Friday, April 13, 2018

Language, an emotional connect

A newborn needs no language to communicate. Her language is the body language. Slowly, she picks up the language her parents speak. When she is in school, she learns more languages. In the company of friends and colleagues, later in life, she might pick up more languages.

But all people are not adept in learning languages: some pick them up very fast, others take a long time, a few simply are unable to learn a new language even after many years. Some people are forced to learn new languages because of compulsion of the new State or country they have moved in to.

In most non-English-speaking European nations, you need to know their national language to study or work. In some countries, people are so attached to their language, they will talk only in that, irrespective of whether you know or not.

Language is elementary to communication, and therefore, to making an emotional connect. No wonder politicians and sales executives try to speak in the vernacular to sound more convincing and make an impact.

As much as emotionally binding, languages can also be emotionally divisive. When two people speak in a language that you can't understand, you feel left out. If you are a bit insecure, you might even think that they are talking about you. Some people see political agendas and hegemonic biases in a particular language.

I am not sure about other countries, but in India, languages is an explosive topic, like religion, unless handled carefully. Ironically, in the South, our own Hindi is a more divisive language than the foreign English. Similarly, in the North, our own local south Indian languages can be a put-off to many people, compared to English.

So, English is seen more as a link language, and generally more acceptable compared to our Indian languages. But some people see English as the language of the elite, and make every effort to dissuade other people from learning it, though they themselves will learn and ensure that their children too learn it.

A few months ago, in Bengaluru, the Metro Rail authorities were forced to remove Hindi signage from stations and drop Hindi announcements, since local Kannada activists saw Hindi signage as a symbol of the Federal government's authority in the State. (India's capital, New Delhi, is in the North where Hindi is the commonly used language.)

Language is just a tool to communicate. One shouldn't see anything more than that in it. You learn languages when you need to use them, unless you have a passion to learn them. Languages should be there for our convenience and comfort. More the better.

By the way, in a testimony to the diversity of our country, we don't have a national language. We have two official national languages - Hindi and English; and each State has its own official language or languages, which may or may not include Hindi and English.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018.")


  1. Have you seen the Tamil movie mozhi? There a mute Jyotika says a dialogue in sign language ..." I don't know any language like French German or Tamil. But there is a language that I know but others don't. .silence "

    1. No, I haven't see that movie, Jaish. That's a good point you mentioned.

  2. Language is a very emotional topic. Politicians took advantage of this, especially in Tamil Nadu. One political party came to power on anti Hindi slogan. That party made sure a whole generation of people don’t learn Hindi. But when that party leader got a cabinet minister job for his nephew and was asked his nephew’s qualification, he said his nephew can speak Hindi fluently.

    It is interesting USA has no national or official language in its Constitution. With the way Spanish speaking population is increasing in USA, Spanish will become the official language within 35 years. Already all public signs, election ballots, Department of Motor Vehicle tests papers are in Spanish also. I recommend young kids to learn Spanish if they want to do business with USA when they grow up.

    1. That's quite a detailed write-up, SG. Thanks a lot.

  3. Such a balanced approach to an unnecessarily loaded subject. One would think with improved access to electronic translator the emotional aspect of this issue would decrease but it seems to only get more charged up.

    1. Yes, Kanika, language can be a unifying or divisive factor. Thanks for dropping by.