| INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF LANGUAGES
Star of Mysore March 11 2008
Mind your language! It may befacing great peril. ‘Pick her up tenderly, lift her with care!’ — as an English poet has warned, of course is another context. The language spoken by a person is his ‘mother-tongue.’ It may be fragile — like the mother who has become pretty old.
A language is the mother of all those who speak it. The first word is spoken by the mother to her just-born child. The ‘word’ (that is, the language) is impregnated all over the mind of the baby. It becomes an indelible part of its psyche and continues to influence the baby as it grows. A person’s thoughts are coloured by the language he speaks. The subtlest of ideas can be expressed best if they are couched in his language. If he loses his language he loses himself and is lost in the wilderness.
Vigour and vitality
Anything that is learned is learnt best when it comes in his own language. Hence, it is that our experts say that the medium of instruction of the child should be his mother-tongue. It helps the child to acquire knowledge with facility, to express oneself with clarity and to think with vigour and vitality.
No one knows for certain how the first words came into existence. One of the theories (bow-wow theory) of language says that all speech was originally the imitation of the noises of nature or of sounds made by man’s activities. Another theory is that words were mouth-gestures, imitating with the tongue, teeth and lips, the movement of the arms, hands and fingers used to describe something. For example in words spike, spine, spindle, spire, spin, the sound spi appear to express a thin pointed shape. The vowels in words broad, wide, larger, high are all long vowels, sounded with the mouth wide open.
When pronouncing the word forward lips are pushed forward. In pronouncing the word back lips are stretched back against the teeth. Protrude is said with the lips pushed out. It is really surprising to think how the shape of a word often resembles the thing or idea which it expresses.
The languages of the world have developed from such simple beginnings and today a fully developed language can express practically everything — concrete things and abstract ideas. Literature expresses all thoughts and actions of man and society. Language is perhaps the greatest invention of mankind. It is a living organism, ever evolving and growing. Had it not been for the language, the record of the long history of the deeds and thoughts of man would never have been known.
Language is the vibrant mirror reflecting all that has happened in the past, so that the present generation can proceed from what has been achieved in the past. It is marvelous to think how a language can acquire newer dimensions, as knowledge itself is growing exponentially. Each nation or each group having its own culture has its own language. If you kill the language, the past of the nation or group which speaks it, is erased for ever.
It is a pity that in the long history of mankind many languages were born and quite a considerable number of them are extinct. It is said that there were some fifteen thousand languages in the world and in the efflux of time many have had a natural death. The United Nations Organisation warns that more than half of the world’s 6700 spoken languages existing today face extinction and on an average one language a year disappears somewhere in the world. The UNO considers this as very serious, and urgent measures must be taken to avert this disaster. The year 2008 is named International Year of Languages.
According to the experts’ estimate currently 96 per cent of the languages are spoken only by 4 % of world’s population. Globalisation is placing many languages under the grave threat. To create awareness among the people of the world about this serious situation an International Mother Language Day is being observed every year. Kochiro Matsura, Director General of UN Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organi-sation has stressed the importance of all languages in everyday life. He says that ‘far from being a field reserved for analysis by specialists, languages lie at the heart of all social, economic and cultural life.’ Accordingly, he has stressed UNESCO’s slogan for the year, which says that Languages Matter!
It is reported that the agency held a series of events at its Paris Headquarters to mark the day and to launch the Inter-national Year of Languages.
International Mother Language Day has been observed since 2000. It is reported this year UNESCO has put emphasis on instruments and stan-dards that encourage multilinguism. But it is a pity that many among us are not aware of the seriousness of the situation.
Sometime ago, I read a report in the newspapers about the death of a language that was spoken by the people of a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean. The name of the island is Aore. The people had their own language. They belonged to a tribe called Wanawater. It was a colourful language, very much alive and vibrant.
But as time passed, the language began to wither away, the people of the island slowly taking to the most powerful language — English. The people ceased to speak their language and began to send their children to schools where the language was not being taught. Thus the successive generations slowly lost their language. There was a single person belonging to the old generation, who continued to speak the language. His name (translated into English) was Red Thunder Cloud, a colourful personality indeed! But he passed away at the age of seventy-four. With his death the language became extinct.
The bulldozer civilisation had taken another toll. As at least one language dies every year, who would care to notice its death and avert further disaster? The language may be tape-recorded. But is the ghost language, not alive, and growing from within ! With its death a rich heritage and culture and the peoples’ dreams and achievements, their struggles and failures had a ‘natural’ death.
In Australia, it is said that there are about 200 spoken languages. Only one language in ten is spoken by more than ten people. The children of only one in ten languages learn their language in the school.
How many of our children seriously learn Kannada in schools? If is a foreign language takes precedence over our language, ours also will soon become a ghost language — thanks to English and Globalisation!