Post independence, almost all languages have become victims of linguistic politics, viciously exacerbated by national and state level political parties
  • Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
By Shanmukh On the 27th of October, 2014, the Hon. Minister of Human Resources Development, Smt. Smriti Irani announced that the third language in schools would be any of the modern Indian languages, or Sanskrit. The development is great in that Indian languages will receive a long overdue fillip. The UPA government had done Indian languages a grievous wrong, by bringing in German as a potential third language, in despite of the National Languages Policy (notifications issued four times since 68). The whole issue of languages studied by the students in schools needs a careful examination. The tragic decline of Indic languages in the post independence era is a standing testimony to the misguided and disastrous policies formed followed by the Indian Union with regard to her most sacred cultural treasures – her languages. Loss of Cultural Identity and Linguistic Rigour: In the pre-independence era, India produced some of the greatest poets, scholars, playwrights and extempore speakers in Indic languages. One cannot but comment on the scholastic depth of her thinkers and writers in Indic languages. The last part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century produced some of the greatest thinkers and writers. From Bankim Chandra, Rabindranath Tagore, Sharadindu and Sarat Chandra in Bengali and TP Kailasam, BM Shreekanthaiah, DR Bendre and Shivaram Karanth in Kannada of the pre independence era (let me clarify that by pre-independence, I mean people who started their careers in the pre-independence era), the decades just post independence already showed a fall in quality. A colleague bemoaned that in Bengali, there were few good poets or authors left now. Tara Shankar, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Satyajit, etc did write a few good works in Bengali, but they were already a pale shadow of the older writers. Similarly, in Kannada, MK Indira, SL Bhyrappa and others continued the good writing, but already, there was a huge fall in quality and quantity. In the generation that is in its 30s and 40s now, there are very few capable writers or readers left. The same is the case with most, if not all, other Indian languages. Our literary traditions are dying. In fact, very few in the younger generation studied the regional languages past the high school. What is interesting is that the same pattern follows in Sanskrit too. From the likes of great scholars like Krishna Kanta Handique, Narayana Shastri and others in the pre-independence era, the fall to the quality of Sanskrit scholars in the post independence era is precipitous. Few महाकाव्याः of any significance were written. The current generation, with a few exceptions, is more or less incapable of producing a महाकाव्य. The weakening of Sanskrit contributed to the weakening of the regional languages. It is not just the literary traditions. Our linguistic rigour is dying too. I entreat my readers to do a simple experiment. Speak three consecutive sentences, as you normally do, in your regional languages. Count the total number of words you spoke in those three sentences. Just see how many English words you use, while speaking in your regional languages. You may find the results as alarming as I did. Or just listen to the Hindi of Pran or Iftekhar, and then do a comparison to the Hindi of the modern Hindi actors. Many schools in Bangalore are teaching English as `Mother Tongue English' (as mine did, when I was in school). It is a sad commentary on our linguistic traditions. Srinivas Rao Vepachedu writes eloquently about the fate of Telugu in Telangana: “By the way, they are replacing only those basic words that were borrowed from Sanskrit and Urdu! It is cyclical, just like life! By the end of the first millennium of Christian era, various kings of this region voluntarily embraced Sanskrit, and by the time Muslims came Telugu was Sanskritized so much that until recently it was considered one of the Indo-European Sanskrit based languages. So, some Telugus wish to translate technical words for inventions and ideas they didn’t know and invent like car, TV, phone, Windows 95 etc., into Telugu using Sanskrit vocabulary. While educated Hyderabadis think that it is inappropriate to use Telugu word annamu and that the proper word is rice. Note that Andhra Pradesh is one of the most uneducated and illiterate states in the Indian Union! Telangana is the lowest with less than 36% literacy! Yet, I say baagunnaara, they say "havaar yu ?" I say namaskaaramu, they say hello. I say snaanalagadi , they say baathroomu. I say annamu, they say raisu. I say okati, they say van (one). I say uppu, they say saalTu (salt)…. Well, you get the idea. I am not talking their language. My language is dead. My language is Telugu. Their language is Tenglish . Well, that is the living language!