Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Inter-state weddings and monolingual children of urban India

Language is a beautiful connector of two individuals and so is marriage but then both have their pitfalls especially if two individuals belong to different language-speaking communities. National integration is something of a national joke these days that people resort to whenever they speak of India and her remarkability to people who don't belong to India. But the scenario in India is completely different with a trillion castes and a million languages. And then, there is a boy who falls in love with a girl from a different language group and community. They say that everything is fair in love and war and yes, everything is fair until marriage happens. Even a few years after the great M, everything is fair until a child arrives and hastily juggles all the neatly arranged pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.



Yes, the child forces many unsought questions and niggles the peace of mind. What will the poor parents do? After all while courting, children were a hazy dream of delight who were in the distant horizon but in the present the bundles of delight bring with them some vital questions - What will be the language of communication if the parents belong to two different language systems? Is the mother-tongue always the tongue of the mother that the child will adapt to or a language that the child picks up without much ado? Then enters the great coloniser into the picture - ENGLISH. Well, the parents find it easier to talk to the kid in English, after all English is a global language and the language of communication so why not. Lullabys are sung in English, sweet nothings are cooed in English and eventually the child picks up only English. The rich and diverse regional tongues of the father and mother are gradually forgotten and remains as a hazy memory. But not all children/ parents are so. I don't know how they do it but they systematically see that the child learns both the languages.



As much as I like English and the nuances of this coloniser's tongue, I shudder to think of my unborn children and their tongue. What language will they speak? Will they speak my language or my husband's? Will they love their parents in the regional or in the foreign tongue. Ah, no matter what, English is still a foreign language and we aren't native speakers even if we master the language. As I write this, I also think of my own predicament. Both my parents spoke the same language but since I grew up in a place which was not my state, I can hardly write or read my own language. While in school, it gave me great pride to say that I knew only English but now I feel quite uneasy to admit that I can only speak my language and not read or write. And I even think in a foreign tongue! But today being the 21st century, it does not pose much of a problem but when I increasingly listen to only English, I wonder whether we are gradually becoming a country with a homogenous language system. We like to be seen in Starbucks, KFCs and Macs speaking a language not our own and swearing in cuss words that belong to another country.

Everything is fair in love and war, they say. I don't agree. What do you think?

Image 1: Internet
Image 2: Internet

39 comments:

  1. They might get to learning german, french or some such language along with english! Lol! I wonder why can't I get to thinking in my mother tongue just like you expressed your discontentment here! Unlike you, I also had hindi to boast of along with English! But never malayalam! And it depends on who I get married to, someday! What will my kids finally pick up, if only I have any!?

    A thoughtful post!

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    1. Many children I know speak only English at home and outside and know not any other language. German, French they can learn only after a certain age, I reckon. I'm not quite clear on this.

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  2. Susan, this describes our situation to the T! :) I'm Bengali, Husband is Telugu. We speak to each other in Hindi. If we had stayed back in Hyderabad, I'm sure I would have picked up the language and our kids would have been Telugu too. But, since we are now in a foreign city where only English is spoken, it was just a matter of time that the kids refused to speak anything other than English.
    Believe me, until they went to school, they were versatile in Bengali, Hindi, and Telugu! But now, they speak English and a smattering of Hindi. I know many SAHMs who continue speaking to their kids in their native tongue, and their kids speak it fluently though! It also helps, as you say, if both wife and husband speak the same language.
    I'm not sure if I encouraged or discouraged you! I think it will be much easier in India since the kids' classmates and people around will know at least one Indian language.

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    1. I guess one should consciously try doing something, Rosh otherwise it is only English, I reckon.

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  3. Mrs Sus, as we speak (or write), there are languages in the world that are disappearing. :( Maybe because of globalization or language imperialism, I dunno. I'm surprised you're barely literate in your native language (is that Hindi?)! Wow, I can't imagine that.

    I, too, grew up in a multilingual household. I could speak, write, read, and sing (haha!) in the 4 languages I was exposed to (including English). I think children don't need to choose. They can learn several languages at once without the difficulty that adult learners face. This advantage should not be denied them. :)

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    1. My language is Tamil, Age and since my dad was transferred to Bombay, I grew up learning Hindi. I know to speak my language but reading and writing, I'm a bit slow.

