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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai
LANGUAGE: PRIDE, PREJUDICE, AND INFERIORITY COMPLEX
A PANORAMIC VIEW
M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
1. TOGETHER WE DEVELOP PREJUDICES - A FACT OF INDIAN LIFE!
It appears that India had always been a multilingual country. While strong multilingualism developed a great degree of tolerance of the differences that existed between people groups, there was also a strong tendency to develop prejudice against other languages and people groups. Recorded history clearly indicates that standardization of literature, grammar, and speech was always pursued in India with great vigor. Because the "standard" was viewed to be better than the variants, people developed certain prejudices against those languages and dialects that did not fit their conception of what a standard should be.
2. THE PATH OF PRIDE, PREJUDICE, AND INFERIORITY
Even in one of the earliest works in Sanskrit, Natya Sastra, we read about various groups of people who spoke different languages within India. We read also about the prejudices people groups and socioeconomic classes had towards each other and how these prejudices got revealed through the references the characters in the traditional plays made about the languages or dialects various people groups used.
It is a reality of life that in these modern times people in India continue to exhibit strong prejudices against other languages and people groups than their own. Such prejudices in modern times are related to the socio-economic competition among the various groups to get the best and largest space for them in the socio-economic and political life of the country.
3. COME, CELEBRATE MY LANGUAGE, NOT YOURS! - LANGUAGE PRIDE
Speakers of an Indian language may feel proud about their language for various reasons. I give below some of the reasons people offer for this pride.
- Even today in India, some languages are spoken and not written. Speakers of the languages that are written feel proud about their language in comparison to those that are yet to develop a script system to write the language.
- When more people than another language speak one language, the speakers of the former may feel proud of their language.
- When a language is found useful or spoken in more places than another language, the speakers of the former category may feel proud about their language.
- When one language is found more useful to speak, write, and learn about a greater number of things than another language, the users of the former category may feel proud of that language.
- One feels proud about his or her language if that language is considered to be an ancient language, with longer history than another language.
- Speakers of a language may feel proud of it because, in their view, the literature of that language is richer and more varied.
- Speakers of a language may feel proud of it when people speaking other languages praise their language for its literature and history, etc.
- Speakers of a language may feel proud of their language because that language has it own peculiar forms of literature (genre) that is not found in other languages.
- Speakers of a language may feel proud of their language because their language is used for an understanding of ancient arts and sciences. They may also feel proud of their language in that language the works relating to ancient arts and sciences are still preserved.
- Speakers of a language may feel proud of their language because their language is used for certain highly valued religious practice or service. They may feel proud of their language because in it the religious texts were or are written.
- Speakers of a language may feel proud of their language because it is used by the speakers of other languages for handling delicate matters such as diplomacy.
- Speakers of a language may feel proud of their language because of the 'special ways in which the objects and events have been categorized, classified, and expressed in its vocabulary. Several words for the same object, one and the same word for different objects, elaborate identification of the parts of an object or event through the use different vocabulary, and the manner in which these vocabulary items categorize the network of parts, all may become cause for the pride in one's own language.
The list is endless.
4. SO WHAT? IT'S OK! - LANGUAGE INFERIORITY
Speakers of a language may feel that their language is inferior to another language for various reasons.
- Speakers of a language may feel that their language is inferior to another language, if their language is only spoken language and is not written.
- Speakers of a language may feel that their speech form (dialect) is inferior if their dialect is different from, and has no contact with, the standard spoken dialect of the language.
- Speakers of a language may feel that their language is inferior because their community in the past has viewed another language, a dominant one in terms of population strength, as superior to its own in literature, etc.
- The feeling of inadequacy may have been accelerated by the community's progressive identification with the language and culture of the dominant group surrounding it.
- The feeling of inadequacy or inferiority may have been caused by the fact that their language is restricted to only a few castes or communities, and/or that is no more spoken outside one's home and that it is restricted to the members of their caste.
- Speakers of a language may feel inferior or inadequate because it is not taught in the schools. They may also assume that their language is so inadequate or inferior to another that it cannot be taught in schools.
- Lack of printing facilities in the language may lead the speakers of that language to feel that their language is inferior to another language.
- The fact that their language borrows words, phrases, etc. heavily even to refer to the most familiar, the indispensable, and day to day objects and events from the dominant language in their environment may make the speakers of a language feel that their language is inferior to the dominant language.
5. DON'T PUSH ME OUT, I KNOW WHAT YOU PLAN TO DO: LANGUAGE PREJUDICE
- One may dislike another language because he has found it difficult to pass tests in that language.
- One may dislike a language because of his belief that even with his best efforts he would not be able to master that language.
- One may dislike another language because of its 'harsh' sounds, and because its grammatical patterns are quite different from those of his grammar.
- One may dislike another language, because that language happened to be language of the nation that colonized his country (India).
- One may dislike another language because it represents a religion that is inimical to his own religion. It is the language of the people belonging to another religion.
- One may dislike another language because, in his assessment, the use of that language will corrupt his own language and will lead to the loss of the purity of his language in its lexicon, grammar, and nuances.
- One may dislike another language because he may fear that the use of that language will enslave him and his country.
- One may dislike a language because he thinks that this language is imposed, and imposed with unseemly haste.
- One may dislike another language because the speakers of that language, in his assessment, do not recognize the greatness of his own language and tend to humiliate his own language.
- One may dislike a language because that language belongs to a different race and to a different language family.
- One may dislike a language because that language, a language of recent origin, is sought to be equated with his own language, an ancient language.
- One may dislike a language because that language is given a political status superior to that of one's own language, or because it is given a status that one desires for his own language, and not for that language.
- One may dislike a language because that language has some association linguistically or otherwise with another language that is disliked already!
- One may dislike a language because that language is the language of immigrants.
- One may dislike a language because that language is the language of a country having a sociopolitical ideology that is in conflict with that of one's own country.
The list is endless.
6. PRIDE, PREJUDICE, AND INFERIORITY
We notice a universal tendency to rationalize one's behavior. Pride in one's language, the feeling of inferiority regarding one's own language, and the prejudices against another language are always rationalized. Some of these rationalizations focus on the linguistic structure, some on the past and present status of the language, and some others on a wide spectrum of extra-linguistic considerations.
The tendency to feel proud or inferior about one's own language or prejudiced against another language may be learned as part of the socialization processes of a people group. The society feeds such notions into the minds and hearts of men and women early in their life. Our school curriculum is not neutral. It glorifies one language over another, sometimes with impunity, and often with the approval of the governmental authority and educationists. Pride in one's own languages is treated as an element of patriotism. Speeches delivered on formal occasions such as political gatherings, literary meetings, religious preaching and celebrations, the "amazing discovery" statements made by the prestigious people and scholars, and such other means help increase our pride in our languages, while, at the same time, fostering an indirect resistance to and disrespect for other languages.
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