ATTITUDINAL DIFFERENCE AND SECOND LANGUAGE LEARNING WITH REFERENCE TO TAMIL AND MALAYALAM
G. Balasubramanian, Ph.D.
CONTACT AND MIGRATION
The multilingual situation of India enables the speakers of one language learn another language through contact or migration. Migration results in the formation of linguistic minorities. The peaceful and successful co-existence of linguistic minorities depends upon their acculturation with the dominant culture and their proficiency in that language. Learning the dominant language may be influenced by many factors including the linguistic differences between the dominant language and the language of the minority, motivation, aptitude, and attitude of the learners. This paper focuses on the attitudes of Tamil and Malayalam speakers living in Kerala and Tamilnadu respectively toward each other's language.
SECOND LANGUAGE IN INDIAN SITUATION
The term second language needs some explanation. In India, English is usually referred to as a 'second language'. This is only an academic or curriculum-based reference. In this paper, the term 'second language' is used to refer to the language one learns as an additional language after one has acquired their mother tongue and this language is used for day-to-day communication other than in family environment. For example, for a Kannada speaker who acquires Kannada as his/her mother tongue and migrates to Andhra Pradesh and picks up Telugu and uses it for his/her day-to-day life, Telugu is his/her second language.
LANGUAGE LEARNING AND FIRST GENERATION MIGRANTS
Of course, there are many problems in defining this concept because we have to think whether he/she is a first generation migrant who already acquired his/her mother tongue from a monolingual environment or a second/third generation migrant who acquires the mother tongue and second language simultaneously. This paper deals only with first generation migrants. It is also to be kept in mind that an adult learning a second language faces a different set of problems than a child learning a second language.
The term 'acquisition' is used to refer to picking up a second language through exposure, whereas the term 'learning' is used to refer to the conscious study of second language (Ellis, 1986 : 6). Since the present paper does not intend to study the process of picking up a second language, no such distinction is maintained here.
MIGRATION WITHIN THE SAME LANGUAGE FAMILY
It is also necessary to distinguish between the migration within the language family and outside the language family. The situation, in which a Marathi speaker moves to Gujarat where the language spoken belongs to the same family of language, is different from the situation in which a Marathi speaker moves to Andhra Pradesh where the majority language is Telugu, which belongs to another family. Here the learning difficulties of a cognate language learner are different and relatively simple than learning a non-cognate language. This difficulty or easiness is based on the proximity or otherwise of the second language.
ATTITUDE AND LANGUAGE LEARNING
Lambert, et al. (1968) suggest that attitudes about language affect second language learning. There are also studies (Wolf, 1964/1959) to show evidences that the language attitude can have an effect on whether or not language variety is intelligible. Before studying the attitudes of speakers, it is important to understand how attitudes are formed. According to Annamalai (1979:37), "the attitude of speakers is determined by socio-cultural, political and historical factors which are external to the language."
TAMIL AND MALAYALAM - SOCIO-CULTURAL BACKGROUNDS
In the following paragraphs, an attempt is made to look at the socio-cultural and historical aspects of Tamils and Malayalees from the point of view of their respective languages.
Both the states of Tamilnadu and Kerala have settled minorities and first generation minorities. The first generation migrants may not be the permanent settlers. Government employees, businessmen, students, etc., from Kerala are living in Tamilnadu. Businessmen, Government employees and casual laborers from Tamilnadu are working in Kerala. This kind of mutual migration in between these adjacent states in South India is a common phenomenon. Such migrants may stay for a very short period or even live in the territory of their choice for over 30 or 40 years.
CERTAIN POSSIBILITIES AND CONTRADICTORY BEHAVIOR
It is possible to see some Tamil speakers who learn the Malayalam language very quickly with good proficiency, while they live in Kerala. It is also possible to see some Malayalam speakers who learn the Tamil language very quickly with good proficiency. Likewise we also come across Malayalam speakers living in Tamilnadu for years together, who may not be able to handle Tamil properly. A similar situation can be identified among the first generation migrant Tamil speakers in Kerala. But it is generally felt that most of the speakers of Malayalam when they migrate to the neighboring southern states quickly learn the local language with considerable proficiency. When the Malayalees move to Tamilnadu the speed in picking up the Tamil and proficiency level is very high. On the other hand, in the similar context, many Tamils manage with their Tamil particularly when they migrate to the three neighboring states.
REASONS FOR CONTRADICTORY BEHAVIOR
There should be some reasons for the contradictory behaviors of these two linguistic groups with regard to learning a cognate language. The first one could be the linguistic character of the languages concerned. It is evident that Tamil and Malayalam are very closely related. However Malayalam has many archaic features (Shanmugam, 1985:12). Phonologically Malayalam has got a unique position. The observation by R. E. Asher and T. C. Kumari (1997:405) is noteworthy in this context.