“ [1] How did this tragic set of affairs come into existence? What happened to all of us?  What then,is the reason for this general collapse of regional languages? Why is it that the quality of literature, reading, writing and thinking in Indic languages is going down rapidly? Part of the answer is that, most of the damage, has been self inflicted. Post independence, almost all languages have become victims of linguistic politics, viciously exacerbated by national and state level political parties, have been left in the hands of a vacuous Leftist academia that has neither the ability nor the desire to promote our languages. The other bitter truth is that, none of us are grounded in our own culture, or traditions. We ape the West, we love to show off our English skills. We put little to no value on our own culture – after all, it is sufficient for most of us to be fluent in English, with some competence in our native regional language Lastly, and possibly most importantly, we forgot what underlies our language, and what connects our languages – Sanskrit. Similarities between Sanskrit and Regional Languages: With the announcement of Sanskrit as a possible third language by the MHRD, there has been a move by the vested interests of the regional languages to posit that the learning of Sanskrit will come at the expense of the regional languages. Not only is such an interpretation a gross misreading of the situation, but also counter-productive to the very interests that the regional linguistic champions profess to defend. The author begs to point out that the clear knowledge of Sanskrit was a common denominator across the great poets. TP Kailasam, Shreekanthayya, Sharat Chandra and Rabindranath Tagore all had either a solid grasp of Sanskrit, or were themselves scholars in this ancient language of India. The linkage between their knowledge of Sanskrit and their ability to express clearly in our regional languages is clear and correlated. Over half of the words extant in Kannada, Telugu and even Malayalam originate in Sanskrit. As KAN Shastri eloquently puts it “All these literatures owed a great deal to Sanskrit, the magic wand of whose touch alone raised each of Dravidian Languages from the level of a patois to that of a literary idiom.”[2]. Similarly, a quick look at the writings of great Bengali poets also reveal a deep and thorough knowledge of Sanskrit, with the influence of Sanskrit on Hindi, Bengali, and Assamese vocabulary being huge. While the vocabulary of Hindi and other north Indian languages owes a great deal to Sanskrit, the grammatical structure of south Indian languages (particularly Kannada and Telugu) inheres directly from Sanskrit. It is no exaggeration to say that the grammar of south Indian languages is almost a subset of the Sanskrit grammar. We shall do a brief comparison of Kannada and Sanskrit grammar to illustrate our point. Sanskrit and Kannada Grammar: The structure and construction of sentences between Sanskrit and Kannada are very similar. Both of them have nouns that are declined into various forms, relying on noun forms, more than on prepositions and word order, as English does, for instance. it is far easier to translate Sanskrit into Kannada and vice versa than it is to translate English into Kannada (or Kannada to English). The विभक्तयः of नामपदानि in Sanskrit and Kannada are very closely related. There are 7 विभक्तयः in Kannada, which are basically exact counterparts of the 7 of Sanskrit (8 if one also counts संबोधनप्रथमा विभक्ति). The तृतीया and पञ्चमी विभक्ती of Sanskrit have been mostly subsumed in the तृतीया of Kannada. Indeed, it is very interesting to observe that even though पञ्चमी विभक्ति has mostly gone out of vogue in Kannada, the पञ्चमी विभक्ति is still retained in Kannada grammar, clearly hinting at the origins of the grammatical structure. In fact, the विभक्ति structure of Kannada can be stated as a simplified version of the Sanskrit विभक्ति structure, which has a different form of declension for nouns ending in each letter. The सन्धि structure of Kannada can also be seen as a variant of the Sanskrit सन्धयः. All the Sanskrit सन्धयः have been retained for Sanskrit words in Kannada. For the Kannada words, there are only three possible सन्धयः - ಆಗಮ, ಲೋಪ, and ಆದೇಶ – all three of them can be seen as minor variants of the Sanskrit सन्धयः. We shall deal with all three सन्धयः here. It may be mentioned here that all the ಕನ್ನಡ examples given here are taken from [3] and all the संस्कृत examples are taken from [4]. We have taken two random examples for all the three सन्धयः ಲೋಪ ಸಂಧಿ:ತೂಗು+ಉಯ್ಯಾಲೆ =ತೂಗುಯ್ಯಾಲೆಗೃಹದಲ್ಲಿ+ಇರ್ದಂ=ಗೃಹದಲ್ಲಿರ್ದಂ In both these examples, we have the loss of a ಸ್ವರ' in the first word. The ಲೋಪ ಸಂಧಿ can be seen as a variant of the पूर्वरूप सन्धि. We give two standard examples for the पूर्वरूप सन्धि below:रामे+अस्मिन्=रामेऽस्मिन्साधो+अत्र=साधोऽत्रIn both these cases, the स्वराः are lost, with their loss denoted by `ऽ' in their place. The ಲೋಪ ಸಂಧಿ is a case where it applies to a few more vowels than in पूर्वरूप सन्धि ಆದೇಶ ಸಂಧಿ: ತಲೆ+ಕೆಟ್ಟು=ತಲೆಗೆಟ್ಟುಕಣ್+ನೀರ್=ಕಣ್ಣೀರ್ This is basically replacement of one letter by another. These are very similar to the ones found in Sanskrit, except that they have different names for different kinds of replacement. The first goes by the more specific name, जश्त्व सन्धि in Sanskrit. A classic example of जश्त्व सन्धि is वाक्+ईश=वागीशIn जश्त्व सन्धि, the same pattern follows with the first व्यञ्जन of the वर्ग being replaced by its third व्यञ्जन. The second is a variant of the परसवर्ण सन्धि,, whose example is shown below. विद्युत्+लत=विद्युल्लत ಆಗಮ ಸಂಧಿಮುಳ್+ಆಗಿ=ಮುಳ್ಳಾಗಿಕಲ್+ಆಟ=ಕಲ್ಲಾಟThe doubling of the letter (an additional letter of the same type) occurs in this सन्धि. In Sanskrit, doubling द्वित्व is not given a specific name, but occurs fairly frequently. scattered across different सन्धयः. One common example, which is a form of यण् सन्धि is सुधि+उपास्यः=सुद्ध्युपास्यः where there is an additional letter. The समास structure of Kannada and Sanskrit are also very similar. Of the Sanskrit समासाः the same द्वन्द्व, तत्पुरुष, कर्मधारय, द्विगु and बहूव्रीहि are present in exactly the same fashion in Kannada too. There is no difference. ಅಂಶಿ ಸಮಾಸ is the same as अव्ययीभाव समास of Sanskrit. The others are basically permutations and combinations of तत्पुरुष and कर्मधारय समासाः. In fact, despite being outlawed, ಆರಿ ಸಮಾಸ (the समास between Kannada and Sanskrit words) has persisted. A classic example is the name `ಆಳಗೇಶ' which is still found in Karnataka. The क्रियापद structure of Kannada is a huge simplification of Sanskrit, but essentially the same. The द्विवचन of Sanskrit is lost, but the पुरुषाः of Sanskrit and Kannada are identical. The author can state that the grammar of Telugu also happens to be very similar to the grammar of Kannada and Sanskrit, and what holds true for the Sanskrit-Kannada grammar relations also holds true for Sanskrit-Telugu grammar connections. From the above examples, it should be clear that it is no great exaggeration to state that a fluency and knowledge of Sanskrit enhances understanding of the regional languages. Thus, it is no exaggeration to state that a thorough knowledge of Sanskrit underpins the proficiency in many, if not most, regional languages. Every regional language will benefit from students learning Sanskrit, since a thorough knowledge of Sanskrit aids the learning of other regional languages. It is not a case of `Sanskrit or regional languages'. Indeed, it becomes, `Sanskrit helps increase knowledge of regional languages'. In the modern economy, with more inter-state migration today than ever before, learning other regional languages, in addition to the regional mother tongue becomes essential, Sanskrit will ease the transition to the new regional language for many new migrants. Further, the decline of regional languages in recent years highlights the need for an infusion of new ideas into the regional languages from a wider speaking pool. And, in this effort to generate a larger speaking pool from migrants, knowledge of Sanskrit will prove to be a great help. If our regional language enthusiasts understood the precarious edge on which our regional languages are perched, they would welcome the teaching and learning of Sanskrit which will help all regional languages. Sanskrit and Modernity: An argument has been made that languages across the world are being replaced slowly by English, and English is becoming the universal language. Yet, on the contrary, most of the people of France, Russia, Germany and so forth learn English as a second language or even a tertiary language, not the primary one. The primary languages are the national ones, and sometimes, the secondary languages are local/regional ones. In Russia, the secondary language in many республики (republics) is not English, but the local language of the республики that is given pride of place. The author has