Language as we know is a means to communicate with one another, but does it only has this much significance or does language has to offer us more than just being a bridge between two people? Does the language we use have anything to do with how we perceive things in life as we grow up to be an adult?
These set of questions regarding language are endless, and one answer would give rise to another question. This article will try to cover a broader aspect of language and what role it plays in our lives.
Language is a sense of identity to people and communities. For a two-year-old child, language means a mode to express what he/she desires but as they grow older and older, it becomes a sense of their identity, which means this person has been brought up under the influence of certain ideologies that this person has inherited.
Communities identify each other also on the bases of the languages they speak, for example, Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka, Punjabi, Gujarati, Haryanvi, Tamil, Marathi, etc. in India – the list is never ending.
Language keeps evolving, this is why we still encounter a lot of changes in the way we describe certain things. It is influenced by different cultures, and is also an amalgamation of different cultures. For example, in the Charkhi Dadri district of Haryana, we still come across people using Marathi words because of the influence of Marathi people who were left out during the Battle of Panipat. Hence, language is never independent of its surrounding; it keeps on evolving with change in time.
Sometimes, language can also act as a means of oppressing others. This was very much evident in America during the years of slavery wherein a very derogatory term, the N-word, was used to refer to the enslaved Africans. In the Indian context, we see this oppression taking place in the name of caste difference.
Abusive words which are inexclusive of all the languages and used by almost every person are directed towards certain lower castes, for example “chamaar” is still used as a name to abuse a person. The term “paraaya” which many people think means “a distant person” isn’t really what it was intended to mean when it was initially used. “Paraaya” is used as a derogatory word to point out to a group of people who were considered untouchable from the Paraiyar caste.
What role does language play in the contemporary time? Why do our schools give so much importance to English and not our own regional languages? If language is a sense of identity to different people, then why is it that we value one language over the other and keep it at a pedestal? English is compulsory till class 12 in India, but none of our regional languages are, this is a matter of concern because we are not only pedestalising one language over the other, but this way we are also telling people that the language they speak is inferior and hence the background they come from is also inferior to theirs.
This is why, people speaking English are considered more educated, well-behaved and civilised because of the cultural notions attached to it. This also may be why the British wanted Indians to learn and speak English during and post their colonial rule, and it may also be why Germany is making efforts to introduce its language in India.
How many of us managed to question the existence of such terms while growing up? Isn’t language something which most of us have accepted the way it has been presented to us? Is our ‘educated’ youth really ‘educated’ enough? I would like to close this article with a set of questions unanswered so that whosoever is reading this knows that there is no end to the amount of politics that run through language, which we never thought would weigh more than a device to communicate.