Perhaps more than any other Dravidian language, Malayalam has been heavily influenced by Sanskrit. One effect of this influence has been a considerably increased number of distinctive segments … compared with the set found in Dravidian words. For some speakers, all the phonological contrasts in the larger set are retained. For others, these contrasts have been reduced in varying degrees.
THE ROLE OF MALAYALAM AND TAMIL PHONOLOGY
If we accept this observation as a correct one, we can say that Malayalam phonology is inclusive of Tamil phonology with exceptions like the medial -ai- and final -ai becoming a; nd becomes nn etc. Grammatically, according to L. V. Ramaswamy Ayyar(1993/19366 : 178), the features of Malayalam morphology are directly related to or immediately derivable from a stage of speech corresponding to what may now be described as Early Middle Tamil. The changes from Middle Tamil to Modern Tamil are to be accounted.
At one level Malayalam retains the Dravidian phonological and grammatical features. Through the borrowed lexical items from Sanskrit it expands its phonology by incorporating the sounds like aspirated plosives and fricatives. Lexically, no quantitative analysis is available for us on the number of Sanskrit words used in the spoken Tamil or in spoken Malayalam. The general impression is that Malayalam has more number of Sanskrit words in the ordinary spoken language also. With regard to the written Malayalam particularly technical terms, K. M. Prabhakara Varier (1979:4) categorically concludes, "In modern Malayalam it would be extremely difficult to coin a scientific term purely based on native roots".
THE DUAL IDENTITY
To put the above discussion together, the 'dual identity' of Dravidian (phonological and grammatical) and Sanskrit (Lexical) created a peculiar place for Malayalam among the Dravidian languages. The pattu tradition of Malayalam followed the Middle Tamil literary tradition. Even after Malayalam became an independent language before 14th century, Tamil continued to be a cultural and literary force. Keralites had the constant exposure of Tamil through the passes like Palghat and Chenkottai. Up to the early period of twentieth century, Tamil musical dramas enacted in Tamil were very popular in Kerala. K. M. Prabhakara Varier (1982:71) accepts that the influence of Tamil on Malayalam literature might be due to some sociological and political reasons. One can conclude that the influence may be due to the continuing "dependence" of Malayalam on Tamil literary tradition in addition to the Sanskrit tradition before developing its own literary tradition.
The "retention" of Middle Tamil linguistic features and "dependence" of literary tradition might have developed in the collective consciousness of Malayalam speakers a "love and affection" for Tamil language.
THE TAMIL ATTITUDE - A STUDY BASED ON A QUESTIONNAIRE
On the other hand, Tamil is phonologically, grammatically and lexically (to a greater extent) Dravidian. Tamil is the only major Indian language which has the least Sanskrit phonological or grammatical influence. Because of this resistance, the pride for Tamil among Tamil speakers is very high. The popular belief that Tamil is ancient and mother to all the Dravidian language (as found in the invocation song on the Goddess Tamil by Manonmaniam Sundaram Pillai) also contributes to the pride of the Tamil speakers. Due to historical reasons and modern academic training that highly values the mother tongue, the ordinary Tamil speakers with some educational background assume a "superior position" for Tamil.
The data for this article was collected from 60 informants (30 for Tamil and 30 for Malayalam) in Annamalai Nagar, Trichy (both in Tamilnadu) and Calicut (in Kerala) during 2004-05 with the help of a schedule consisting of 72 questions. The informants are only first generation migrants varying from two years to twenty five years of stay in the other state. The informants include both males and females, above the age of 15 and their education was SSLC or above.
The results of the percentage analysis clearly show a difference between Tamil and Malayalam speakers with regard to their second language learning attitude.
An Yearning to Go Back to Their Land
100% of the informants want to go back to their respective native states. All these informants, both Malayalam and Tamil speakers, reported that their language (their speech) is not "spoiled" or "corrupted" by learning another language. It means that learning a second language by a first generation migrant will not cost the linguistic identity of the speaker.
Tamil and Malayalam Speakers' Claims - Pulling in Opposite Directions
100% of Malayalam informants ranging from 2 years of stay in Tamilnadu claim to know Tamil to speak. 60% claimed that they could read Tamil. 20% claimed that they know how to write Tamil. On the other hand, in the similar category, 60% of Tamils claim to know to speak Malayalam and 30% claim that they can read, and nobody claims to have known to write Malayalam. Their 'claim' and 'proficiency' may vary from one individual to another. A direct proficiency test was not conducted. But to a question whether the mother tongue speakers identify you when you speak their language, 70% Malayalam speakers accepted that they were identified as native Malayalam speakers by the native speakers of Tamil. At the same time, 100% of Tamil speakers are of the opinion that they are identified as Tamil speakers by the native speakers of Malayalam the moment they started speaking Malayalam. This shows that the Malayalam speakers either try to reach the near native accent, or the Tamils are not conscious of the non-native accent.
