Liaisons with Language

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International Mother Language Day Photo
Central Shaheed Minar in Dhaka / source: thedailystar.net

by Samyabrata Roy

Historically speaking, the Bhasha Andolôn or the Bengali Language movement was a political movement fighting for the recognition of Bengali as an official language of the then Pakistan controlled Bangladesh, the events of which culminated in 21st February 1952. But, in 2019, the Bengali language has a rather curious position in society.

Protesters in the Language Movemtent of 1952 / sourece: abac-bd.com


In today’s society, however, we the students, the “woke” youth face a paradoxical situation so far as the relationship to our mother tongue is concerned! From the inception, most of us have been branded as an “English Medium” student: someone who learns everything in English with the mother-tongue as a “second language”. The second language was deliberately made to look like an outsider, with unnecessarily complicated texts featuring for most of the syllabus. In the 9th standard, we were supposed to understand the complicated relationship of ‘Srikanta’ and ‘Piyari Baiji’ in Saratchandra’s  Srikanta. But, if any girl and boy were seen holding hands, no moments were spared in shaming and punishing them. Such was the deep level of irony that we studied our so-called second language in. Quite naturally, it didn’t become the favourite subject of most from our generation.


In contrast to our generation, however, I see a stark difference in our older generations. The then educated people had an equally awe-inspiring grasp over both the languages, something very rarely seen today. It has left me wondering so as to why did this happen? How did we come to this: a society where people are not homogeneously bilingual? I believe that the once graceful murder of our own language is responsible for this deed! How a language can be murdered you ask? Once upon a time, a particular government decided to shun a so-called ‘colonial’ language by not making it mandatory in the early classes and introducing it much later on.  They seemingly fought for their own language, while making sure their wards get the best of both worlds. This particular action led to the mushrooming of private institutions which catered to the apparent language of the ‘world’! Since then, one’s financial condition has been more directly linked with the quality of education one receives. It perhaps neutralised the success of “Ekushey February” in its entirety.


Years later, we still feel the ripples, when we make a Bengali spelling mistake, but we, at least I have tried to be respectful to my actual ‘first’ language. I remember Bengali being made optional when we came to standard eleven. As a result, many students gladly parted company in search of pastures anew. That same decision came back to haunt them at the time of admission in colleges where they mostly demand a ‘second’ language. If someone knows Bengali very well and not so much English, that person is considered to be a lost cause. On the other hand, if someone knows English very well and not so much Bengali, that person is seen almost as a traitor. It is the system that decides these rules, and we are the ones who are persecuted for being unskilled in our own language! In spite of these challenges we try! This is the subtle political fight that we “English Mediums” tackle on a daily basis.

I know it ain’t much, but it’s honest work!


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