What is patriotism, if the new generation is incapable of understanding their own language?

I am almost 17 years old and hardly any of my friends understand their mother tongue
Voices Blog Monday, April 03, 2017 - 13:57

by Ameya Thachappilly

Patriotism is a word used so frequently, we forget the meaning. It’s thrown in between speeches by politicians to add flavour, blindly questioned during discussions on seemingly unrelated issues, and often put up on a pedestal by many.

But there’s one aspect of patriotism that we give little importance to - especially in urban, upper class homes: Language.

There’s no arguing that English is an Indian language, but sometimes, it feels like we’ve taken our affinity for English a little too far. You only get jobs if you know English, you’re ‘respected’ only if you know English, you can be considered successful only if you speak English…

What about other languages? I am almost 17 years old, and I know for a fact that hardly any of my friends understand their ‘mother tongue’, let alone speak it.

In a country where we have (metaphorical) wars over patriotism every day - what is patriotism, if the new generation is incapable of understanding their own language?

“The limits of my language are the limits of my world,” Ludwig Wittgenstein so rightly said. Language is the key to unlock a new world, a new perspective or a new idea. Without it, a world ceases to exist. Being part of the new generation about to go out into the world, if I leave behind my language, I leave behind a world.

Each language reveals the history of a place, through books, music and movies. If you look at it, right now, our resources are too many. Movies, music, books, articles, they are all available at the click of a button. We all have enough exposure to Indian languages right at our doorsteps, but there still is a lack of awareness about its importance, and this perhaps stems from the lack of encouragement from the surrounding environment.

For young people - like my friends and me - a lot depends on what our families tell us, and a lot more on how our peers perceive us.

While personally, I have got a lot of exposure to my mother tongue through movies and music, not every teenager gets the same. Many parents don’t have time to teach their children a language they don’t learn at school, as they are caught up in their own work. And when they do try later to request the child to speak the language, it often becomes too late.

With most people in urban areas not living with their parents anymore, grandparents, who could have helped children pick up language skills, are also not around enough.

Another factor that comes to play is the influence of peers. Sometimes, we refuse to identify ourselves with a state or a region, because it doesn’t ‘seem’ right. Watching regional movies, knowing regional music and reading regional books somehow doesn’t fit into our scheme of things - it doesn’t make us ‘cool’, and somehow, actually makes us uncool.

How do we deal with this? Firstly, it is important for parents to speak their own language at home from when the child is young, so that the language is at least normalised for the child. It is very important for children to grow up understanding their own story through a different lens, so that they can continue their ‘legacy’, so to speak.

It is one thing to expand and explore new cultures to widen your perspective, but it is another thing to explore other cultures while being rooted in one - it gives you a sense of self.

Of course, it is not that all the young Indians out there are going out into the world with no cultural identity. People are now starting to see Indian languages with pride, and accepting regional movies and music.

But we need to remember that patriotism starts at home, with our environment. It starts with a sense of self, identity and culture. If we don’t connect with our own roots, our own worlds, how are we patriotic?

Note: Opinions expressed are the personal views of the author.

(The writer is a student of The Valley School KFI, and interned with TNM as part of her course requirements.)

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