15 October, 2007

Love your Mother Tongue

Few weeks before I happened to meet a friend’s relative who had come from Australia. Probably the local friends thought that I should meet him and arranged a meeting in a local pub. I knew that the person, whom I had not met before, hailed from a small village near Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu and is settled in abroad for lesser years than the number of years he had lived in India. As soon as we met, he started conversing in English with a thick accent. I was already told that he has forgotten ‘Tamil’ and speaks only in English. I do not hate speaking another language. But how could someone forget their mother tongue? During our one hour talk he behaved as if he never knew ‘Tamil’ and replied in English for every other question asked in Tamil. He has moved out of the country only in his late 20’s and he should be in his late 30’s now. How could someone forget a language within 10 or maximum 15 years, and behave strangely whenever we spoke few words in ‘Tamil’. If the children are born in a different country, where their mother tongue is not spoken and if they behave like this it makes sense. We can at least understand that they are not used to it. But I could not tolerate this. Let the mother tongue be any language. I could not believe that someone could forget his mother tongue after few years. I spoke about this, to his relatives, who are my friends and they said he never gets chance to speak in his mother tongue. He is married to a foreigner and the chances of speaking in mother tongue became less. I am not convinced.

I met another family in London. They were originally from Sri Lanka. The parents who are of my age, mostly spoke with me in ‘Tamil’. Their English is unpardonable. I used to wonder how they are unable to speak good English, in spite of living in this country for more than 10 years. At the same time, it was funny to see their daughter who is in University, always spoke to me in English with a thick accent. Her parents talk to her in ‘Tamil’ and introduced me in ‘Tamil’, but she was constantly speaking in English. The reason I am mentioning about this is because, she cannot say that she does not have chance of hearing or speaking ‘Tamil’. She could very well speak at least few words in ‘Tamil’ but she was constantly speaking in English.

The manner is if you are in a group, speak in the most common language, which is understandable for everyone in the group. I maintain this always while I am in a group. If I happen to be with four Indians, out of which 2 are from different state, and one from Tamil Nadu, I still try to speak in English. In case, if the other ‘Tamilian’ does not speak English as fluently and if he tries speaking in ‘Tamil’ with me, I reply to him in Tamil, and then translate it immediately to the other persons in case if they could not understand it. This is just common sense and good manner.

But why don't people understand even this and cause embarrassment to others? A gentle advice to those people is, please avoid doing this. Imagine there are two Russian colleagues along with you and speaking in Russian. Will you not be offended? You may wonder what they are talking, while having you with them. Just put you in others shoes next time and try to speak the most common language which everyone speaks.

Also, I have found that people who live in India, especially Chennai (including my relatives) talking to me and my children only in English when we visit on holidays. Even though we reply back in pure local Tamil, they constantly speak in broken English which is very embarrassing. Why? Should they not understand that we could speak the common language well, and continue conversation in our mother tongue? Last week one of my relative spoke over phone and said none of us in our family have changed. Personally, people need to understand that just because someone lives far away from the home land he will change a lot. People are all the same everywhere in this world. There are people who would love to know about our Mother tongue.

I had a British colleague who always approached me to write in a piece of paper his name, or his wife’s name and children’s name in Tamil and carried back home to show his family. There was an Irish colleague who grabbed my Lunch box if she saw any Potato Curry in it. There are many English colleagues who have always wanted to visit my family for a Vegetarian Curry and Rice. I still remember few years before, one of my team leader sent a mail to everyone in our team (20 of us) asking to vote, for a local English restaurant, or my House food for the Christmas party and I think majority of them who had tasted my home food earlier opted to visit my house for the Vegetarian food. Thanks to few young English girls in my team, who were concerned whether my wife could make food for 20 of us, and later spoke to my Team leader to cancel that option fearing for causing unnecessary stress to my wife. So sweet of them!

So, be whatever you are. It is interesting to know other’s language, culture and food. Please do not feel inferior. After all everyone in this world have to breathe Oxygen, have red blood, and walk with their legs. Let us not feel inferior about ourselves.

Love your language whichever it is!

(N.B- I am not fanatic, but would love people to be what they are. Somebody may ask, why then I am not blogging in Tamil? English suits me because I could reach many who may not understand my mother tongue. I may start one in Tamil which is getting delayed.)

30 comments:

Neha Nair said...

English is a universal language.. and how much ever we try stressing on the importance of mother tongue, situations demand good spoken English by the candidates( for job interviews) English and the mother tongue should be given equal importance.

Jeevan said...

"The manner is if you are in a group, speak in the most common language, which is understandable for everyone in the group." That was the right thing to make all know.

Some advice I get from friends is being a Tamil, why can’t u post something in Tamil. I know Tamil is my mother tongue and its easiest language than all, but my visitors are not only tamilans so I just keep it fully in English that every one can understand. We people think to get some rise value, if we spoke in English, even the person we talk knows Tamil well.

