘Amma’ and ‘Thalaivar’ rule supreme.

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