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Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Language Barrier

It was an ordinary February evening and I had just got home after another non-constructive day at work. I greeted my roommates and headed towards my room to get rid of the formal clothes and get into something more sensible for the Chennai weather. As I was stripping down, something caught my eye, a certain article that was stuck on my door.

The article I found stuck to my door.

It was a newspaper article titled, “Tongue Tied” and I was quite surprised to find it on my door. As I read through the first paragraph, it started making sense. The newspaper article was “targeted” on me. Yet another of my roommates attempts at proving I wasn't “Indian” enough, well at least not enough to their liking.


The article was about how the younger generation of Indians, especially in the urban centres, do not know their mother tongues and “are taking recourse to English as a means of communication between themselves and their children”. As a result of this a lot of languages in our country (196 is the number mentioned) are on the verge of  extinction.

Culture and traditions are two words that are extensively used when you talk about India. India has such a rich and diverse cultural history, one which draws tourists from all across the world and language is an essential part of this culture. Then why are languages losing its importance? The answer to some of the most complicated questions is actually quite simple. Like human beings, cultures evolve and this automatically impacts languages also and evolution occurs to adapt better to conditions and improve quality of life.

Why is it that  language plays such a crucial role today, than what it did a century ago or even 30 years back?


Hundred years ago or even 30 years ago, the world was a gargantuan spherical object but today it isn't. It's not that earth has gotten any smaller, but it is a flat world as put beautifully by 3 time Pulitzer Prize winner, Thomas L Friedman in his book - “The world is flat”, the title to which was derived from a statement made by Nandan Nilekani, former Chairman of Infosys. Wiki calls the title a metaphor and says, It alludes to the perceptual shift required for countries, companies and individuals to remain competitive in a global market where historical and geographical divisions are becoming increasingly irrelevant”. In a nut shell, this means the world is soon becoming a level playing field and factors such as languages are going to lose relevance and could actually be a deterrent.

We are all truly global citizens today and we need to be global citizens if we want to stay competitive and on par with the rest of the world. Had India been averse to using any other “foreign” language like China, the IT boom would have never happened in India. With so many countries having cheap labour to offer, India got the edge because of the large English speaking population. If ability to speak English coupled with a high school degree (fake or original, doesn’t matter) can get you a job paying 10-15,000 Rs to start off, then why not? This in no way means English is superior (or lesser) to other languages; it is about a standard form of communication the world over. Had Hindi or Arabic or anything else been the most spoken language the world across, who knows, we would all be talking one of those languages. Just a few days back I read an article in the newspaper which said CBSE was planning to introduce Japanese for class 10 and 12 students as it would help in employment opportunities considering that a lot of Japanese companies are entering the Indian market. The rules of the game are changing.

It's a multi-dimensional issue which isn't just about money or better career prospects. 

I am a Punjabi, born to Punjabi parents in Hyderabad , brought up in the same city and have been in Chennai for the last 5 years. As a child and even today, I have been in a highly cosmopolitan environment, like it is in most urban centres. Most of my friends have different mother tongues so to keep it neutral and uncomplicated we stuck to English and Hindi. Staying in Hyderabad I picked up Telugu too and my Telugu is a lot better than my Punjabi. As a matter of fact, I hardly know any Punjabi and it has never affected me in any way. Emotionally you can accuse me of “tearing away from my roots”, as the writer dramatically puts it but pragmatically, I can’t think of any way it could have helped me considering the fact that I have no one to speak Punjabi with.

Right through the article the writer has spoken to people from various organizations who all say, “Oh it's bad! Very bad! Terrible! Catastrophe! Anarth! Dushta Dushta!” On being asked why, they all seem to have the same response, “Losing touch with their culture”, but not one of them has given a sensible reason as to why we should stick on with a predefined culture in which they were brought up in and counteract the natural evolution. The writer also mentions that this is not only a trend in India but something seen the world over.

The Indian culture is beautiful and it does not pertain to languages only, it is a way of life. Respect for elders, family, honesty, etc are virtues that can be incorporated even without knowing our mother tongue. We need to find a balance and take the parts of our culture which finds relevance in the current world and with the future in mind. Remember Sati, child marriage and Dowry? They were a part of our culture too. We need to let go of certain things while incorporating newer ideas and beliefs which are in accord with the times.

By no way am I advocating that we must forego our mother tongues and that it is absolutely irrelevant in the modern world. My opinion is based on my life and what I see around me. There might be factors that I may have overlooked or not considered and it is quite natural for you to agree or disagree with some or all of my points.

The main motive of a language is to communicate and today we need to be able to communicate with a lot more people than our neighbours, doodhwala (milkman) Ramu kaka, servant Nagarani and the rest of the village or town. With the advent of technology and internet we need to be able to communicate with everybody around the world, be it New York or Nambaiyufa. The world today is a global village and we need to be able to talk the language the rest of the villagers speak or be left out.


26 comments:

ABI said...

awesome re gogo!! this is the post i hv been talking about.. its gonna be in print... :D
i try telling this 2 my relatives/frnz like all d tym ,wenevr they expect me 2 talk in telugu..
i cant talk telugu, ya .. so wut?? its not like d world is gonna end :P uhhh..
but i think its not bad/tough to put in efforts to learn ones mother tongue..
i personally dont believe in staying par with anyone,or relate myself 2 sumone els's itenary of a perfect life or do stuff just because its titled "normal" by the rest of the world, and if these are goino be the excuses to not learn a the mother tongue or anything els for that matter,then i would go on knees or put a knife on ur throat and would beg to differ wid u.. :P
but at d same time, if u hadn had a chance to learn it, or u hate it cos it sounds funny,then thats called a great excuse.. ;)

watevr,the post is great and u r getting better each day.. :D
but

TinTo said...

hehe... its only human nature to look down upon or exaggerate over things that they do not understand or not used to.... there is nothing cultural or traditional abt it....


u talk in english for more than 2 mins, with ur telugu savvy friends... and u are branded as "THE ANGREZ"!!! :D...

