a year ago

Case for preserving Bangla language purity

A children is browsing books in the Ekushey Book Fair. Learning Bangla correctly becomes a big challenge for the young generation	—UNB Photo
A children is browsing books in the Ekushey Book Fair. Learning Bangla correctly becomes a big challenge for the young generation —UNB Photo

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With the advent of February every year, the Month of Mother-tongues gets off the ground accompanying great fervour interspersed with scores of festivities: those related to books, reading and writing. In Bangla, the occasion is known as Bhashar Maash. It's a month-long unique event. Nowhere in the world so much spontaneous emotion coupled with high spirits are centred round a language, one of the 5th largest spoken ones in the world. Bangladesh leads the Bangla-speaking nations and the communities due its great role in helping Bangla language emerge as its state language. It also played the supreme role in the Historic Language Movement of 1952. Nineteen years later, in 1971, the blood of the language martyrs mixed with that of the Bangladesh Freedom Fighters. It is now acknowledged without an iota of doubt that had there been no Language Movement, Bangladesh might not have seen its birth as an independent nation.

In the month-long celebration of the victory of the Bangla Language, evidently aimed at protecting all the mother-tongues from deleterious influences, educated people are supposed to renew their pledge, the one to uphold the sanctity of their own languages. After all, the Bangladesh Month of Languages and the Language Movement Day is also celebrated as a part of the International Mother Language Day. The proposal for that global day was placed at the UNESCO by some buoyant Bangladesh youths in 1999. Observance of the day came into practice from 2002 after its recognition at the United Nations General Assembly in the same year. Apart from the assimilation of the vast linguistic diversities and attachment of equal importance to all minor and major languages, the occasion had laid a special stress on peace through languages. The Day was declared an occasion to uphold multilingualism amid efforts to save the individual tongues.  In the Bangladesh context, where Bangla is the state language of the country, the emphasis is given to the perfect and pure use of Bangla --- in both written and spoken forms.

When it comes to how it's like listening to the language, the non-Bengalee people in general find Bangla completely different from the European languages. The phoneticians discover in it a musical character not found in other languages. It is not the character of the melodiously soothing one like that found in Thai or Malay. But it is distinctively lyrical, and appears similar to the languages of the South Pacific islands. But it stands out with its staccato beat, like that of the perfect British English and German. Yet its distinctive singsong character doesn't remain hidden from the foreign ears. The spoken Bangla has continued to undergo an evolution since its formative days, when it used to be spoken with an Eastern Prakrit accent. In the later centuries the language kept being enriched with the words & phrases of the languages of the invaders and conquerors, Buddhist preachers and tourists. At the same time, it picked generously the terms, idiom etc from the Persian, Turkish, Pashto, Arabic and some other Asian and a few European languages. The influence of English exerted a dominant role in Bangla's attaining its disciplined and a mature form. Had there been no Bangla grammar book written by the Briton Nathaniel Brassey Halhed (1751-1830), Bangla might not have been a highly disciplined modern language that we find it today. Many later-day linguists argue that under a prolonged influence of the rules made by Sanskrit philologist-scholar Panini in ancient India, the distinct identity of Bangla would remain suppressed for centuries.

The popular saying that Bangla is a direct offspring of Sanskrit would have taken root as an established truth. Perhaps as a historical dictate, the British philologist and grammarian Halhed intervened to play a great role in giving Bangla a separate identity.  Although Bangla had its roots in the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language group, it didn't take time to emerge as a fully formed and complete language. Enriched with such a linguistic evolution and legacy, the future triumphant journey of Bangla was a foregone conclusion.

The star-crossed era of Bangla language began in 1947. Throughout the tortuous course of the 1952 Language Movement in East Bengal under the rule of the state of Pakistan, the killing of students and pedestrians demanding Bangla as the state language of Pakistan, the branching out of popular movements and then demanding autonomy, and finally independence --- all these events had stemmed from the movement for the due status of Bangla. The Language Movement proved to be a fulcrum of all the movements in the 1960s based on the demand for a state taking all its strength from the Bengalee nationalism. Against the adamantly negative stance of the Pakistani rulers on everything associated with Bangla language and the self-ruled Bengalee nation, the war for an independent Bangladesh became inevitable. The great irony is the exclusive place of Bangla among the world's major languages began fading out in the 2/3 decades of Bangladesh independence. Thanks to the freestyle use of wrong Bangla in day-to-day life became the national norm. It seemed since Bangla was the state language of the independent nation of the Bengalees, anybody has the right to write Bangla at his or her own sweet will.

A state of anarchy had engulfed the language, which began its fight for a prestigious place in the world one thousand years ago. In independent Bangladesh, the official order had it that Bangla be used in all sectors of office work, education and business. It was welcomed as a long nurtured dream come true. At the government offices, despite their bouts of grappling with Bangla written expressions and the right terms, the officials accepted the order. After four decades of working in Bangla, instead of the earlier medium of English, the difficulty using the former in office works could be overcome to a great extent. The terms 'nothi' instead of files, 'barshik goponiyo protibedon' instead of annual confidential report, 'mukkho shochib' instead of chief secretary etc have become quite common in the office parlance. These are indeed laudatory initiatives.

But coming to Bangla spelling, what's going on in the name of uniform or 'promito banan'? Seeing the weird looks of the Bangla words written in these new styles of spelling, many readers feel like being thrown into the challenge of deciphering their meanings. The school-going students are the worst sufferers. In school-level textbooks, all 'dirgho-ikar' signs have been replaced with those of 'hroshho-ikar'. Thus while writing on exam scripts during examinations, students have to go through agonising moments. How will they write 'pori' (fairy), 'tori' (boat), 'tir' (arrow) etc? If a student writes in the age-old spellings, he or she will lose marks. It's a great dilemma for the students. The anarchic situations like these have lately been gagging the normal and spontaneous growth of the Bangla language in Bangladesh. The Bangla-lovers are unanimous on the point that the 1952 Language Movement was waged to ease communication between people, not to complicate it. At this age of its glory, the Bangla language's pure lovers are suspicious about these so-called spelling and other reforms being made to Bangla. The linguistic confusions keep deepening to the befuddlement of the ordinary educated people and, of course, students.        


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