|Warning Signs Of Extinction|
An Extinct Language
After digging up some archeological ruins, some strange scripts [shown in the figures] were discovered. In an unrelated discovery, playback of some tapes recovered from old FM radio stations showed that words from a strange language used occasionally. After further research, scientists could map the ancient script to this language. Scientists then traced the language down to what people in Karnataka used to speak a long time ago!
More and more people speak English than Kannada in Karnataka, and hence English is so much more convenient. And after all English is indeed a link language in the entire international community which allows us access to a wealth of knowledge. Speaking brutally honestly, we have enough problems in our day to day life, why should we care about some ideological sentiments about saving our own language? Aren’t there other people having more free time on their hands who are already doing that?
The hard fact is that a language gives one a sense of IDENTITY, just like one's religion or nationality. E.g. when I visited the Taj Mahal... I could hear people all around me speaking all kinds of languages... Hindi, Tamil, Telegu, Bengali and Malayalam were those I could recognize. It was a beautiful display of national integration, so many people from all over India coming to visit this magnificent structure common to all. As I strolled around, I was delighted to hear a group talking in Kannada... I felt really happy and went and chatted with them. Funny thing is that was the only way I could recognize that they too were from the same place as me. This sense of identity is even more important outside India. One day, in a train in Germany (where its often hard to find someone who knows even English!), somebody approached me and my friends when we were talking in Kannada and asked "bengluurindha bandhidhira?" (Are you from Bangalore?). After many months in a foreign country, it was great to meet someone from close to home.
Evidence of extinction
The introductory story was of course an exaggeration, but here are some observations which depict the true gravity of the situation.
- company names and signboards - have you seen any new establishment name or signboard in Kannada? Any new company that comes up now will never think of having a Kannada name. A rare exception is HaLLi Mane started in Malleswaram.
- government web sites - the government has done an excellent job in e-enabling all the government web sites. That’s good progress, but at a cost. Have you noticed how few of these web sites have a Kannada interface at all?
- schools - a great number of schools do not make Kannada mandatory at all
- fm radio stations - We have three music FM radio channels in Bangalore. We have to thank FM 91 for making the radio popular. Yet we hear mostly English on it, something I feel that would be unheard of in any other state in India. Even on FM Rainbow, I heard somebody who had dialed in pleading that the programs continue to be conducted in Kannada and not be replaced by English radio jockeys.
- conversation even when rarely started in Kannada changes to English. Sometimes some Kannada words here and there are only a pathetic excuse that the conversation is still going on in Kannada. There are some people who act as if they do not know Kannada at all even though it’s their mother tongue.
- books in Kannada are something to be really searched for, inspite of Bangalore having many huge book stalls such as Strand and Gangarams.
In a cosmopolitan city like Bangalore, English is an
irreplaceable value addition, but has gone on to become a
substitution. However I would say condemning English or any other language
in the name of Kannada is hypocrisy. It would be an extreme and
impractical measure to think of replacing English completely with Kannada, we
have to take a more balanced approach with the convenience of non-Kannadigas in
I studied in a convent school since they are supposed to provide high quality education. Luckily it was converted to a girl’s school, and I got chucked out in the third standard, and joined a government school. Had I continued there, I would have had no exposure at all to Kannada poets like Da. Ra. Bendre, Kuvempu, Kailasam, etc. and no knowledge of Karnataka's history.
I recently went to an Elder's Day Care Center, a very nice place for elderly people. I had heard that they conduct fortnightly cultural events and get togethers for aged people. My grandmother had been complaining of getting bored sitting at home, so I wanted to enquire about whether it would be nice if she could spend a day there occasionally. I spoke to the manager there, and she told me about the various noble undertakings of the organization. Then she asked if my grandmother knew English. I said yes, she can understand, but not speak in English. She surprised me by saying "all the old people who come here are very maardern, and all the programs are in English". I did not know what to say. Here I was, a whole generation ahead of her, a specialist in the newly evolving software industry... and I was speaking in Kannada. And this lady here was claiming to be more "maardern" than me! But I did not start a debate about it, since I did not want to be distracted from the main purpose of my visit. However it certainly gave me food for thought.