Anywayz, I always liked Telugu and Hindi better, over English... for some reason, it gives me the sense of belonging

and I personally feel that language is not a barrier for anyone, irrespective of their CULTURE, REGION or Maaki-Tongue!!! :p

and once again... this shuld have been submitted to TOI...

siddharth said...

Great post kalsi! Totally relate with what ever you have said...language is primarily a means to communicate effectively and only secondarily an ornate component of our culture.

Harjeet said...

well said my son. simple, logical & yet interesting. all said & done it wud still b a gr8 idea to know punjabi, telugu & tamil. variety adds to the flavour. jo bole so nihaal.

Ashish Kalsi said...

@Abi -- It's definitely not bad or very difficult. What I was trying to tell was that it isn't as essential as it was a few decades ago. Nobody is asking you to be like anybody else or stay on par with somebody. I am talking about the general public, a lot of who need to support themselves and their families. Not everybody has the liberty of doing what they want. I'm talking for them rather than a lucky few.

You can have your own reasons for learning or not learning a language.

And thank you very much. But?

Ashish Kalsi said...

@Tin To --- Absolutely! There is an emotional connect when you talk in your local language. But the local language would soon become "optional" from its current position of "essential".

Ashish Kalsi said...

@Sid --- thank you so much :)

@Dad --- Finally you decide to comment on one of my blog post :D It's really tough to please a tough critic like you but I'm glad you liked it. Ha ha ha I have a little of every variety. What happened to yours? ;)

spandana said...

hey gole........awesome blog....read ur msg on fb kinda felt guilty.....gonna follow ur blog regularly now.............anyways mast likha re....i consider myself a south indian ya...north indian toh big no no for me lol...proud to have been born in hyd and have frnds like din,dhar,rahul,ananta and gang :):)

ABI said...

lol... u r welcome:D
and the "but" is a typo,..t should have been " but watevr, the post is great and u r getting better each day" :P :(

Varshaa said...

Well written !!!

Though I completely agree wid u, I still am gonna try my best to teach u Tamil. Seriya?

Ashish Kalsi said...

@Spanya -- ha ha ha thank you Span :D

Ashish Kalsi said...

@Abi --- thank you so much :D

@Varshaa --- LOL!!! Thanks....seri seri :D :P

pari said...

hey asahish... amazin blog... u write really well..... lookin fwd for mre blogs;)..
nd i think i kno tht roommate of urs who comments u nt indian engh...

Shanky said...

Great work bro! Have you considered sending a copy of this article to newspaper editors? (Guess you can start off with the Times of India itself!) This is some top-notch stuff and am pretty sure that there're a lot of people out there who relate to this situation themselves.

Do take it to the next level!

Ashish Kalsi said...

@Rubika --- thank you so much :) :) ha ha ha yeah he used when he was my roommate...He moved out with someone else when he was in college itself :P the other roommates are continuing the trend :P

Ashish Kalsi said...

@Shanky --- thank you so much bro...well, actually I have. But unfortunately it stops with that...hardly got the time to do something about.

I will man, I definitely will.

pari said...

it really doesn matter wid whom he has moved...i jus wish he staarts respectin his relationship............

Ashish Kalsi said...

@Rubika --- Okay its getting personal here...he is doing good though :)

pari said...

lol........ chill
gud for him

Grds said...

cool blog and interesting post and article. I get the same thing, prob more whenever I come down to India for vacation. I was surprised that you, living in India all your life, get branded as not being Indian enough by some ppl. I wonder what would qualify someone to be "Indian enough"?

Ashish Kalsi said...

@Grds --- Yes, unfortunately it does happen and happens to a lot of people especially from the urban centers...and the ones who make the "non - Indian" comments are usually the ones from the more "traditional" smaller towns

Grds said...

cool blog and interesting post and article. I get the same thing, prob more whenever I come down to India for vacation. I was surprised that you, living in India all your life, get branded as not being Indian enough by some ppl. I wonder what would qualify someone to be "Indian enough"?

pari said...

it really doesn matter wid whom he has moved...i jus wish he staarts respectin his relationship............

Varshaa said...

Well written !!!

Though I completely agree wid u, I still am gonna try my best to teach u Tamil. Seriya?

Ashish Kalsi said...

@Abi -- It's definitely not bad or very difficult. What I was trying to tell was that it isn't as essential as it was a few decades ago. Nobody is asking you to be like anybody else or stay on par with somebody. I am talking about the general public, a lot of who need to support themselves and their families. Not everybody has the liberty of doing what they want. I'm talking for them rather than a lucky few.

You can have your own reasons for learning or not learning a language.

And thank you very much. But?

ABI said...

awesome re gogo!! this is the post i hv been talking about.. its gonna be in print... :D
i try telling this 2 my relatives/frnz like all d tym ,wenevr they expect me 2 talk in telugu..
i cant talk telugu, ya .. so wut?? its not like d world is gonna end :P uhhh..
but i think its not bad/tough to put in efforts to learn ones mother tongue..
i personally dont believe in staying par with anyone,or relate myself 2 sumone els's itenary of a perfect life or do stuff just because its titled "normal" by the rest of the world, and if these are goino be the excuses to not learn a the mother tongue or anything els for that matter,then i would go on knees or put a knife on ur throat and would beg to differ wid u.. :P
but at d same time, if u hadn had a chance to learn it, or u hate it cos it sounds funny,then thats called a great excuse.. ;)

watevr,the post is great and u r getting better each day.. :D
but