      That you can sing is four different languages is super. Even I can!

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  4. I think it's great when parents teach their children the language that is native to them and perhaps also the language that is more common in wherever they find themselves living. My husband was born of polish immigrants in the US and he grew up learning English and Polish, but mostly only being able to speak Polish fluently. Years later, in college , he took a Polish class as a second language and realized how tricky it is to actually write it! He was surprised but caught on pretty quickly nonetheless.

    I think it's great, if parents can, to teach their children two languages as they grow up. To be able to maintain a sense of heritage. Also, it is easier to teach a person another language the younger they are.

    Really interesting post. Thanks. :)

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    1. I guess parents should teach the kids and make it a point for them to be multilingual so that they can converse with both the sides of the family.

      And this can be done only till the age of six, I reckon. After that the child loses the ability to pick up something as a language.

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  5. A very big issue the family faces now. Forget about the yet to be born children, as you said the generation of parents have only English to talk and write.

    That said and done, this is how most languages die. When there is a need, people learn Spanish and German in few days but the mother tongue is so tough for them.

    Statistics reveal that children born to multilingual parents are sharp in their early years. If brought up right, they will master all three languages. Sensitive topic and I love the way you handled it Susan.

    Joy Always,
    Bragadeesh

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    1. Yes, Brags and it is quite sad to see languages just fading away. I guess until the child has the ability to choose and prefer one over the other, there is no harm in teaching the kids two or three languages.

      And more joy to you as well :)

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  6. And it fails me why mother tongue is left behind. In my case, both my husband and I spoke Hindi at home. Both my kids were talked to in Hindi only till they went to school. And at home we talk mostly in Hindi. Of course they study Hindi in school as well. Now S studies Kannada at school and we are all hoping to get fluent in it. We can master many languages if we have the will. My neighbors are Bengali and Telugu. Believe it or faint, their 4-year-old daughter speaks Bengali, Telugu, Hindi and English. Children are little sponges who absorb languages easily if they are exposed.

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    1. I know and parents should make the maximum use of those years and teach them as many languages as one can!

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  7. And it fails me why mother tongue is left behind. In my case, both my husband and I spoke Hindi at home. Both my kids were talked to in Hindi only till they went to school. And at home we talk mostly in Hindi. Of course they study Hindi in school as well. Now S studies Kannada at school and we are all hoping to get fluent in it. We can master many languages if we have the will. My neighbors are Bengali and Telugu. Believe it or faint, their 4-year-old daughter speaks Bengali, Telugu, Hindi and English. Children are little sponges who absorb languages easily if they are exposed.

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  8. hmm...i grew up talking telugu at home, tamil on the streets (with friends) and kannada with the relatives (the extended family settled in bangalore- all except my dad who chose madras)...so i sorta grew up trilingual..i learnt english at school and i haven't done too bad in that either...so despite switching languages and muddling them frequently i get by- and i guarantee your kids will too- wherever and whatever they grow up learning

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    1. You are one rockstar, Doc. Some children pick up languages just like that while some don't. I just hope my kids are not monolingual and speak only English!

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  9. It is natural that couples will try to find a middle ground for their kids but, if the parents of the couple are not really fluent in Hindi or English, they will not feel free with grand kids more so when the grand kids are much older.

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    1. A middle ground is mostly English. And children have to converse with grand-parents as well!

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  10. Growing up here in the States, I've not given much thought to any language except English. What a dilemma this must be for so many Indian families! I guess the most we have to "overcome" here is dealing with dialects. Different phrases and accents are heard depending on what part of the country we live in. One example: We live in the south where the word "y'all" means "all of you". In New York, you'd here it as "youse guys."
    Great post as always, Susan!
    Love and blessings!

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    1. Martha, you are lucky in a way that English is the language that is the mother-tongue as well unlike India where there are many languages and inter-state weddings!

      And like you we also have many accents and meanings in English itself which vary according to each state.

      Thanks for coming by dear Martha.