Another relatively more valid reason is that it is quite hard to express advanced thoughts in Kannada. Notice any learned person such as a doctor or engineer speaking about some technical topic in Kannada. He makes an attempt and then gradually more and more English starts slipping in. Finally he uses only a few Kannada words here and there and speaks mostly in English. The reason for this is that the language has to evolve along with all other aspects of society. And if the usage of the language itself is less, there is no chance for it to evolve!! If it does not evolve, it will end up becoming more of drudgery for well educated people, struggling hard to express their thoughts in Kannada merely out of obligation to the language. In that case it is only a matter of time before they end up giving up and reverting to the more convenient alternative, i.e. English. There should be some organization (Kannada Sahitya Parishad?) which continuously coins new words and phrases as per the dynamics of modern society, and adds it to the dictionary, and then publishes it regularly. This may look tough but it is far from impossible. Look at an advanced country like Germany. Though they lead the world in a lot of research and technology, they still have masters and post graduate courses in German.
[I was informed that this is really not a limitation of the language itself but of my knowledge of the language. This kind of an exercise has been done already, e.g. Dr. Shivarama Karantha worked and brought out volumes of English to Kannada dictionaries in 1950s itself to help students pursuing higher technical studies in Kannada. Sahitya Parishad has also made several attempts to help reduce English usage in government offices by publishing English-Kannada handbooks. But due to government’s negligence and officials’ indifference all these attempts have gone waste. But let us not start blaming each other, that is a waste of time which will end up in just pointing a finger at someone else and forgetting about it.]
The basic attitude towards the language has to change. It is considered as a language spoken until we discover that the person knows English. It should be the language of choice, we should understand and internalize within ourselves that it is the language for "high-class aristocrats" as much as it is for the common man. We can see that when two Kannadigas meet for the first time, they start talking in English, and often the conversation continues for a long time in English. Eventually it may happen that they never get to know that the other person knew Kannada at all. Why is it in our character to always talk to well dressed aristocratic people first in English?
After some introspection, I concluded that this reason comes from our past generation. Around a decade ago, people used to regard with awe any person who speaks in English. Knowledge of English was an indication that the person was well educated. As far as he/she was concerned, the natural tendency of any well educated person is to try to gain respect from the society, the easiest means of showing he was well educated or was in a high position was by speaking in English! Look no further than many old Kannada movies, where a sophisticated character like an inspector or a doctor usually uses more English than Kannada.
I would not like to judge whether that was correct or wrong. But now, in the current times, we need to realize that we have advanced a lot more in our thinking. One example is that Bangalore has become one of the IT hubs of the world. We should know that character is the true indication of education, not the language. I would say that dependence on English to gain respect only shows weakness in character, a sign of insecurity that the person is not really proud to be a Kannadiga! We must share the vision of India being a developed nation represented by each of her languages, where English is a value addition to open out to the global community.
It is quite easy to forget about all this and get on with life as if none of this matters at all. Its a little more tough to live believing in the value in protecting one's culture and identity which has been handed down to us from the past generations. I do not believe in forming organizations and making a hue and cry for a week and forgetting about it. I believe more in a quiet private revolution, and that the only change required is internal. For the past one year, I have been taking the following measures to improve my Kannada. There is no point in taking drastic resolutions that I will speak only in Kannada in all situations. Change should be gradual and natural - only this can relentlessly sustained. It should never be forced merely due to a feeling of obligation. A little bit of discomfort may be inevitable in the initial stages, but soon it will become a habit pattern just as speaking in English has been so all these days.
Use it in your daily conversation. Once you are observant of what you say, you will notice as a typical Bangalorean like me, that you can only speak adulterated Kannada. A good policy is to speak in pure English while speaking in English, and pure Kannada while speaking in Kannada. Use of adulterated language is doing injustice to both Kannada as well as English. There are so many common English words for which you will not know the Kannada equivalents at all! If I take my own example, I would need a lot more time if I were to write this very essay in Kannada. (I am saying “you” only for convenience, it applies to me also). It is necessary to frequently update your vocabulary by some means, e.g. making a note of some words and at the end of every day, look up those words using an English to Kannada dictionary and remember to use them next time. Alternatively, do not hesitate to take the help of your more friends more adept in the language, asking them for “the right word” (while speaking or writing) or of meanings of difficult words (while reading or listening). One thing is it may at first seem awkward to speak in pure Kannada. Once we patiently and persistently free ourselves from our own social conditioning, surely a day will come when it will be seen as awkward to speak in an adulterated language.
