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Tuesday, July 31, 2001

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Regional language flavour


PANDIT JAWAHARLAL Nehru wanted the three-language formula to be implemented. This was a pragmatic suggestion and one which would have contributed to the united linguistic states of our country to slowly fuse into an integrated India. Language is the means of communication and one would feel alienated from people if this link is not there. As in most cases, after interminable debates, all good intentions remain etched in thoughts, files and books, for, what is woefully lacking in our country is the will to implement.

In the article, "A matter of mind-set'' (Metroplus, June 14), Gowri Ramnarayan laments over the "mind-boggling variety of Taminglish'' that is relentlessly seeping into the spoken and written sentences in Tamil Nadu. This is true only in the upper echelons of the urbanites and perhaps as good as asserting the prevalence of vegetarianism in India! Those who want to justify this eclectic trend will point to the increasing number of Tamil words in the English lexicons of today. One can also cite the example of authors like Salman Rushdie whose Mumbai origin makes him use Hindi words liberally in his writings. It is not uncommon to find Indian writers in English like Mulk Raj Anand also indulging in flavouring their writing with idiomatic usage of choice vernacular phrases. Thus, this is an inevitable trend. The classics of the bygone eras also may not interest the youth of today and it wouldn't be a shock if some of our politicians happily ban Shakespeare and Milton from the syllabi. Reading rooms and reading habits are fast giving way to computer corners and internet browsing centres. Vernacular usages will find their rightful place in websites, sooner than later.

We are more than used to the fact of tiny tots going to English medium schools, merrily singing nursery rhymes of bygone days, and being taught `A for Apple'.{hellip} They are capable of speaking `Tinglish' (or, `Taminglish') at home, but are all at sea when Tamil characters appear anywhere. A native unable to comprehend even the alphabet of his region is something which has to be seriously taken note of by parents and educationists, who should initiate debates and urge for reforms until a formula that is satisfactory emerges to suit this multi-lingual country of ours.

The 10+2 schooling system that we follow divides the schooling period into three phases: the elementary (pre-school to IV Std.), middle or high (V to X Std.) and the Higher Secondary (plus +2) levels. It is well-known that the linguistic skills are the ones which develop early in the human brain and are easily assimilated by children till they enter their teens. Analytical skills develop gradually from then on. Taking advantage of this universal feature, the child may be given an opportunity to learn in his mother tongue, or if the medium of instruction is not the mother tongue, then the student should at least learn the language as a subject in the elementary school level. It should be obligatory for the school to offer the regional language or the mother tongue as a subject, if a stipulated minimum of students enrol in school. At the middle or high school level, the child should be encouraged to switch to a different language, other than his mother tongue. If a language is a subject in the Higher Secondary School level, then again the student may be given the option to choose yet another language, other than the languages learned in the previous two levels.

This is what is called as a "Tinglish'' formula for a student of Tamil Nadu: if the medium of instruction is English, then the student can learn Tamil at the pre-school and elementary school level; choose to continue with Tamil or change to Hindi in the middle or high school level and if required learn another language in the higher secondary school level (which could even be a foreign language like Latin/Greek for the biology group students and a European language or another State language). This "Tinglish'' formula, if found acceptable, will enable the students to be literate in the regional language (Tamil in Tamil Nadu); English/Hindi as the medium/second language and, at best, a third language too in the higher secondary school level.

A survey must be undertaken to study to what extent the highly laudable move of the Tamil Nadu Government's "Thirukkural'' popularisation in public transport buses has benefited the public (as it did to the writer of this article). It is possible that such a study may result in steps being taken to spread the heritage writings of the regions in buses/trains and shelters/hoardings and students with "Tinglish'' backgrounds will not miss out on the messages of wisdom from sages like Thiruvalluvar.

K. SRINIVASA RAO

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