Saving Bangla with a uniform shape

Shihab Sarkar | Published: February 07, 2019 21:35:34 | Updated: February 09, 2019 21:10:53


The 1952 Language Movement Day arrives every year. The day is commonly known as Amor Ekushey. And after a month-long activities related to the Bangla language, publications, and the allied areas it takes leave to arrive the next year. This is what has been happening for around last two decades. During this period, the topics that remain in prime focus are revisiting the historical background of the Language Movement, and its impact on the politics and culture of the Bengalees in the then East Pakistan. Along with it, publications in Bangla assume a significant place. This segment becomes the centre-piece of attraction with the holding of the month-long Ekushey Book Fair organised by Bangla Academy. The fair accompanies great bouts of creative activities among most of the country's writers. Publication of new books continues throughout the month of February, with book-lovers visiting the fair ground on the Bangla Academy premises and the nearby Suhrawardy Udyan to buy new books. They come in their thousands every day, purchase the books of their choice making the fair a festive occasion. Few countries in the world have such an event centring on books. Bangladesh can take pride in its month-long Ekushey Book Fair.

Throughout the month of February the educated and book-loving enlightened sections of society become veritably bibliophile. The print and electronic media appears to enter a competition of sorts to outshine each other in giving wider coverage to the book fair. The publication of new books in Bangla indisputably prompts the resurgence of the undying spirit of Ekushey. Alas, there are lots of books-related features which remain out of focus in the language month. The most prominent of them is the Bangla language itself. As observed by critics, the present anarchic state of the language, in a sense, makes all the outbursts of creative emotion and the accompanying jubilant mood an exercise in inanities resulting in futility.

Perhaps there are few major and widely spoken languages in the world which are plagued by such an extent of aberrations. However, pointing out the general trend of careening towards lawlessness, pessimists may argue, how can the nation expect its language to be free of chaos? It's true the country's literary field continues to produce prolific authors, a few of which later emerge as quite talented. This is how the young poets and novelists enter a country's literary scene. In the later times, they become mouthpieces of their respective areas of creation. This normal process of the growth of creative productions has for some time been impaired due to some unwarranted developments. The most prominent of them relates to the faltering development of Bangla as a medium of creativity, sparking lots of confusion among both the authors and readers. Bangla spellings are wantonly tampered with; unheard-of syntactical forms are introduced making style-conscious readers pass through agonising times while engrossed in a book. Readers are often taken aback upon encountering strangely spelt words and their usage. The most painful aspect of these brazen changes brought about in the name of reform is the sufferings of children. All of a sudden, in the beginning of an academic year, they find their long-used rules of spellings gone. In place of the earlier spelling styles, they come across new looks of words in their textbooks. Apart from literature, the lower-grade academic phase and the Bangla newspapers are also bearing the brunt of the new Bangla spelling styles. Ironically, a few of the newspapers themselves are allegedly backing this rage for spelling and syntactical reforms.

Scholarly seminars and academic colloquiums could be the ideal platforms to discuss this subject. But it doesn't happen. Like all other living languages, Bangla has also reached its present form through over 1000 years of evolution. Its roots lie in the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European source of the Asiatic languages. Its direct predecessors include 'Shouraseni', 'Magadhi' and 'Eastern Prakrit'. Thus Bangla can take pride in its process of birth and the later evolution like in the cases with English, French, German, Spanish and many others. Similar to English being a Low Germanic language, or French a Latin-rooted one, the origin of Bangla is traced back to Sanskrit and later Eastern Prakrit. This scientifically developed and innately reforming language cannot be made to adopt a new expression and style upon insufficiently studied pros and cons. No whimsically reformed language can be thrust on its users.

A sad aspect of the episode is Bangla is also the mother-tongue for the people in the neighbouring Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura. As has been seen in English, Bangla spellings and the written form in these two  Indian states, too, have undergone reforms. But the pace has been reasonably slow. To the comfort of the general educated people there, the changes do not shock or appall the users. A daily newspaper based in Kolkata had gone too far in using their in-house style. In the face of widespread public outcry, the daily had to back out.

A language or the linguistic norms cannot be forced on people, nor does any media or publishing house or authorities have the right to compel people to follow them. In Bangladesh, 66 years after the Language Movement this dreadful reality has started taking shape.  The output they leave for the readers are their own innovations. These publication houses and newspapers claim that in order to acquaint people with the perfect Bangla, they have overhauled their spelling and syntactical styles. Although, the changes may look strange to the general readers, the persons behind them claim their coinages to have been taken from etymological roots. Many common readers are not prepared to accept these weird-looking words. As a result, a great confusion ensues, leading to a perplexed condition among the readers-mostly the youths. Of late, the textbook authorities have also adopted the new-style written Bangla. Those studying in the elementary classes remain unaffected by the new spellings; but the secondary-level students do not. They learn lessons in old style in their lower classes, but continue to struggle with the newly introduced spellings in their higher grades. What all this results in is a total anarchy.

The Ekushey Book Fair and the whole publication industry has for some time been affected by these varied styles of Bangla. The menace doesn't have much to do with the style of a publisher as it does with that of individual writers. Apart from a section of writers, there are lots of those who care the least about writing correct Bangla. The sometime-irrational practice of using simplified, and thus strange-looking, Bangla is getting popular with a number of writers. In spite of many taking heart from the increasing number of visitors to the book fairs in Bangladesh, a flip side is becoming distinct with the passing of days. It comprises the buying of books indiscriminately by the enthusiastic readers. Many authors do not appear to have any strong commitment to writing-let alone bother about styles. It's now an established fact that along with the works by the country's major senior and promising young authors, a large segment of the Bangla Academy Ekushey Book Fair comprises books by amateur writers. They are least concerned about not getting professional publishers. With none interested to publish their works, they turn to self-financing their own books. Given this scenario, the book-related events seem to be declining to mere ritualistic exercises.

A language and its rules may have different forms in different parts of the globe. In accordance with this norm, English has its British, American, Canadian, Australian and other versions. The same applies to Spanish, which is spoken, apart from Spain, in vast regions of South America. Given the anarchy let loose on the whole gamut of the language, days may not be far when people in Bangladesh may have to remain content with a pidgin Bangla, distorted and guideless-as seen in the West Indies Federation. The region has pidgin forms of many major languages like English, French, Spanish and others. Few nightmares could be more horrifying if it applies to Bangla. Many at this point might start mulling another Language Movement to ensure that Bangla remains in a uniform shape.

shihabskr@ymail.com  

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