The language divide

The ‘Language Divide’ as a bone of contention from the time India achieved independence and the subsequent need for a national language emerged, saw a new dimension in the address of the Prime Minister on the anniversary of the NEP.

The debate on language divide in India has traditionally focused on the competition for the prime position in language use of Hindi vis-à-vis English. While English has traditionally been the language of elites in India and considered the passport to prosperity, Hindi has slowly and steadily become the language of the power elites. While the elites and the power elites engaged in the politics of language use and provoked users of both these languages to join divisive camps, the tussle over the language supremacy debate seems diffused with the introduction of regional languages as medium of instruction in Higher Education. This provision announced by the Prime Minister on the completion of one year of NEP is indeed a commendable achievement, given that till date no language in the gamut of 100 plus languages spoken in different regions of India aspired for a pan-India position in terms of use or even acceptance.

The NEP in adopting degree programmes and Engineering courses in regional languages such as Bengali, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu could touch the chords of many of the native speakers of these languages. The course curriculum in mother tongue could be the cure for the alienation of people that occurred due to lack of adequate skills in English. Accessibility to English language, and more so, to use of English proficiently was inevitably connected to affluence. Thus, poverty was a major obstacle on the path to learning English and hence success eluded many of the talented natives of India. This provision of education in regional languages could bridge the language divide created by poverty.

However, the fact that only four out of the hundred plus regional languages could take up the challenge of offering courses reiterates the fact that designing the curriculum for these courses in the regional languages of India, is no mean feat. Academic knowledge especially technical knowledge is global in reach and such knowledge is preserved and mostly disseminated in the global language which is English. This globally generated knowledge needs to be translated into regional languages at affordable costs so that it can be accessed by regional language users. The role of the translators in bringing the global to the local and thereby bridging the gap of the language divide, needs to be factored into the equation.

On the other hand, the introduction of play schools where mother tongue is the preferred language needs modest investment in terms of course curriculum. Although there has been concerns on what could be the preferred language for the child, it is worth mentioning that a child has the ability to learn more than one language used in his or her world. Moreover, the divide between learning a language and learning the content of a subject through a language must be taken into consideration.

Research shows that children exposed to more than one language learn different contents in different languages. For example, numbers could be always in English and food could be always I Odia for a child exposed to both English and Odia. Content learning in child’s preferred language is another means to bridge the gap in language divide created through the exposure to many languages.

The most outstanding feature of the NEP anniversary gift was certainly the introduction of Indian Sign Language to the language curriculum for schools. This will help bridge the language divide between those who can use ‘sign only’ and those who can use ‘sign, sound, and symbol’ of language.

Language use entails the synchronization of sound and symbol and anyone who is devoid of learning either sound or symbol or both could use signs only as the language of communication. Language is meant for communication and communication through language is the unique ability of the human species. Communication through language is meant to bring human beings together for a peaceful society. However, language has created the most deplorable divisions in 21 st century India which is home to an incredible number of languages and dialects. Hope the divide created by languages, and of languages, and for languages in a multilingual nation like India gets, at least partially cured, if not completely resolved, through the provisions of use of mother tongue prescribed in the NEP 2020.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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