30 Jul

Rangashree Srinivas

Rangashree Srinivas, is in love with Chennai and the Tamil language! Likes to work creatively with children and young people. Taps at a PC, editing and designing for a living.

AFAIK ppl feel F2T in dis way cos dey tlk only thro sms*.

If you cannot decipher this you are a lost case. Yes it is a fast world, the internet and mobile phones are all for rapid fire communication. Who has time for complete sentences even words? Sms lingo is finding its way into dictionaries; it is becoming an accepted norm. If the universally used written language is sms lingo and spoken language pinglish (Pidgin English), tinglish, telglish, hinglish, then a full proper language can only be an art form. Fair enough isn’t it?

A friend, who was recruiting for a top IT firm (before the recession Tsunami hit the market), reported that he was getting scores of engineering graduates who were absolutely unemployable because they could not communicate even a single thought without stuttering, stammering or groping for words.

While I worry over broken language and whole language, I weep over the lost language.

Interacting with a group of children from up-market Chennai, I asked them what their mother tongue was. They blinked. So I asked them what language they spoke at home. Without batting an eyelid, they all said ‘English’. Of course they meant a little bit of ‘glish’ and a little bit of whatever language they have heard their pattis and thathas speak. Pattis and thathas who can also speak the Queen’s English. As a friend pointed out, have we allowed our souls to be colonized; we have let Macaulay succeed way beyond his time and intentions.

Agreed, English is the globally empowering language. Schools discourage children from speaking anything but English in their campus; non English speaking families are berated for talking to their kids in the vernacular. The urban and rural poor who want their children to be upwardly mobile crave English education at great costs. English learning gets you jobs. All that is fine. But does that mean that children should forget their state language?

I deliberately chose Hindi over Tamil as the 2nd language for my daughter because I did not want her to hate Tamil which is our mother tongue! I am full of guilt that I was being unfair to Hindi, because she certainly hates that language now after 5 years of incomprehension. Teaching of language in schools is uninspiring even hateful. Children really end up hating the language.

Forget about the ‘now’ generation. Even my peers and I, at best speak Tamil and think in English. Most of us can’t read or write Tamil. We may have the right sensibility and cultural context but cannot contribute to vernacular literature because we never learnt our own language! Talented film makers and theatre artistes cannot contribute to Tamil filmdom because they cannot write their script in the language. So we have to compromise by rating mediocre productions ‘good’ and bad ones ‘mediocre.’ We do not have the language skills to qualify as a discerning audience. We have to lower our standards as we do not have access to a rich culture because we are limited beings.

So why did we miss out by not learning our language. And our children? They do not have a command over any language, English or the vernacular. Then how will they express, communicate?

You can see I am building a case for inspiring a love for learning languages – as many as possible! Learn English. Learn your mother tongue. Learn Hindi. Sanskrit. Other Indian languages. Foreign languages. In that order.

Learning need not be a chore. It can be great fun! Kids love speaking in ‘P’ language. Wh-Pat aP-are you-Pu do-Pu-iPing? Can we make language learning fun? It can be a two way exercise – Tamil to English; English to Tamil. It can be done through theatre, songs, stories and puzzles. It may not get you the first rank in class or a Padmashree or even a Kalaimamani 🙂 But it will certainly be fun and expand your horizon – open your mind to great literature and varied culture. It will help integrate the society in meaningful ways and promote inclusiveness. It can help my poo kaari’s kid and my daughter to be not just playmates but friends who can share books, films and languages!

*As far as I know people feel free to talk in this way because they talk only through sms.

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