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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mother Tongue

Tulika books announces their blogathon- Writing & Speaking the mother tongue (click link to reach there)
The question of the fortnight is
"How different are the written and spoken forms of your first language? If you want children to become familiar with their first language, which form would you look for in children's books - formal or informal? Why?"

How different are the written and spoken forms of your first language?
My first language is Hindi and according to me written vs spoken Hindi does not pose much of a problem if the language spoken is the shuddh hindi. Having lived in Bihar, we had our own way of speaking, for example the princely hum instead of main used for 1st person which changes the entire sentence. But once our grammar lessons were in place in school, I was quite comfortable writing hindi in its formal glory, the shift from the format I would talk normally waswas not a difficult task. Therefore like lot of people think in Hindi and speak in English- such was not the case with me- I wouldn't think in spoken Hindi and write in formal Hindi- the thinking while writing was always seamless and flowing. I honestly do not know whether lack of practice with the written hindi word will pose a problem to me if I need or want to write now- because, language, like anything else needs to be spoken to be kept alive. So I better buck up my act before Ojas & Tejas get old enough to start asking me difficult grammar questions.

The beauty of language is that it picks up nuances from other languages or dialects as it goes along- kaahe instead of kyon (why), tarkari borrowed from Bengali instead of subzi (vegetable curry), chatti for chappal (slippers). These words blend into our normal conversation and we are unaware of how easily we have slipped into using it until someday someone points it out or we sit up and think- how did this word get into my lingo? We shake ourselves and shift to the more modern version- and therefore the kaahe became kyon one fine day- formal modern speak.

Another important aspect is the way certain words can sound or convey- sometimes they become non-translateable. Words are living breathing objects with feelings- they are concepts- a single word is an idea on its own- and they have immense power- power to take a life of their own once spoken or written
I sincerely feel that there is no word that conveys everything that khasta stands for in English or certain words, especially potty speak sounds so bad or revolting in Hindi that I personally prefer using the English word- the butt being another such word- the intensity of the word is evident when you use the correct hindi word- I have never really heard anyone use that word in spoken hindi.

Another aspect is official communications- I still need a translator to translate business/ commerce speak into Hindi- I was not bad in my school days but lack of practice has made me seriously lag behind in Business Hindi.

So coming back to the question- broadly I do not find written formal Hindi different from spoken Hindi- especially if you look at the grammatically correct Hindi spoken in the Hindi belt. Business language is a problem for me but fiction/ literature is not.

If you want children to become familiar with their first language, which form would you look for in children's books - formal or informal? Why?

For a regular book, the formal form would be idea because that is more universal. The idea of a children's book is instructive and educative apart from being of entertainment value. So I would prefer that a formal tone is taken as far as language and grammar is concerned. And it also makes the interpretation clear.
However if the tale has a regional flavour, the story could use the regional word with a translation separately explaining the origin and meaning and a photo accompanying to make it clearer. As I said, language assimilates- it seamlessly blends words from various origins into itself - so the more the merrier.
So therefore, while the local Biharis especially the ones who live near Bengal border say kal for nal (tap), but kal means yesterday or tomorrow in the formal Hindi language- I wouldn't want the word to be placed randomly in a normal Hindi book. But in a book with a regional flavour- it could be interesting to have the regional word.

The bilingual books or the regional translations of Tulika are very commendable contributions towards keeping the local dialect/ language alive and helping a particular language in assimilating words from other languages
Tinkle, Champak, Amar Chitra Katha played a very important part in my early development of language apart form being my reason for being well versed with Indian stories/ myths/ epics.
As far as written Hindi is concerned- whenever I buy books- I buy comparable numbers of books in english, hindi & tamil so that the children develop their language- this is something I learnt from my Mom- we used to buy Hindi & english editions alternate months.
Regarding spoken language- we are clear that if we want kids to learn all 3 languages- we need to be strict with ourselves- so my family & I speak to them in Hindi, my husband speaks to them in english & my husband's family speak in Tamil- and my kids- I am proud to say - can seamlessly shift among the 3 languages depending upon the audience.


Tulika Publishers said...

Wow! The first post of the blogathon to point to changes within the spoken language and to talk about dialects. Good on you:)

dipali said...

Such clear concepts! Brilliant post, Itchy.