By ROLI S
Language is the most important tool of communication invented by human civilisation. Language helps us to communicate by sharing our thoughts and in understanding others. It’s hard to put an estimate on the importance of language in our lives, “Because without our language, we will lose ourselves. Who are we without our words?”Every time we speak, we do it with a particular purpose. Sometimes we want to deliver a message or express our feelings. We use language to ask for help, or just to crack a joke. The functions of language are many, such as informational function, aesthetic function, expressive, phatic, and directive functions. And the nature of language is determined by a number of factors, such as a social background, attitudes and origin of people. Language is always related to the situation it is used within. Every person has a certain social background, and this is what determines one’s language. Nelson Mandela once said, ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’ He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else’s language, even if it’s just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, ‘I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being.” These are the sentiments that most human beings endorse. All over the world, people try to learn a few phrases from different languages whenever they come in contact with another social group speaking a language that they do not understand. From the moment a child is born he/she feels the need to communicate and for this he/she learns the mother tongue. The use and learning of any language or mother tongue first begins out of the unavoidable need to communicate and get things done as well, as to make another person understand your needs and wants. I travel across the world and for me, personally, language is a ‘tool‘ and a ‘means’ to communicate with people, read signs and boards and move around a new country without much difficulty. I must confess, on many occasions while travelling, I have cursed myself for not knowing any other language than Hindi and English! In my own country I feel very much at an advantage because of the utility and function that these two languages, Hindi and English, carry here. A vast number of people who live here speak or understand either of the two languages, needless to say more people understand Hindi, than they do English. I think that a language is respected and accepted in today’s fast paced world because of its utility and value. Nobody has time to learn many languages just to please people and move hearts. If your work is done using a language, then you must learn that language else you will find it difficult to get jobs, make friends, move around and communicate. Language is also an anonymous, collective and unconscious art; the result of the creativity of thousands of generations. There is no wonder that it generates sentiments and fear among people – fear of losing their language, losing their culture, poems, stories, etc., but to these sceptics and fear mongers I can only say that they are at the threshold of human history where many advanced technologies are available for people to preserve and spread the love for their language. Personally, I know families who have settled abroad for decades and still speak Indian languages. The love for the Indian language has not diminished, but the respect for the foreign language that gives them jobs, shelter and a better life remains intact. If tomorrow, I happen to get an attractive project to write on in France or in Germany, I would lament that I did not learn French or German when it was offered to me in my school! Instead, I went for ‘Sanskrit’, a language I respected at that time. The more a language is communicated, the more friendly it becomes, because a shared language says, “we are the same,” and a language barrier gives the message, “we are different”. Thus, Hindi is a shared language in India that has words from many other associated languages such as Rajasthani, Awadhi, Braj, Maithili, Bhojpuri, Hariyanavi, etc. Linguistic research conducted a few years ago by Jayanti Prasad Nautiyal, Deputy General Manager, Corporation Bank, suggested that Hindi is quickly taking over from Mandarin and is fast becoming the most spoken language globally. Hindi has gained its popularity due to cinema and electronic media and today stands one of the most favoured languages in the advertising world in the electronic media. It is very easy to understand and grasp Hindi because of its easy availability and vast reach. So, however, much I bemoan my lack of knowledge about many languages, but the knowledge of Hindi and English empowers me to quite an extent! When I look around and see many of my friends who know an extra language, say Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi, Kannada, Telegu or Tamil, I really envy them, but I realise that I never felt the need to learn a third language extensively, besides few a friendly phrases, in my country even though I have lived in the east, west, south and north during the course of work. This reinforces my belief that a language today is as powerful as its need, functionality and utility. Till now I have harped upon the usefulness of a language, but Jiddu Krishnamurthy negates all my knowledge when he says that words are not important. He says that when we look at a tree and say, `That is an oak tree’, or `that is a banyan tree’, the naming of the tree, which is botanical knowledge, the word comes between us and actually seeing the tree! To come in contact with the tree we must put our hand on it because the word will not help us to touch a tree! In our world of reasoning and contradiction, there will always be people fighting for a cause, where practicality takes a back seat and sentiments take over! Talking about practicality, I can vouch for the ’sign language’ that has saved me on many occasions when no other language came to my help, during my travels across the world. More and more businesses work closely in the domestic and international markets; more and more people are travelling within the country and abroad, more and more people are migrating within the country and internationally – if you know the languages that help you in these endeavours you’ll have a real advantage. Language is chosen in today’s world for its advantages and profitability. Period.
(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Mumbai)