On Campus

Speaking in many tongues

Srabasti Dey | Updated on September 05, 2013 Published on September 05, 2013

‘If every language represents a unique worldview, then statistically not more than 4 per cent of our worldviews have been articulated in Parliament.’

The structure of the Indian governance system poses a paradox. While the local Panchayat system is praised for its capability to address issues at the village level, the policy of the Indian Census undermines this very spirit.

The Census does not enumerate languages with less than 10,000 speakers.

In a standstill

Does that not make it difficult for the members of such a linguistic community to have credibility with an administration if their means of articulation is not accepted?

Ganesh Devy, founder of Bhasha Research and Publication Centre, Vadodara, offers some poignant insights into language as a marker of identity and development. He asserts that: “Local growth can be a global development principle, not the other way round.”

The People’s Linguistic Survey conducted by the BRPC (to be released on September 5) is the first survey of Indian languages as people perceive them, conducted by the communities themselves.

Gross neglect

The PLSI recorded 780 languages as opposed to the 122 listed in the 2001 Census. One hardly needs more proof of the fact that something is really wrong.

At a lecture at Jadhavpur University, Kolkata, a few years back, Devy had overturned the rule of not giving priority to languages without a script.

He had pointed out that the typical language of Bollywood cinema penetrated the psyche of a major part of India albeit without literary means.

Sensitising students

The students do not need a better example to realise that the utility of a language cannot be measured by its possession — or the lack — of a script.

One of the major reasons for concern is that young people, by and large, are oblivious to the politics over languages in India.

Devy, in an interview, points out that the decision-makers of our country have emerged from groups that speak the Scheduled languages, which have scripts. “If every language represents a unique worldview, then statistically not more than 4 per cent of our worldviews have been articulated in Parliament.”

And we are only perpetuating more of this amnesia, as we do not put much effort into learning our mother-tongue or in trying to get an idea of the languages spoken in our neighbouring regions.

While many of the job opportunities available today demand proficiency in English or some other Scheduled language, those involved in academics, media, development studies and administration need to dispel the general myopic view on languages.

There is a dearth of visibility of the literature in Indian languages in the school curriculum. Even mainstream culture is burdened by the overwhelming presence of Bollywood, with but an occasional reference to Satyajit Ray or Adoor Gopalakrishnan.

To sum up the development angle to linguistic identities in Devy’s language: “If Planning Commission data were combined with the PLSI, effective micro-level planning for economic growth and language conservation would be possible.”

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Published on September 05, 2013
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