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The Hypocritical ‘Mother Tongue’ And The Dilemma Around It

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Mother, an overhyped word with overhyped emotion. Shocked! Right? We say the mother is equivalent to God being present on earth in human form. She is supreme and the love she bestows on her child equates none. However, when it comes to giving the “mother” her right of simple shares, the patriarchy holds it all back with its insecurity. Right from the birth of a child to the end, the child along with the mother are bound to carry forth primarily the father’s “khandaan“, the ills, the goods, the whatever his last name would be attached with. The child becomes the “khandaan” ka chirag or whatever chirag’s female form is. One might argue here on the newly in vogue insertion of the mother’s name I say it doesn’t mean anything until it just remains as a middle name; and moreover, the mother’s surname too essentially is as an undeniable patriarchal root clinging on to it.

That is too far fetched, the basis of all the nomenclatures that the child is burdened to juggle with as it grows up amidst the plethora of expectations and never-ending desires of its parents is the dilemma of the term “mother tongue”. And, this holds especially true when the parents have different mother tongues. Those who still think that mother tongue is essentially the language of the mother may consider themselves as an utterly ignorant lot. Interestingly, the patriarchal society has not even granted this much to the most respected form of human on earth, “the mother”. The dictionary clearly reads out, mother tongue is the language which a person has grown up speaking from early childhood. However, upon searching any open source platform on the internet, one would be aghast to see how the majority of people assume the apostrophe after the word “mother” as hidden in the term “mother tongue” and hence interpret, it as “Mother tongue and Native language have similar, meanings and are often actually interchangeable, however, there is a subtle difference. Native language refers to the language of the area the person grows up in. … Mother tongue refers to the language of the family you grew up in.…..”. This interpretation has 2.2 k views. There are many more on the similar lines.

The simple yet a very intriguing point in question that has never been discussed in our otherwise patriarchy driven feminist world, is whether there must exist a clarity of the term “mother and mother’s tongue” or we let the hypocrisy continue with hoards of people under the impression that it’s the mother’s tongue whereas it is just another patriarchically rooted misguiding nomenclature with no connection to the mother of the child at all. Hardly, any of the self-proclaimed intellectuals have ever given their overused cerebral to this understated yet underlined concept. Probably, the “I know Everything” lot never dug deep into it to find more.

Today, I as a six-month-old pregnant woman stand at this predicament where although I remain untouched by the fact that because of this bigoted world, we can choose to let go of my last nameoff my child; but, the literal meaning of “mother tongue” and the ambiguous meaning associated with the term has left me paralyzed to argue further on the subject. A non-complicated solution to the this would be to just change the meaning of the term or henceforth ensure that column to mention the same uses “Mother’s Tongue” and not “Mother Tongue”.

When the khandaan“, the last name, the native place, the hometown, the religion (a handful of exceptions herein), everything is inherited of the father, why cannot we let this one thing be inherited exclusively just from the mother? And whereas the religion, caste, et al would affect the everyday life of the child, the “mother tongue” could at least be accommodated just for the heck of it, on pen and paper only; maybe just a treat to the mother’s eye.

And this, of course, doesn’t mean that the child would not learn the other’s language. Mothers, anyway being a conditioned generous lot, would take that extra step, as always to ward off the perennial insecurity of the father by letting the child grow up learning both the language of the parents and many more. In any case, it is a proven fact that the child which grows up in a multilingual environment has far better Intelligence Quotient than the rest. Take the example ofIreland which otherwise is known for its pride “The Guinness Beer”, also speaks five more languages Polish, French, Romanian, Lithuanian and Spanish through their natives. And studies in this country have shown that the skill to switch in between two or more languages gives the child’s brain a muchrequired agility and improves their attention, planning, memory and analytical proficiency. Worldwide too, evidence has proven that multilingual children are better in comparison to the monolingual lots when it comes to testing their cognitive dexterity.

Being born and brought up in different townships in the mines’ belt of India, I have experienced living amidst an eclectic population, representing different religions, languages, castes and communities. While I was not raised up being exposed to a sentiment of “us vs. them.”, the idyll could have not lasted any longer for me too. I have many friends who are into inter-caste/religion/language kind of marriage and almost all the female friends have happily learnt the language of the husband (in case it is different than theirs) with welcoming arms and a keen mind. However, hardly have I seen their respective husbands learning otherwise with such keenness and openness. And, mind you, these husbands are otherwise very “educated”, “modern”, “open” and prefer giving way to their female counterparts a lead. In one of the cases, although the husband and wife know each other’s language, at their own “house”, the primary language of conversation is of the husband’s one.

If this is the case then why not the other way round. So many uncountable centuries of patriarchy has led us all to this, I think it’s high time to break the stereotype with this tiny step of giving away this other-wise muchrespected “mother” her little “due share” of changing the dictionary meaning of the “mother tongue” to literally fall through the literal words it comprise of. This would also in a way, if not balance, put some weight on the empty side of the fulcrum and help brace your own little child to not to either succumb to the pressures of the patriarchal world when it grows up or impose the same on their counterparts if the child happens to be a male.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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