Vernaculars are not facing external threats

Let me add some context first.

I am a native Hindustani speaker who has spent most of his life in Southern India. I consider myself south Indian but I am yet to assign a state to myself. Since my wife is from Udupi, so I guess it is Karnataka. I can understand little Kannada. I spent the most time in college learning English and computer languages because I grew up in a village and went to a Hindi medium school. I sympathize a lot with anyone who went to a vernacular medium. Vernacular is such a burden to carry around in this country!

As someone who couldn’t speak or understand English well, I was in for a rude surprise. I knew English mattered a lot since the whole curriculum was in it. Since I could read fine and write passably, I didn’t feel nervous about it. I wanted to learn Tamil first since local RSS drilled ‘swadeshi‘ stuff in my head so any language was preferred over English.

The rude surprise was to come from my fellow classmates who went to English medium school. They never tired of putting me in my place by showing me the deficiency in my English. Many almost took a perverse interest in it. So I ended up spending most of my time learning English. Now I feel that it was a good decision but the experience back then left a bitter taste in my mouth.

These days, the same classmates who once were very proud of their English accent and vocabulary are becoming very passionate about their glorious mother tongue e.g. Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam, and even Hindi. Despite that, they still send their children to English medium school. They can enumerate various threats to their mother tongue while they teach even their dog to bark in English!

Recently a little toxic discussion on r/Bangalore brought back these memories. I was wondering if the people here who went to Kannada medium school also feel the same way as the run-of-the-mill language fanatics? Do they feel that Kannada’s future is bleak? My impression is that people who think in English are the one who are vehemently shouting that their mother tongue is in danger!

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The country is a boiling pot of languages, native or foreign. English is going through nowadays what Urdu has gone through once. And this mixing up is bound to enrich local languages rather than devouring them; unless of course, every native sends their children to English-only school and forces them not to learn their native tougue. A few languages are bound to disappear since there is no economy around those languages and the population that speaks them is very small.

Being endangered is one thing and having the feeling of being endangered is another. More and more people are gripped by the feeling of being endangered these days: language, religion, their way of life. Vernacular books were doing better year after year (https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/books-in-kannada-and-other-languages-doing-well-online/article7835370.ece).

Also, more techies are building stuff in their mother tongue. And language support in IT is improving every day. As long as a language doesn’t falter on technology and maintains a decent economy around it, it has a bright future. Kannada is definitely healthy on this front.  As far as Hindi is concerned, I think all the influence of English in the past has enriched Hindi a lot. The Hindi literature was enriched by the Russian and English influence. Premchand wrote the outline of his famous novel Godan in English! This bilingualism is one decline and that is a bit troubling. Ram Guha has written a great piece on the rise and Fall of the Bilingual intellectual.

Hindi is a very new language: the first dictionary was written in 1901. Hardly anyone spoke Hindi then as we know it [Hindi Nationalism, Alok Rai]. Bollywood did to Hindi what technology did to English. There are enough noisy people near Delhi who claim that Hindi is in danger (from English). And not unexpectedly, they send their hatchlings to be trained somewhere in the US and Europe after securing them an English medium school. I grew up among such people and feels very irritated by them. Politicians do not have a monopoly over hypocrisy.

The liberal mixing of people and languages has created many anxieties. But we need to have a healthy attitude about our predicaments. I get annoyed by the hypocrisy shown by the local language warriors. A language grows when the economy around it grows, even when the number of its speaker dwindles. I’d rather be one of the peacocks than one of the crows anyway. I don’t think you can force someone to love a language: you have to give them something worth loving. I remember buying an English-Hindi dictionary after I read the translation of The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde in high school. And I know many people, some hardcore anti-muslims, searching for the meaning of Arabic words just to enjoy a Ghalib sher.


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