Expectations of Proficiency
Two questions deal with the appreciation of the native speaker and their expectation of proficiency from the second language learner. Out of thirty informants, except one, all others say that their Tamil is appreciated by the native speakers. At the same time, only 22% Tamils say that the Malayalam speakers appreciate their Malayalam. This question is supplemented with another question whether the native speakers expect you to speak their language better. 80% of the Malayalees feel that it is not so. 70% Tamil speakers say it is true that the native speakers of Malayalam expect better expression in Malayalam from them.
WHAT DOES CONTRAST IN ATTITUDE MEAN?
This kind of varied behavior between these linguistic groups needs further clarification. This contrast in attitudes shows that Tamils have 'tolerance' to the non-native accents, whereas the Malayalees expect a better performance from second language users of Malayalam.
An ordinary speaker of Malayalam who does not have any linguistic training is aware that their language is rich in various sounds. When they come into contact with Tamil speakers they easily understand that the contrastive pairs of nasal sounds, dental, palatal and velar nasals, the contrastive pairs of trills. namely, hard and soft r sounds, and the contrastive pairs of alveolar, retroflex and grooved palatal laterals, the aspirated plosives and the fricative sounds are the difficult areas for any Tamil speakers. Since they are aware of the rich phonological system of their language, they expect the speakers, especially Tamils to commit mistakes. They assume a 'superior position' with regard to their ability to pronounce various sounds. This may by the reason why Malayalees are "intolerant" to the imperfect and non-native accent use of their language by a second language learner.
The Tamil speakers who happened to have contact with Malayalam also understand the difficulty in learning Malayalam sounds. The Sanskrit sounds are stumbling blocks to many Tamil speakers. For a Tamilian whoever tries to speak Tamil in whichever way is welcome. The reason for this kind of attitude is to be explained. The language loyalty and pride of the Tamils may indirectly help to develop such positive attitude. Moreover, one can interpret that the many different regional and social variations (including Srilankan and Malaysian Tamil) allow Tamil speakers to accept variations even with non-native accent.
70% of the Malayalam informants claimed that they knew at least some Tamil prior to their migration to Tamilnadu. Many said that they could understand and converse a little bit through watching Tamil Cinema. It is a fact that Tamil movies are widely seen in Kerala, second only to Malayalam movies. Similarly Tamil songs are very popular among Malayalees. Two informants said that they had traveled in Tamilnadu and picked up the language.
THE ROLE OF INITIAL INHIBITION TO USE ANOTHER LANGUAGE
In language learning, the initial inhibition to use the target language may be a great hindrance. The Malayalam speakers overcome this through this kind of self-estimation that they know the language. At the same time no Tamil speaker claimed to have known Malayalam before coming to Kerala. The self-assertion of Malayalam speakers also acts adversely as far as a Tamil migrant speaker is concerned.
To a related and opposite question, 100% Malayalees say that the native speakers of Tamil do not know Malayalam. But 75% Tamil speakers claim that they could even manage in Kerala with Tamil, since many Malayalees speak Tamil.
A waiter in a hotel or a seller in a petty shop in Kerala speaks Tamil to a Tamil speaker and the Tamils think that they can manage without Malayalam. This attitude of Malayalam speakers does not allow Tamil speakers to develop a need for learning Malayalam.
DIFFICULTY IN LEARNING A LANGUAGE
The explanation for such an attitude may be obtained with the help of another question. This question was put to compare the difficulty in learning either of the languages by a non-cognate language speaker. Invariably all the informants, both Malayalam and Tamil native speakers, expressed that Malayalam could be the difficult language to learn. It is understandable that a Tamil speaker designates Malayalam a difficult language. But many Malayalam speakers also ascertained that Malayalam sounds are very difficult to acquire and it is the most difficult language to speak.
Here also the attitude of Malayalees with regard to the learning difficulty of their own language gives them the strength that they already learned a very difficulty language with all possible sounds. So they can pick up any language.
TO SUM UP
To sum up the brief report, the attitudinal differences between Tamils and Malayalees with regard to their own mother tongue and the second language seem to be the main reason for the variation in the quickness and readiness in learning the other language among the Malayalam native speakers.
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G. Balasubramanian, Ph.D.
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