Saving Indian languages : The necessity right now


Why do Indian parents want to send their kids to English medium schools? Simple. Because Indian languages – all of them have atrophied. They haven’t bothered to keep pace with the science, technology and many other developments of the modern age.

Quick check – what are the Indian terms for the following we deal with in our daily lives in any Indian language – mobile phone, laptops, motherboard, chassis, windshield, convertible, DNA, lifts, road roller, container trucks, Earth movers, Bullet train, debentures, stocks, rolling stock, online payments, e-commerce, just in time production, etc. ?

Once the schooling years are over till the 10th std, the next stage which includes science, engineering, medicine, law, commerce, accountancy, even humanities – are almost all exclusively in English. As a result, a lot of students from vernacular medium, who are otherwise brilliant, tend to struggle because the entire curriculum after 10th std happen to be in English (and that too in idiomatic English). This becomes like an additional subject to them. So they find themselves climbing a mountain before arriving at the real mountain they were supposed to climb. Nowadays, English is not just a language but an expression of its own culture distinct from ours. It has its idiosyncrasies, quirks and idioms. So you have to tap into that Western English culture to make sense of its expressions otherwise a lot of it doesn’t make sense, especially when most advanced language text books are written assuming an intimate familiarity with the language.

Therefore, watching English movies, reading English papers and conversing in it over many years is needed to master it and its best started as early as possible i.e. at a very young age when the brain is capable to soak in all the information.

Indian parents, many of them through their own experience of struggle back in schools, know that. This is why they want to make sure that their kids don’t suffer any such problems. It is not due to any kind of special affection for English. It is the challenge we face today. Indian languages are staring at irrelevance because in most play schools and nurseries, children are learning the English alphabets before any other vernacular alphabet, they are learning to sing English rhymes rather than Indian songs and they are reading English stories of Jack and Jill instead of Ramu and Shamu. Instead of tackling this, we are engaged in a needless struggle of rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic while we are on direct course to hit the English iceberg on the horizon. What is the point if a particular language succeeds in its heavy handed attempt to become the “national language” on the deck of this Titanic when we have set ourselves on course to ultimately ram into the English iceberg?

We need a plan to save Indian languages. We need to translate millions of books on subjects as varied as Science, technology, finance, commerce, arts etc. into Indian languages. The UK and US governments and many philanthropic individuals in their countries over the centuries sponsored translation of millions of books in Latin, Greek, French, German, Japanese, Chinese, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Spanish and thousands of others into English and they still do it today. One of the key reasons how English attained a global status is by doing just that. Do you want to read a famous Japanese author? Chances are his work is available in English. This is how languages keep themselves relevant in the global information age. Other languages like Spanish, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian etc. also do the same i.e. translate other language works into their own. Sad to say that we don’t translate even one book per year into any of our Indian languages. English language translates more books from across the world into itself per week than we have done in all of the last 70 years.

If Indians can access the world’s knowledge in their own mother tongues or languages they are most familiar with then it will lead to an explosion of innovation in several fields which will put India on a course of prosperity. There are a lot of smart people among our 1.3 billion populations who are right now stymied by the high barrier of having to access the knowledge base in a foreign language in a culture expression that is unfamiliar and alien to them. Instead of addressing that, we are engaged in another high handed attempt of putting up another barrier of another artificially created unintelligible language which provides another cultural challenge of its own to people in other parts of the country outside that language’s cultural zone in and around the national capital.

So we have to do two important thing. First, we have to stop pushing Indian languages into war with each other by unncessary impositions and official dictats and instead, give importance to all Indian languages and encourage them equally. Second, we have to come out of the colonial hangover and stop treating English as a status symbol and a measure to gauge intelligence and social status of a person. Because what happens is when we assume an English speaking person as sophisticated and more literate or educated and treat him/heras such, we create a pychological perception that English language is a requirement to build a good social reputation and image building. So automatically, English speakers look superior and native language speakers become inferior. As a result, people ditch their own language and flock towards English in the hope of being seen as more educated and smart than others.

Co-Author – Madhu KS