MM said...

I am totally with u on this one.

Have seen several of my students conveniently forgetting theirlanguage when they move out of college. I teach English as a matter of fact, but still feel nothing ever can replace a few words spoken in Malayalam (in my case) at the right time.

Great post, as usual!
:)

Dan said...

i used to think like you have said here. speaking in english some people do it thinking tamil is inferior some people do it wihout their knowledge. we dont have to worry about the later part only the first part worries us.

Chakra said...

தமிழ் நாட்டுக்கு வெளியே 2 தமிழர்கள் பேசும் பொழுது, ஆங்கிலத்தில் தான் பேச வேண்டும் என்பது எழுதப்படாத விதி. நம்ம மருத்துவர் ராமதாஸை விட்டு இவங்கள கொஞ்சம் கவனிக்க சொல்லணும். :-)

Happy Kitten said...

Verrrrrrry true!

First learn to speak ur mother tongue...nd then other languages.

Here in Gulf the schools dont offer language courses but we insisted that the kids speak only the mother tongue at home. But there are many parents who speak only English to their kids.

priya said...

Well it has become status issue back home to show off how good u can speak your second language. Then ther is a comparison of convent school slangs and local school. Its been going on for years and people are obsessed with it. If you travel anywhere and see an Indian , well within them they wll be speaking their mother tongue. Once they see another Indian, they switch back to English. Hmm they shud be ashamed but why ther r hesitant to let ppl know where they r from.

Learn a langugae but misusing them is not tolerable.

வேதா said...

ரொம்ப நல்லா தெளிவா எழுதியிருக்கீங்க. ஆங்கிலம் என்பது இப்ப தவிர்க்கமுடியாத ஒரு மொழியாகிவிட்டது, அதில் தவறொன்றும் இல்லை. அதே நேரத்தில் தாய்மொழியின் முக்கியதுவத்தையும் அடுத்த தலைமுறைக்கு எடுத்து செல்லவேண்டும். என்னுடைய பெரியம்மா பெண் திருமணத்திற்ககு பிறகு வெளிநாட்டில் வாழ்ந்து வருகிறார். பல வருடங்களுக்கு பின் சமீபத்தில் இந்தியா வந்திருந்த போது அவருடைய பெண்ணிற்கு தமிழில் பேச தெரிந்திருந்தது ஆனா எழுதவோ படிக்கவோ தெரியவில்லை, அவர் பையனுக்கோ 6 வயதிருக்கும் தமிழில் பேசினால் பிடிக்காது என்றான். நான் என் அக்காவை தான் திட்டினேன் தாய்மொழியின் அவசியத்தை அவர்களிடம் எடுத்துச்சொல்லாதது தவறு தான் என்று.

Balaji S Rajan said...

Neha,

You are right. I agree with you. My point is that many do not know what to speak especially in public. Let me narrate an incident at work. Two young boys who had come from Chennai on a project, were talking in Tamil, in our cafe when an English Lady was present and also laughed loudly. The lady was alone and she felt offended and walked out immediately. I was in another corner watching this while having my coffee from the vending machine. Though the boys were speaking something in their Mother tongue, irrelevant to the other lady, in general it affects the other person who do not know the language. So it is good etiquette to talk in such place in English or whichever language is commonly understood, and then other times talk in your own language. There is nothing wrong.

Balaji S Rajan said...

Jeevan,

You are right. We need to respect others. Also, if I had a Tamil blog, I would not have readers from other languages. Probably I can have one for those friends who like it.

Balaji S Rajan said...

MM,

I never knew you teach. It is a noble profession. Yes! many of them think that talking a foreign language is great! It is also a shame that though our native lands are close by, we have different mother tongues, and when we meet we need to talk in a different language.

Balaji S Rajan said...

Dan,

You are perfectly right. Some do without knowledge, and some do purposely. The funny thing is they encourage their child too when they live abroad for which there is no necessity.

Balaji S Rajan said...

Chakra,

Well said! please ask Doctor to comment on this !

arvindh said...

This is a topic that is close to my heart as well. I will be posting on this issue one of these days.

There are schools in TN that set up student volunteers/teachers to monitor whether students continue to speak in English even during recess and lunch break. Anyone who slips into Tamil is reported to the principal and a fine extorted!

I am interested in blogging in Tamil - any pointers on how one types using an English Alphabet keyboard?

Anonymous said...

Inferiority complex. That's all.
I think Tamil is too beautiful. It is not Tamil's inferiority, but those individuals inferiority complexes, that would make them behave so, such as the one you have mentioned above. Perhaps, one seeks to curtain their own deficiencies by throwing on a mask of what they believe is socially superior. I find such rubbish humourous, since thinking English is superior to your own language is pretty much like saying that the English man is your superior. It's just plain embarassing, once you think like that.

Of course, English is the language that is spoken widely. It makes sense to learn it, and learn it well, for it has its own beauty.

