Tongue-tied: Kannada and the tyranny of English

During my graduation days, one of our lecturers used to constantly coax us to converse in English. Our class mostly had students who had completed their primary and secondary education in Kannada medium. The main reason was that after PUC, most of the students who were from English medium schools had opted for engineering and medical courses.

Thus, our B.Sc class ended up having us – the humble Kannada folks – who always conversed in Kannada. Our lecturer worried about the fact we would not be able to survive in the job market, in spite of securing good marks, if we can’t communicate properly in English. Sadly, he was correct.

Though we knew this bitter reality very well, many things were holding us back from talking in English. We were good at our subject and our English writing skills (mostly restricted to our academic subject) were decent enough. However, we had never attempted to talk in English before for the fear of getting humiliated for our bad English.

In India, we have a weird situation where people laugh if someone commits a mistake while trying to talk in any regional language. But they sure appreciate his/ her effort to learn that language. In fact, we act as if we are indebted to them for trying to learn our language. Frankly speaking, faulty local language with an exotic accent is very fashionable. But if you commit a mistake while talking in English, you will be ridiculed, judged, and looked down upon. The impact of linguistic imperialism is so strong in our country that consciously or unconsciously we believe that English is a very sophisticated language.

In simple words, talking faulty regional language is akin to buying branded torn denim and wearing it. It’s fashion. And speaking in pidgin English is akin to wearing jeans which is torn. It’s poverty.

So, with all this baggage behind us, it was difficult for us to muster courage to speak in English. But one fine day, we decided to try, and the result was pin-drop silence in the classroom. We had taken an oath to converse only in English. Later, we kept quiet without uttering a single word.

Finally, after half an hour of silence, we decided to break our oath and started conversing in Kannada. That day, I realised one thing. The love for our mother tongue need not be because of emotional reasons; it can be because of pure necessity.

If we are not able to communicate in any other language, we tend to or we ought to start loving our mother tongue - the only language we can speak. And eventually, this love for our mother tongue turns into language fanaticism, mainly to cover any inferiority complex that arises out of our inability to speak in a ‘superior’ language.

Till recently, Kannada activism (bit aggressive) was dominated by people of this category. But, off late, things are changing. Speaking Kannada is not considered as ‘down town’ like before.

Kannadigas, who can speak other languages, have developed love for their mother tongue, and they are not shying away from showing their love. We can attribute this change to many factors such as English losing its exclusiveness and the fear of losing our own identity. And a few glaring examples from the neighbouring states and the emergence of social media have fueled this change.

The huge Kannadiga IT workforce is also responsible for this. Thus, online Kannada activism has grown many folds in this decade. A few recent incidents prove this fact beyond doubt.

But here’s a question: are Kannadigas putting their efforts in the right place? When a newspaper makes a video on mother tongue and conveniently overlooks Kannada, all hell breaks loose. The successful crusade brings the paper down to its knees. The paper issues an explanation and corrects the video. But is it a real victory? What good can this pseudo-gratification bring? Not much in the real world. But the unity the crusaders showed, the passion they brought, and the instant success they got can work as confident boosters. After all, we don’t see Kannadigas putting up a fight for their language so often. 

But the actual fight has to be against the authoritative body which is involved in policy making and implementation. So it’s time to ask a few real questions. Why do we fail to see how the central government neglects regional languages in its daily operations? Shouldn’t our real fight be against the inconvenience caused to the commoner who can’t communicate in English or Hindi? Is it not important to have our language in important places where it can be a question of life and death?  

Let us hope Kannadigas will use this new-found power and online activism in the right direction and try to seek answers for the above questions.   

More About Author

Musings of a Migrant…

Arpana H S

H S Arpana is a journalist with 10 years of experience in Television Media and presently works as a freelance translator, voice over artist and writer. She was a bulletin producer with television channel ETV Kannada and has won awards for her short stories published popular regional dailies Kannada Prabha and Vijayavani. She also has had a brush with documentary film making for government projects.

 

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