The United Nations cultural agency UNESCO has declared Tuesday as International Mother Language Day. But the increased usage of Hinglish phrases such as “light le lo” or even Tenglish (Telugu+English) idioms like “chaala thanks” in the recent past has led to crises of sorts for local languages, even in the two Telugu speaking states.
While the changing culture has been attributed to the rise in diluted and diversified vocabulary, its long term impact of local languages themselves are evident — from lyrics with more than one language used in songs, to the inability of speaking one language perfectly.
Many believe that one of the main reasons for Indian regional languages being lost is the rise in English medium schools. Says Gitanjali Chatterjee, deputy secretary of the Sahitya Akademi in New Delhi, “Parents are increasingly turning to English medium schools; the mindset is that unless you know English, you have no future. Protection of the mother tongue is necessary to enhance and retain culture. Some of the best literary works have been written by authors in their mother tongue, because they even think in that language.”
Telugu writer P. Lalitha Kumari, who goes by the pen name Volga, says, “The medium of instruction plays an important role in developing the students’ knowledge accumulation, thinking power and questioning power... it depends on the language children are familiar with, the language in which they can think. You’re killing the intellectual capacity of the student. How can they think in a language that’s not their own?”
In the media
This lack of ability to understand one language completely is mirrored in mainstream media today, with multi-lingual movies, web series and songs dominating screens and playlists.
Tollywood lyricist Ramajogayya Sastry, who has written songs such as Apple Beauty from Jr NTR’s Janata Garage, says that the rise of such content is purely because of how relatable it is to audiences.
“We should look at it from the context of the place. The two Telugu states are filled with commercial cinema. Most of the genres are youth and love oriented films, and because they have to sell, they are crafted in such a way that people relate to it. The moment you lift your phone, have you ever heard anyone saying “bagunnara”? You say ‘hello’. People may not be comfortable with their children calling them ‘mummy’ or ‘daddy’ in public, but they unmindfully promote it at home. We’ve just become accustomed to it.”
Tech, no solution
Learning the basics of these languages is no doubt easier now, thanks to various online apps and sites. But Gitanjali says that they just don’t match up to good teaching standards.
Charu Nivedita, a post-modern Tamil writer, says, “In the west, it is necessary for a student in France or Germany to study and clear certain levels of French and German respectively, whereas in our country, we always have the option of choosing not to study our mother tongues, but taking up foreign languages. Our education system is killing our mother languages, and we need to change the way we look at our language policy.”
— With inputs from Bhavana Akella...