I agree with you when you said we should refrain from speaking in Tamil when there is someone of another language in the group. I do try to for the most part. But sometimes, certain expressions and phrases can't be justified when using English. Though I am lucky, as I am surrounded by a multi-cultural society.

To end, I had my entire schooling done in Canada. From first grade, and I have completed my uni. But still, my Tamil is as good as those that studied in Tamil medium. Frankly, as I said above, it is the complexities of individuals that make them behave in certain ways. Personally, I just choose to feel sorry for those people.

-kajan

prabukarthik said...

i had a similiar incident in Mumbai(not even outside india)

The person's name was Krishnaswamy so i found that he is a tamil. Also he ailed from bangalore..
i tried talking to him in tamil and always responded back in english even when were were 1 to 1.



indha madhiri aalungalukku elam enna pananun na, thamiz la irukara ketta varthai ellam record panni ivanga 'peter' vidumbodhu ppottu ivanga reaction epdi irukku nu parkanum!!!

Loga said...

Very nice post..

I had faced similar incident..I studied at tirunelveli and when I came to madras in search of job, Neighbours in the flats where I stayed used to converse with me in English and When I was finding it hard to talk back,I was a big timepass for them
One of the reasons I started blogging was to improve mine and my husband helped me a lot :-)

And as you said, its very impolite to talk in native language when you are with peopl who donno the language, but I guess I have become used to it after being in German companny for a while :-)

Aani Pidunganum said...

Hi Bala,

Its really interesting, just read your two postings love your mother language & moments in life, wow, really too interesting. Will cont reading the rest whenever i get time...

By the way, in which serial did you do that behind the bars scene.....! just curious to know.....

Aani

Rama Iyer said...

A good one!! We have to be proud of our mother tongue and its heritage or we will surely lose it to the onslaught and the "charm" of conversing in a foreign language

Aani Pidunganum said...

Bala,

Solla marandha vishyam, neenga sollara indha incidents i think every one might have faced...

One my relative during my grandfathers ceremony said (it was winter in india), you are used to cold climate in UK and you wont feel the cold here in india.... I was bit suprised to hear that, becoz i dont think i was without shirt during winter in UK, but sometimes absurd comments come from them, though i didnt say any reply for that. Just laughed to myself.

My friend and his cousin started talking in english, they were discussing about my friends business....But my question is why they are talking in english when both of them know their mother language (tamil)....puzzled....i interrupted and said why not speak in tamil...

Balaji S Rajan said...

Aani,

Thanks for visiting my blog and your comments. The serial was called 'Super stars' and was aired in 1996 (approx) or 1997. I am not sure.

Balaji S Rajan said...

Aani,

Just laughed on hearing your next comment. This happens to everyone.
Just like your cousin and his friend there are thousands of them like that. I could only laugh at them. Hmmmmmmm . I do not know when will such people change.

Balaji S Rajan said...

Rama,

Yes. You are right. We need to be fluent with our Mother tongue and do not need to forget it. That is my thought. I am not against in learning other languages. But I hate the kind of hypocrisy being followed by few.

Itz me!!! said...

hi Balaji,
My husband Sharath Kumar and I met you at the UK makkal party. There is lot of truth and hinsety in all your writings.

Keep writing :-)take care,
Dharshna Sharath Kumar

Ravi said...

Balaji Sir, excellent post (as ever). And to the point! - reflecting almost as similar as how I feel. If you get a chance, pls do read one of my old posts at: http://kondattam.blogspot.com/2005/08/english-setting-standards.html, I have expressed a similar thought. Thanks again for a lovely post.

Swatantra said...

Amazing! We should always respect our mother tongue.. You have written very truly.. Whenever i get a chance i speak in Punjabi and it gives me immense pleasure..

Balaji S Rajan said...

Mrs Sharath,

Welcome to my blog. Nice seeing you here. I shall read your old post. OK. I feel very glad that someone known to me also think alike.

Balaji S Rajan said...

Ravi,

Welcome after a long time. I shall read your post. I am glad that you liked my post and we think alike.

Balaji S Rajan said...

Swatantra,

Thanks for your comments. It is good to speak our mother tongue especially to our children. It helps them to know it better and it is not fashion to make them forget what they are born as.

Destination Infinity said...

I would like to add my reaction to this as well (late, as usual): My mother tongue is Telugu but I was born and brought up in Chennai. There are lot of ppl like that here. In my very own class, there are so many ppl who spoke telugu at home but at work or at college, we never knew that the other guy was telugu. We always spoke in Tamil. I speak in Telugu with my father and in Tamil with my mother. I am shortly moving to Pune. Now, what language do I teach my kids (when they are born)? A simple solution in this case would be to resort to mother tongue. See, how mother tongue is useful after three generations of living in Chennai... So as the author says, please preserve your mother tongue. You never know when it would be required.