Sunday, November 26
Language Digest - The idea
Human Languages play a role so basic in our lives that most of the time we fail to even notice it. The only other thing of comparable importance might be economy, not the stock market and big corporations, but our personal financial state and activities. Together these two cover a vast spectrum of issues.
On one hand stands linguistics, a scientific study of human languages, trying to under stand the current state of languages, how does human mind handle them, how do they develop and evolve and affect each other. Then we have the whole field of literature having authors, prose, poetry, translations, publishing. And then there are political issues, as Max WeinReich put it,
Languages play an important role in defining today's nation states. They both unite and divide people like few other things. The catch the fancy of people like little else, just lookout for number of people lamenting death of Hindi and other vernacular languages at the hands of English. The linguistic movements in the southern India have played the decisive role in defining the political face of the area.
And not to forget their social aspects. Specially in India where languages associate with social status. A lot of prosperity coming to the Indian middle class in last 10-15 years has been by virtue of their familiarity with English. Simultaneously, it has been a bottleneck for the dreams of millions of people who don't have facilities to learn the language.
And the big question of language preservation. Should it be done? Is it only natural that language fall out of use as has been happening through out human history or are we witnessing some extraordinary epidemic where almost 90% of the existing 6100 languages of the world face extinction by the end of next century? In the times of globalization, how do we achieve the balance between the needs of global communication and preservation of diverse cultural identities because languages form the most important component of cultural identities?
In the light of the above, it seems surprising how little coverage the linguistic issues get in the mainstream media. Not only that but the kind of ignorance and myths that abound about all aspects of languages in common discourse is astonishing. Specially in India a country full of so much linguistic diversity, we need to do better. We need to give more attention to our linguistic treasures than treating it as a mere curious fact ("You know we have 22 official and 600 overall languages !!"). A lot of that diversity is slipping away from our hands right as we showcase it to the world. And most of all, we have to understand how to handle and leverage our linguistic wealth for the welfare of the masses and building of a better country.
As a small step towards that, I will attempt to collect and post on this blog, language related news and views from Indian subcontinent, published in mainstream media. It will start as a digest of links at periodic intervals as of now and will only contain stories from news sources. Later on, I may include blogs and other sources also.
The hope is to make that news more visible. Contributions are welcome and can be left as comments at the moment.
With due acknowledgment to Language Log, Slashdot and Google News.