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  11. Also me, Susan Deborah, have never given it much (any) thought. There was/is not the need. However you got me thinking (in English!) about China and dialects galore.

    Spanish is all over the place here, We have now millions of new people immigrating here from everywhere via Mexico, mostly running the border. Funny, we are hated Americans, until they cross the Rio Grand River. Then we become beloved benefactors.

    Everyone who comes here seems to know English (as second, but never do they learn how to drive!!!!

    I know language of music better than English and that's all. Susan, your WRITING English is impeccable--I assume you speak as well as....

    WHENEVER I read your posts...or those daily thingys, I find something to think about. Good brain exercise for old man--grin!

    ALWAYS A PLEASURE!

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    1. And as you say, music is the best language but alas! there is English music, Indian music and Spanish music!

      I manage to speak English Steve. It has become very close to my heart and mind.

      Love and more love to you.

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  12. ha. its funny on swearing in another language...i know a bit of spanish, french...and the first things that really took were the swear words...lol...i think that in todays world the more a child can learn languages the better they will be...i wish i had learned more...

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  13. Exactly our predicament. My husband's "mother tongue" is tamil and mine is hindi - the common language for us is English and that is what we use with our daughter too. However, our "plan" is that once she begins going to regular school and has no problem in communicating in the language of the land - we will consciously make her lean both tamil and hindi. God be with us :)

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    1. By the way, this is me, Yuvika. Was logged in thru husband's ID I guess!

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  14. This is a tough one, but I'm sure you, hubby and kids will work it out. My husband and I spoke only Spanish to my daughter until she was three, then we started English. She still speaks a little Spanish but English def dominates. It's not a big problem here in the states of course. Still, I wish she was fluently bi-lingual. But now though Spanish was my first language, sometimes I have trouble with it. English dominates me too.

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    1. Ah, the perils of English - a necessity and a curse!

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  15. Let the child choose the language he/she is inclined to. My neighbors had a similar issue when their first child was born. Parents settled on Hindi but Grandma insisted on Punjab and to counter grandmom, mom insisted on Gujarati. The child learnt all the languages but speaks only in Punjabi. That's his natural inclination.

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    1. The child can choose when she/he is of an age where individual decision can be taken but till that time, I guess the parents have to decide the language(s).
      Your example might be a unique one.

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  16. Children are like sponges, they pick up whatever you teach. Our friend's daughter speaks Marathi (from mother), Bengali (from father and grandmother, Hindi and English (from school) and she is about 6.
    So, your kids will pick up whatever you decide to teach them! But it will be Hindi or English in which they'd think, coz that would be the dominant language at home and around.

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    1. Rightly said Shilpa. Children do pick whatever we teach and I guess we should be wise enough to feed three or four languages.

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  17. I have written about this. Let me tell you I feel like I have a secret language with my mother and my family not my children. Regret not forcing my native language upon them. I have been very lazy. I must admit.

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    1. I should swing by your post and read it. I admit laziness always comes in the way when we go about life's tasks. One can be quite romantic while writing blog posts but reality is exactly opposite.

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  18. Language chauvinism exists in some measure in all of us, I guess. And often the winner is a foreign tongue for the sake of convenience and sometimes peace in the household :) We both are Tamilians and since we grew up in the Hindi heartland, both and later the children are more comfortable speaking Hindi. We have to be careful not to slip into the language when we are amidst our respective relatives who might not be able to understand the language. But I agree with the others that children should be allowed to learn and speak/write in any number of languages. They can easily manage it, as we ourselves can, if we let language chauvinism take a back seat.

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    1. Spot on, Zephyr. I guess children should be taught as many languages as one can.

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  19. Well, don't know about parents but the child is in a tough spot if he has to learn 3 languages. One of my friends is facing the same problem, she is juggling between english, hindi and malyalam. But with one of my other friends I have seen that kids learn. They pick up and eventually they choose what they like. The only problem is when parents have ego issues.

    You know, nothing about love is fair after marriage :)

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    1. Saru, I guess children learn quite easily when young. Only when they get older it seems a tough spot so I guess parents should make hay while the sun is shining bright and nice.

      And inspite of knowing two or three languages, children choose one over the other eventually as they grow older.

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