Language and Culture


Indian Bloggers

 

When I first came to US and made friends with Indians from different states, what struck me was that they all knew Hindi. Whether a person was from Gujarat, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, or any other state, they could understand Hindi and their own native language well. I was probably the only exception, coming from Haryana. I knew just two languages – Hindi and English. So, when my friends would try to explain some native word to me, it would often happen that the true meaning was lost in translation. Because for some words, there was no exact equivalent in Hindi or English. I would often muse on the nature of language – it was a window to that world in which it was spoken. It was a reflection of the culture to which it belonged. And a knowledge of a different language meant that you became more familiar with its culture too. Most of the people make efforts to teach their kids their native language here. And interestingly, the Gujarati community is so widespread and present here, that many websites (school/business) have options to translate their page in English, Spanish or Gujarati. Isn’t it amazing?!!!

Hindi is the official language of India but is not the national language. The primary reason for that is the presence of a multiple of other languages in India. Imposition of one language over the other is not a fair thing especially when all other languages are part of our nation too. Monopoly of one language can ruin the diversity that our nation advocates. It would be akin to making the rainbow only one color, and thereby destroying its very identity.

I agree that to understand one’s culture and traditions, language is the key player. To be able to communicate in one’s mother tongue, to be able to understand and exchange thoughts and ideas through the language of our ancestors is a sign that we are carrying forward the legacy bestowed to us. It is good to know your roots. And that is the reason I insist that my kids learn Hindi. But that’s because Hindi is my mother-tongue. My friends teach their kids the language they speak, because that is part of their tradition, their culture. To say that they don’t speak Hindi and are therefore in some way neglecting our Indian culture would be wrong. All languages have their own place and significance in the history and culture of our country. Together they define what India is. Hindi as well as non-Hindi speakers have a place of equal importance and an over-emphasis on one can be detrimental to the very essence of the others. So for me, a healthy interchange of ideas, a harmonious unison of cultures and traditions that define us is a must. No monopolization or tyranny of just one language – I stand for diversity. People in power often misuse things in the name of culture when they accuse innocent people of neglecting or slighting traditions. What they are doing in effect is creating a wall that will isolate, that will segregate, that will exclude. For any culture to progress, exclusion is not the key.

प्रान्त अलग

भाषाएँ अनगिनत

अपनी भाषा तुम पर क्यों थोपूं

चलो विचार कुछ ऐसे रखें

तुम सीखो कुछ

मैं सीखूँ कुछ

अस्तित्त्व तुम्हारा कभी न बिगड़े

और मेरी भी पहचान न बदले

रंग भरें तस्वीर में ऐसे

जैसे नील गगन में सजता

सतरंगी वो इंद्रधनुष

प्रगति होगी तभी मित्र

जब जड़ें उखाड़ें नहीं किसी की

और नींव को अपनी दृढ़ रखें

तुम सीखो कुछ

मैं सीखूँ कुछ

भाषाएँ संवाद करें

स्वर-संगत संगीत सजे

 

Written for IndiSpire Edition 159

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34 thoughts on “Language and Culture

  1. आपके विचार अत्यंत रोचक एवं विचारणीय हैं , आपका आभार व्यक्त करता हूँ। “एकलव्य”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Unfortunately exclusion has become the norm in India today. There’s a lot of uncertainty and unrest which can become volatile unless the govt takes action against hatemongers. Language is being misused even by the top people!

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  3. I agree with you so much. There had been moves before to make Hindi, the national language, but such a move would be so wrong and would hurt the sentiments of the states where Hindi is taught as second language alone. It is not wasy to learn a new language and there are few who woul learn it for fun. To learn English is a burden enough for the people in most parts of our country.

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  4. In the United States, immigration has become a hot topic, along with calls to make English our official language. Although many Americans do not realize this, we do not have a national language. I think immigration enriches us, as does diversity. I also wanted to let you know, as someone who only speaks English, I can be ashamed of only speaking one language. I tried to get a translation of your Hindi poem and you may be amused at what I received. Let me post some of it: I got the meaning, I think, but it definitely lost something in translation.

    Different provinces

    Many Languages

    Why you Thopun your language

    Let’s put some thoughts

    You learn something

    I’ll Sikuँ

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks you so much for taking the time to translate the poem – yes, it is not done well at all….Loosely translated, it stresses on an interchange of ideas where we will mutually learn each other’s language and our identities, while remaining intact will be enriched. Progress happens when we focus not on uprooting others but when we strengthen our own foundation. Let languages talk to each other so that they create a music of their own, so that our canvas becomes as colorful as the rainbow in the blue sky,

      What is happening in US is unfortunate and I just hope that more and more people realize the folly of it all. US is a place where so many cultures, so many languages mingle. How can we even thing of separating them?….

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This used to be the state when I was doing my PG. Almost everyone around me who came from other parts of the country knew at least three languages. Their regional language and English and Hindi. And I, like you, only knew 2, coming from North!

    Language sure tells you a lot about the culture and things that are followed 🙂

    Cheers
    Geets

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I am of two minds on this, and politics doesn’t make it easier: I think that having one language everyone can communicate in would be ideal (and please, let it not be one as difficult as Chinese or Finnish – beautiful languages that are exceedingly challenging). English is almost that universal language now, being used so extensively in science and technology. If it were more politically palatable than English, I’d vote for any of the Romance languages – they’re all comparatively easy and well-structured. That said, I would never, ever suggest that there is no value in learning the languages of our roots, or in the beautify of the diversity they represent. I think it’s a shame we don’t spend more time learning other languages here in the US. I applaud efforts to keep native American (including Hawaiian) languages alive through passing them on to the next generation. Languages can both facilitate and hinder communication between people, and we should always strive towards BETTER understanding, not less.