Another aspect is that when there are a group of people, and a few are non-Kannadigas, then it is considered as bad etiquette to speak in a language that they all do not understand. If you look at the root of this opinion, it comes from the West. In the West, people feel highly intimidated if somebody is speaking in a foreign language, because they speculate that the person is speaking something against them. So this is quite valid under many circumstances when you don’t know the other person well. But when the others are your known friends, who trust you that you are not taking undue advantage of their lack of knowledge of the language, and you know that they are not feeling terribly left out, then you should not hesitate to speak in Kannada. This should be entirely dependent on the situation; it should not become a blind rule to speak either only in Kannada or only in a common language all the time.
Encourage others to speak in the language, but be sure to never carry it beyond a point where they are not comfortable. Leave it entirely to their interest. An extremely important point is that when they try to learn, do not laugh at their attempts and ask them to stop saying that they are killing the language. This is a common and grave mistake committed by many Kannadigas.
Read a Kannada novel. There are some excellent literary gems available if you look for it, many of them have won national acclaim. Start with a simple one, and one thing is most important for a person who hasn’t read Kannada for years - patience. For a list of stores selling Kannada books click here .
subscribe to newsletter - Kannada Sahitya Parishad publishes a nice newsletter
Kannada daily newspaper - the well established one is Prajavani, the more recent one being Vijaya Karnataka.
Check out and bookmark these sites depending on your interest:
- http://www.thatskannada.com [they even have a daily email newsletter]
- Kannada web log! http://www.kamat.com/econtent/kannada_blog/
- KannaDa Saahitya PuTa http://www.cs.toronto.edu/~kulki/kannada/kanindex.html
All call centers or other interactions to customer services like banks, mobile phones, etc have to be provided in Kannada as well as English. Remember that they are dealing with your money, you are their customer, and you have every right to demand that they speak to you in your own language. E.g. I was happy to speak to Hutch in Kannada, and they spoke really well. If Kannadigas always use only English, then they will surely phase out their Kannada support.
So what if it is a five star posh restaurant. If you feel that it is undignified to speak in Kannada, and you have to speak in English just because of the posh ambience, it means you are only a victim of social conditioning. Break free from this past and go ahead and order in Kannada, and if the waiter cannot speak it, let the hotel management get you another waiter. Often the waiter even though he is a Kannadiga, insists on speaking in English to retain the "dignity" or "international ambience" or whatever of the place. It may not even be his fault, he may be trained to do so, by his manager who for all you know would probably be a "high-class" Kannadiga too. Remember that you are not eating there free of cost; they aren’t doing you any favor by allowing you to eat there.
Read jokes in Kannada, thats a good way to start. Listen to some drama cassettes by Hirannaiya... they are just too good. Recently even Mimicry Dayanand has also produced some good quality humor in Kannada.
Listen to more of Kannada songs, there are many excellent melodies. Beware that there are also many drab and meaningless songs, especially from recent movies, which seem to be made out of some desperate attempt to make money. Do not get biased against the language itself by generalising based on a few such songs.
movies and tv serials
Watch Kannada TV serials and movies. If possible, share your ideas on how they could be improved. There is no dearth of Kannada channels e.g. Udaya TV and E TV. I used to think they’re only limited to boring (to me atleast) family drama serials based on a few occasional times I surfed through them while switching channels. But after a few more attempts at different timings, I was really bowled over to witness a wide range of very good high quality entertainment programs to suit a variety of tastes.
Say Namaskaara instead of Hello when you greet answer the telephone, atleast from home.
Download Kannada mobile ringtones for your mobile, for example from http://in.search.yahoo.com/mobile?sk=Kannada&cat=107
It cannot be emphasized enough the importance of never dividing people into categories like Kannadiga and Non-Kannadiga. I am strongly against making people uncomfortable in any way because they do not know or are not interested in learning Kannada. The term Kannadiga used in this article is inclusive of not just people holding a domicile certificate, but of anybody having any interest in learning Kannada as a beautiful Indian language, or whose mother tongue is Kannada. If you identify yourself as a Kannadiga, then the only change that is required is in you and in you alone.
Language after all is nothing but an expression of one’s thoughts; hence there is nothing “wrong” with speaking in English. Regular usage of Kannada has a more personal touch, as you are bound to discover with joy once you develop the habit. Let us make a gradual, effortless effort towards purer Kannada!