Context: Importance of preserving India’s linguistic diversity and heritage.
- Language is any formal system of gestures, signs, sounds, and symbols used or conceived as a means of communicating thought.
- Language is a tool for our intellectual and emotional expression.
- It is a vehicle of inter-generational transmission of culture, scientific knowledge and a worldview.
- It is the vital, unseen thread that links the past with the present. It evolves with human evolution and is nourished by constant use.
- Languages are the lifeblood of our identity, both individual and collective. They play a significant role in creating and strengthening bonds among people
- According to language census, there are more than 19,500 languages and dialects which are spoken in India as mother tongues.
- There are 121 languages which are spoken by 10,000 or more people in the country.
Importance of mother tongue:
- Knowledge: Mother tongue provides a unique system of knowledge and understanding of the world. Mother tongue is the treasure we have inherited. It is the repository of our collective knowledge and wisdom which we have amassed over the course of the long journey of our vibrant civilization.
- Peace: Promotion to mother tongue will enable sustainable development by enhancing investment, peace building and reconciliation among all the sections of society.
- Rights: It is a fundamental human right and freedom of expression for indigenous people. Promotion to mother tongue will strengthen democratic principles.
- Inclusion: It will help in social inclusiveness, improving literacy rates, reduction in poverty and international cooperation. Language can become catalyst for inclusive development. Removal of the existing linguistic barriers will help in realizing the goal of inclusive governance.
- Diversity: Mother tongue shows our rich cultural values, diversity and heritage. We must accord a sense of dignity and pride to those who speak, write and communicate in these languages.
- Mother tongue is the first language that a person learned. It is generally accepted that in teaching and learning processes, the child’s mother tongue is of utmost importance. For one thing, it categorizes a large part of the child’s environment, that is, it has names for most of the objects, actions, ideas, attributes and so on that are so important to him. Thus it will enhance formative learning.
- It further promotes learning as the child feels more comfortable to express himself in a language he/she understands and can identify with. The knowledge so learned can be instantly applied in real world by the children as opposed to other language which they cannot instantly relate to.
- Mother tongue helps in preservation of culture. India has rich culture of values, linguistic diversity and religious beliefs which can be protected and preserved through promotion to mother tongue.
Constitutional provision for indigenous languages:
- Article 350 “Language to be used in representations for redress of grievances”: Every aggrieved person has the right to submit a representation for the redress of any grievance to any officer or authority of the Union or a state in any of the languages used in the Union or in the state, as the case may be. This means that a representation cannot be rejected on the ground that it is not in the official language.
- Article 350A “Facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at primary stage”: Every state and a local authority in the state should provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother-tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups. The president can issue necessary directions for this purpose.
- Article 350B “Special Officer for linguistic minorities”: The president should appoint a special officer for linguistic minorities to investigate all matters relating to the constitutional safeguards for linguistic minorities and to report to him. The president should place all such reports before the Parliament and send to the state government concerned.
Preservation of Mother tongue:
- In 1999, UNESCO adopted a resolution on multilingual education and suggested the use of at least three languages in education: The mother language(s), a regional or national language and an international language.
- UNESCO notes that mother language is a source of knowledge and innovation and that the command of a mother tongue facilitates general learning and learning of other languages.
- Incidentally, the United Nations has proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages to preserve, revitalise and promote indigenous languages.
- UNESCO acts on many fronts to safeguard endangered languages and prevent their disappearance:
- In education, UNESCO supports policies promoting multilingualism and especially mother tongue literacy; it supports the language component of indigenous education; and raises awareness of the importance of language preservation in education.
- In culture, UNESCO collects data on endangered and indigenous languages, develops standardized tools and methodologies, and builds capacities of governments and civil society (academic institutions and speaker communities).
- In communication and information, UNESCO supports the use of local languages in the media and promotes multilingualism in cyberspace.
- In science, UNESCO assists programmes to strengthen the role of local languages in the transmission of local and indigenous knowledge.
- UNESCO provides a classification system in its ‘Atlas of Endangered languages’ as:
- Vulnerable – most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g., home)
- Definitely endangered – children no longer learn the language as a ‘mother tongue’ in the home
- Severely endangered – language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves
- Critically endangered – the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently
- Extinct – there are no speakers left
- It is important to note that 196 languages in India are classified as endangered.
What can be done to prevent our linguistic diversity?
Language preservation and development needs a multi-pronged approach. Some of the ways through which we can preserve our linguistic diversity and heritage are as follows:
- Medium of instruction at primary level: The mother tongue lays a strong foundation for the expression of creativity. Every effort must be made to nurture creativity at the formative stage. Thus, it is important to make the mother tongue as the medium of instruction in our schools and certainly at the primary level. A number of studies conducted all over the world by different expert groups have established that teaching the mother tongue at the initial stages of education gives an impetus to the growth of mind and thought and makes children more creative and logical.
- Removing the misconception that only English education offers opportunities to grow in the modern world. Countries like China, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea, etc did very well without English education. Knowing English is useful, like knowing other international languages. However, it can be learnt easily at an appropriate stage, after a strong foundation is laid in the mother tongue.
- Accord a sense of dignity and pride to those who speak, write and communicate in mother languages. We must encourage Indian language publications, journals and children’s books. Swami Vivekananda once said that language is the chief means and index of a nation’s progress.
- Empowering the masses: Some of the steps have been taken in this regard. Many other bold decisions must be made to protect and nurture our languages. Some of the positive steps towards removing language barriers are:
- In the Rajya Sabha, a provision has been made for its members to express themselves in any of the 22 scheduled languages.
- The Supreme Court has recently decided to make available its judgments in six Indian languages.
- The finance ministry has decided to conduct the examinations for employment in Regional Rural Banks in 13 regional languages; in addition to English and Hindi.
- The Railways and Postal departments started conducting their exams in the states’ official languages.
- The new draft National Education Policy emphasis on mother tongue-based education and oral language development as critical for the development of child. It aims to protect and promote our culture through the study of classical languages, mother tongues, and regional languages