encountered many удмурт (Udmurt) speaking Russians, who proudly speak their own languages at home and in their удмуртская республика (Republic of Udmurtia). The literature being produced in the Russian minority languages is also growing. More importantly, the Confucius institutes which promote Chinese culture, the Goethe-Institutes that promote German, the Alliance-Francaise which promotes French, and the RussiaCentres that promote Russian are all actively promoting their culture abroad. In fact, it is no exaggeration that these have been pushing their languages and culture extensively, albeit they are somewhat less successful than English. Nevertheless, the number of speakers of these languages is growing, not shrinking. How many Vedic Institutes, Hindi Academies, or Sanskrit Academies do we have, not abroad, but even in India? What are the incentives to learn and be proficient in local languages? Making Sanskrit popular in India will automatically improve the pool of speakers of other languages, since it eases transition across Indian languages. There is a move by the modernists to consign Sanskrit to the dustbin of history by claiming that it is a dead language, that it has no relevance in modern times and that it must join the ranks of ancient Greek and Egyptian in the museums, or linguistic departments. Let us for the moment ignore all the scientific knowledge in Sanskrit – all the Yoga, Ayurveda, mathematics, astronomy and all the rest of it – although, it is the ignorance of the Indians about their own heritage that is the reason behind Yoga, Ayurveda, etc being appropriated by the West, which seeks our knowledge without caring to acknowledge us. But let us, for the moment, ignore them. Let us, for the moment, grant the claim of the modernists that knowledge is not indispensable for the understanding of modern scientific literature. To the modernists, this author wishes to pose a counter question. On whose terms do we seek modernity? Are we to seek modernity on the terms of the west, learning only English, French or German, and give up all that we are, our languages, our culture and our identity? Or shall we accept modernity on our terms, taking what we need from the west by keeping our languages, culture and identity. China, Russia and Japan have chosen to accept modernity on their own terms, retaining their identity, culture and language without surrender. We can choose to do it that way, or we can choose to give up our unique civilisation for modernity on western terms. If it is the former that we choose, it must be emphasised that a knowledge of Sanskrit is vital to discover our own identity, understand our own place as an integral part of the glorious nation of India. All our civilisational knowledge, our cultural treasures, our history, our very identity is in Sanskrit. All our religious texts are in Sanskrit. Our inscriptions are also in Sanskrit, from the times of the pre-Mauryan days right up to near modern times. If we know Sanskrit, we can read these for ourselves and interpret them honestly. If not, we will be reduced to reading English translations (sometimes mistranslated, since the translators lack our cultural context) provided to us by the Westerners. If we have no knowledge of these, can we retain our identity, especially in this hectic modern world, where there are many assaults on our identity, daily? I would like to conclude my article with a heartfelt appeal to the other Indian bloggers and writers. Please write your articles, not merely in English, but in as many Indian languages as you can possibly do. Translations into regional languages often bring in new insights, especially when one tries to think in them and many bloggers and writers will find them a worthwhile effort. Our languages will thrive better in cooperation, and not in competition with each other. I translate my own articles into Kannada and Sanskrit (at least these two), when it does not go in opposition to the copyrights policies of the magazines and newspapers where my articles are being published. Acknowledgement: The author is deeply grateful to Prof. Saswati Sarkar, Dept. of Electrical and Systems Engg., University of Pennsylvania, for her invaluable help in revising and upgrading the text. References:[1] – by Sreenivasa Rao Vepachedu [2] – KA Nilakantha Shastri, ``A History of South India from prehistoric times to the fall of Vijayanagar'', OUP India Publications, p. 22. [3] – ಕೇಶೀರಾಜ, ``ಶಬ್ದಮಣಿದರ್ಪಣ'', ~1260 CE. [4] - वरदराज, ``लघुसिद्धान्तकौमुदी'', ~1680 Tweet Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article. 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