Though India’s wide English speaking population is one of the advantages the country has, is the government’s official language killing its other 22 officially recognised and hundreds of other regional languages? Here is what people think.
As globalisation sweeps through the world, it may be taking along regional languages and dialects, without even us realising.
English is now engrained in the Indian society. It is used for official paperworks be it government bodies or private institutions; it is spoken by millions of Indians, leading to it becoming a driver for economic growth.
There has also been an exponential increase in English medium schools in the country. With this, growing number of parents aspire to put their children in schools with English as its first language.
“In school we are not allowed to talk in Hindi or any regional language. We are fined or punished if we are caught talking in any language other than English. We can attempt talking in French or German too, because we are learning these in school,” says Rishabh Singh, a secondary school student in New Delhi.
While some parents agree that it is necessary to make their children fluent with the language, others think that setting English as the preferred language for children generates a feeling amongst them that Hindi or any other Indian language is inferior.
So much so, children, and even adults for that matter, look down at people who cannot speak or are not fluent in English.
“I wouldn’t fit with other ladies in my apartment. They all look at me differently because I cannot talk in English. It is a language, just like Chinese or Spanish. Does a Chinese speaker look down at everyone who doesn’t know the language?,” says Shalini Gupta, a resident of west Delhi. “Children are learning the same,” she adds.
Moreover, in lower middle-class families where English is an aspiration, there is an obvious pride when children speak in English.
Further, many working parents do not seem to mind if their children aren’t able to keep up with regional languages. “We started teaching her English poems and got her comics in English because that is how she would catch up with the language. Everywhere you go, you need the language to get through. You can’t do without English,” says Seema Sharma, mother of a seven year old. “Hindi is not a problem because everyone at home speaks the language and she (her daughter) obviously knows it too,” Sharma adds.
According to a prediction by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), half of the world’s languages will be extinct by the end of this century. The organisation warned that over 2,000 of the 7,000 official languages spoken around the world have only 1,000 speakers or fewer.
While many languages are dying, English is growing. And many argue that why shouldn’t India build on its advantage?
However, others say that as more people focus on English, the ones who do speak or write in Hindi don’t do it right. “I often hear people talking in Hindi using words which are not even Hindi words. Nor do they belong to any other language. I don’t know what’s the orgin of such words,” says Archana Singh, a Hindi teacher at a school in east Delhi.
For instance, ‘mujhe’, the Hindi word for me, has become ‘merko’ or ‘meko’ which in fact are not even words.
“Moreover, most Hindi speakers cannot complete their sentences without using an English word, and I think it is only a problem with Hindi. Someone talking in Marathi or Punjabi won’t mix it with English words. It will purely be that language,” she adds.
In a mix of cultures and globalisation, there is a need to safeguard the world’s linguistic diversity among speaker communities and the general public.
Just like Alitet Nemtushkin, an Evenk-Russian poet said:
If I forget my native speech,
And the songs that my people sing,
What use are my eyes and ears?
What use is my mouth?