The Financial Express

Compelling dialogue with history

Compelling dialogue with history

Nations the world over have days of their own to hold dialogues with history. This nation also shares the proud legacy of the same. But the Bangalees stand out on its own for engaging in a dialogue with chronicle in a unique way. Few nations indeed have the distinction of transcending the national boundary to reach out to the global parameter for the dialogue to turn into a discourse for discovering identities of human races on a linguistic basis. To its credit this nation has accomplished this extraordinary feat by dint of its unalloyed love for language.

Ekushey February, 1952 has entered into collective consciousness of not only the Bangalee nation but also of other peoples everywhere on this planet. Even the uninitiated peoples have suddenly confronted a question if they have done enough for their own languages in a world of language hegemony. Whether each people are ready to commit the deepest love and burning fervour to the cause of elevating its mother tongue to an enviably esteemed place is however a different proposition! But this nation has presented before everyone an occasion for confronting the basic question of prosperity of languages in diversity.

"The International Congress of Languages at Risk" held at Mexico city in late February, 2020 ---only days before the coronavirus pandemic started to spread globally ---was only a preparatory step towards holding the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)-sponsored high-level event, "Making a Decade of Action for Indigenous Languages". Before this the 2019 was marked as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Yet all such efforts prove too little too late to save endangered languages. Eminent linguists warn that half of the languages in the world may disappear by the end of this century. The rate of language extinction has doubled over the past few years. Why? Despite so many high-profile international conventions and events, why should languages die out, particularly when the death of a language takes away with it the stream of primitive knowledge, customs and traditions which together enrich the basket of human wisdom? One reason may be the modern gadgets, more particularly the dominance of a few languages on internet and social sites. 

Of the approximately 7,000 languages, 4,000 are spoken by just two per cent of the world population. No less than 40 per cent of the population on this planet speak only eight languages. These most spoken languages with a tiny percentage of 0.01 of the total languages, dominate day-to-day communication, education, international transactions and of course media and online publications. Of the 7,000 languages, merely 10 represent more than 80 per cent linguistic presence. Of the 10, English and Chinese ---the two most dominant languages ---are used by half of the world's internet users. The overwhelming majority of languages are either struggling to remain the lingua franca in the instant communication media and on portals or are simply left out. 

European settlers during their establishment of colonies exterminated indigenous people in many parts of the world. One example is the total obliteration of the Tasmanian population and along with it their language. Apart from genocide, the subtler way of introducing languages of the ruling people has been mostly responsible for disappearance of some languages or a lack of development of others. Even this happened in many parts of the world when the dominant classes have imposed their language on the weaker races or communities within the national boundaries. In absence of policy support, languages of the weaker communities, ethnic or indigenous people could not flourish but withered.

Against this perspective, where does Bangla stand now that the hegemony of eight to 10 languages on the internet has more or less established? The technological advantage makes even the fiercest patriots and people dedicated to mother tongue less aware of the danger posed by the global language predatoriness. The majority, however, are content to use one of the internationally dominant languages. They learn those languages out of necessity, no doubt, but little aware that they are surrendering their skills they would have developed if they could use their mother tongue.

Convenience in terms of textbooks at the level of higher education has pushed students to acquire a foreign language even in this country that prides itself on sacrificing lives for the mother tongue. Now convenience in communication on internet and social sites will make the matter worse unless the necessary update matching the technological advancement is brought about.

Already the process of unlearning has set in. Students are no longer avid readers of books outside of their syllabus. The enduring bond between creative writers and readers that once existed is fast eroding. And literature alone cannot help sustain the unfolding of minds in diverse fields of human creativity. A people's lore, fairy tales, customs and tradition, festivals, modes of rural entertainment, art and culture, painting, songs and music, dance, drama, cinema, pantomime and even wall graffiti make a complete statement. The Japanese are technologically highly advanced and yet attach enormous value to their traditional customs and festivities. The important thing is to remain faithful to one's own root and the rest follows as natural achievements. So, Ekushey provides the nation with the best occasion for a more intense and compelling dialogue with history.


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