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Mother Language

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  23 Feb 2018 12:00 AM GMT

‘Ekushey February’ has come and gone, but the pledge to keep alive one’s mother tongue has to be renewed every day. Since year 2000, the United tions has been observing Intertiol Mother Language Day on 21st February to commemorate the martyrs of the 1952 movement in Bangladesh fighting for the cause of Bangla language against the then Ayub Khan-led Pakistan government’s imposition of Urdu. What needs to be appreciated is that in the UN scheme of things, this day is not about rrow exclusivism to keep out ‘others’ not speaking one’s mother tongue. Rather, it is about cultural diversity and multilingualism — even as it calls for the protection of languages around the globe, of which only around 6,900 presently remain. As globalism strengthens and English becomes more and more the de-facto universal language, many other tongues are dying out at alarming rate. Over 43 percent spoken languages in the world are identified by UNESCO as endangered; in India, 45, 40 and 5 languages have been listed as definitely, critically and severely endangered. In this rrowing linguistic ecosystem, only a few hundred languages presently occupy a place in education systems and the digital world. Speaking one’s mother tongue may come turally, and is considered beneficial in terms of cognitive abilities and concept building. But holding on to it and actively striving for its wellbeing is another matter — in an age when English is sought to be solely cultivated by many as indispensable for educatiol and career advancement, while governments are wary of implementing language policies fearing identity politics. In India especially, with its States organised on linguistic basis, language unsurprisingly continues to be an emotive issue. While the 3-language formula was well meaning, it has ended up mostly ineffectual. Assam has borne more of its share of the burden than other States, with its government printing schoolbooks in several languages. Yet there is fear and uncertainty over the future of even Assamese medium schools. Dispur needs to refocus on improving the lot of public schools, rather than allowing matters to drift in favour of private operators. Education from school to varsity level requires better appreciation and concern to preserve languages of this region. As for our literary bodies struggling to stay relevant, they may do better by joining hands, and by studying what keeps English ticking as an open, flexible and inclusive language.

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