Death of My Mother tongue

When my mother died a few years back, I not only lost  my mother, I lost my mother tongue too. My mother used to speak a language which my children  could not understand. I did not  allow my children to learn  my mother’s  tongue as  I wanted  them to learn the standard language, not the dialect of the rustics.  My mother was the only person in the family who  used a distinct language  derided by the civilized world as a dialect. When my children grew up, they wanted to know why I had  not taught  them their grandma’s tongue, they felt that their inability  to use their grandma’s tongue deprived them of her love and affection. They acquired and spoke the  standard language at home, not the  language that I  spoke as  a child. During their infancy, I was   extra vigilant  to keep them  away from the sound of the  language   that I  inherited, I  avoided going to our ancestral village lest the kids’ language  get contaminated by  a language  dubbed as an unsophisticated dialect.   This personal narrative may sound strange to many people, but this is the grim reality confronting many   Indians  whose mothers’  tongues are incomprehensible to their children.

The so called prestige value  bestowed on the standard variety of a language is also one of the  causes of  the  disintegration  of many  Indian joint families. The  wife of one of my friends in Bangalore  had to face the wrath of her  in laws   when she refused to talk to the new born baby in   the non-standard variety of the  language spoken  in her in-laws house. In order to protect her child from the  ‘vulgar’ tongue of her in-laws, she persuaded her husband to shift to a new  house in  another locality of the city.

Till now, I was referring to the death of Indian languages  due to the prestige value accorded to the  standard variety  of the  recognized languages. The shopping malls of  the  metropolitan cities of India  reveal another sordid story.  Believe it or not, English is the language of the shopping malls of India. While shopping in  malls, parents speaking English with heavily accented Kannada,  Tamil or Bengali  interact with their kids in English.  Though  both the parents speak the standard variety of an Indian language quite perfectly, they use English while interacting with their  kids. Just as I protected my kids from the  influence of  the non-standard  variety of my  language, these  parents protect their  kids  from  the    influences of  the  standard variety of their own  language.  For these kids, English is their  home language, English is their school language and English will be the  language of their  professional life.

The death of languages is a universal phenomenon. Just as a dialect becomes a language due to non-linguistic factors and gobbles other dialects, the language of opportunity and  economic empowerment has a tendency of devouring other  disadvantaged languages. In India, people are traditionally identified by their  languages, but   it seems that  language as a marker of social identity may undergo  a sea change in coming decades.   Due to large scale inter-State migrations and marriages,  a new  language-independent  pan-Indian identity  has been emerging in various parts of the country.   Our children of the next generation will be multilingual in the true sense of the word, linguistic  boundaries will  not make any sense to them. Their  linguistic repertoire in more than one language will make them more tolerant, more pragmatic and more humane than their  parents. The citizens of the digital world will  speak a   language of their own, not the one prescribed by  their parents. Have I a cause to despair?

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