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    • I understand your point well Holly. One language, and most would upvote English, I know, does held bring people closer. And when we remember, when we pass on our own traditions, we take a step in strengthening our roots too. Thank you so much for visiting my blog and for leaving your valuable feedback.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes! The first time I heard a proposal for a global language being English, it was from a Romanian man! The suggestion is simply a practical one. But my concern was, and still is, that we ought to all learn at LEAST one second language, should that ever come to pass – one that strengthens our understanding of our own history, or deepens our appreciation for other cultures, or both. We kind of do it backwards, today – instead of having a global language as a FIRST language, to facilitate communication and understanding, we sort of randomly learn a second language, maybe, if it’s required. I’m lucky – most of the rest of the world has to learn English as that second language, while I grew up with it as my first. I’d play fair, in the name of worldwide peace and understanding (please God not Chinese but only because I’m really, really, really BAD at it…) That said, other languages should not be subsumed or forgotten or neglected. Even Latin – once the vibrant and dominant language of a people who ruled most of the known world – is now considered a “dead” language. On the other hand, I love that there are people keeping the Hawaiian language alive; it’s pool of native speakers has never been large, but it’s a gorgeous language and gives insight into the thinking of the Hawaiian people. Languages can unite or divide or enrich us – and I’d be all for uniting AND enriching. Not dividing.

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      • Yes, English works for all practical reasons. And yes, other languages should be promoted too. It is good when cultures keep their practices intact, and pass on their languages from one generation to another so that they live for a long time. If that is not done, they are eventually going to die…..And with that the richness of the culture, that in untranslatable will die too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t know if you’re aware of past attempts to “create” a global language to sidestep the “political” arguments against it, and to level the playing field (all would share in the difficulty of learning a new language). Too bad Esperanto never took off, and is as much a curiosity as anything, today. Or maybe it’s not “too bad.” For example:

        Jen specimeno alineo de Esperanta tradukita al Esperanto. Eble estas ĵeton funkciadon rilate al la lingvo havas pli fluaj parolantoj: latina aŭ Esperanto. A kreita lingvo mankas la kompreno de la kulturo kiu donis naskiĝon, mi pensas, ke eble estas ŝlosilo al kial ĝi neniam gajnis popularecon.

        Google Translate does have a few interesting options.

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      • And it’s work to keep multiple languages, cultures, and diversity alive (let alone to encourage them to thrive). It shouldn’t feel like a competition for survival; I think the only way we can make it happen is through appreciation and love of other cultures (hard to do when people fear them or fear change).

        It makes me a bit sad to travel and see American fast food chains popping up everywhere like some insidious fungus. I mean, there’s much to be said for the ubiquitous McDonald’s if you’re American and traveling with small children, and it probably seems novel and foreign and cool to folks who’ve never traveled TO the US – but there is something lost in the sameness of the big chains even here, from state to state. I’d much rather sample regional cooking and hear the way they speak and glimpse their world through their eyes, but a common language makes it easier to order from the menu and get directions to the next place. 😀

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  7. Let’s face it , Hindi is the defacto National language. I speak Marathi because I grew up in Mumbai, Gujarati because I am Gujarati and Hindi because it is the defacto National language and compulsory in schools. I think languages unite and I am all for a National language. I’m glad I speak hindi as I can converse with the many diverse Indians I meet here in NZ and it feels good.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting post…I must admit I’ve only known English and broken Hindi (Hinglish as it was known in Bombay) and could understand a bit of Tamil but couldn’t really speak. While the variety of languages is good, I still think there needs to be one universal language for us all to communicate. Hopefully it continues to be English because I’m too old to learn another language! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Because we know it, so we want it….it is the easier way for us…..But it may not be for others. Hindi advocates would condemn you for not speaking Hindi and you might be considered ‘un-patriotic’….:) – and that is a pity….Each language has its own beauty. My kids are struggling with HIndi here in US but I am only speaking Hindi at home so that they can understand. My friends speak their native languages at home for precisely the same reason.

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  9. I see many of my friends here too sending their kids to native language classes… As you said, they want their kids to be connected with the culture and language of their ancestors and also so that they can talk with their grandparents. Which I believe is a good thing. Else, the beauty of languages and literature might one day get lost in translation. But the way it’s misused by politicians to incite hatred among people is appaling.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I could connect with the words- “I would often muse on the nature of language – it was a window to that world in which it was spoken. It was a reflection of the culture to which it belonged. And a knowledge of a different language meant that you became more familiar with its culture too.”… I love to learn different languages.. and know their untranslatable words… love the post…

    Liked by 1 person

      • Hi again… I am an amateur . Well .. beginner in south Korean language… Most of it is from watching a lot of sitcoms… And then I tried self learning Spanish in college in Duolingo website… It was fun… The song “Bienvenuto” is still one of my favourites… And then I like reading about words and meanings in different languages… It interests me a lot… So not yet a professional in any other language..

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  11. Very well expressed Sunaina. Languages come during evolution of mankind, so they shouldn’t be barriers among humans. The diplomatic and political issues that differentiate people on the basis of languages in a multilingual country is surely saddening. Loved the post and the Hindi poem is so
    beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

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