LANGUAGE IN INDIA

Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 3 : 11 October 2003

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.

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    M. S. Thirumalai
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    B. Mallikarjun,
    Central Institute of Indian Languages,
    Manasagangotri,
    Mysore 570006, India
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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai

LANGUAGE NEWS THIS MONTH
FROM SPELLING BEE TO MISINTERPRETATION OF TELEPHONE CONVERSATIONS


An Indian American Student Becomes the New Spelling Champion

The tradition of recitation and memorization is alive and well in the Indian school system as well as in the universities. Modern subjects including mathematics are learned through recitation and memorization. Although educationists of various hues have decried this dependence on recitation and memorization and called for "real understanding" of the concepts, Indians, I think, will never be able to give up this tradition. As for me, I do not really see why we should give up this tradition of recitation and memorization.

Children of immigrant parents from India in countries like the United States have not yet lost their dependence on recitation and memorization for their excellent performance in their classes, it appears. One of the ways through which this skill is demonstrated often is in the success of Indian American students in the Spelling contests. They master the chaotic English spelling and demonstrate their superior power, I believe, through their "natural" inclination to adopt recitation and memorization.

American newspapers reported the success of Sai Gunturi, an eighth grader, from Dallas, Texas in the 76th Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee Contest. He was among the 251 finalists out of the 10 million students! Sai said, "Actually, I started studying in fourth grade and then I guess it's kind of like cumulative study all the way up to here," said Sai after surviving the gruelling, 15-round contest by spelling such words as "rhathymia", "dipnoous" and "voussoir" (The Hindu, May 30, 2003). There were several spelling bee contest national champions in the past from among the children of Indian immigrants in the United States. Certainly bee-like hardwork!

Hindi Can Rule the World!

Hindi can rule the world, feels the Prime Minister of India. Mr. Vajpayee recently lamented the dominance of English language in India and wanted that Hindi be popularized. He also said that primary education should be imparted in the mother tongue. He said, "Barely two to three per cent people speak English. In our country education of English language starts right from first standard." Hindi has the potential to rule the world, and don the status of an international language, he declared (The Hindu, May 21, 2003). Such sentiments are part of Indian political ethos for quite some time. Every now and then, we hear such declarations. Immediately after the Prime Minister Vajpayee's speech, similar sentiments were expressed by Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav, and at least one governor from the South.

The role and function of Indian mother tongues as desired in the political platforms appear to be in conflict with the decisions of higher courts in India. In the court of the parents, motivated mostly by their vision of ensuring a bright economic future for their children, the role and function of mother tongues are viewed differently. Moreover, there seems to be no agreement on the interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution of India and implementing the provisions. Will we be able to solve these contradictions, and bring into reality what the Prime Minister wants us to? Are the issues connected with using mother tongues as media of instruction to be separated from the issues relting the development and use of Hindi as an official language?

Kodava-speaking People Seek One Identity, and Many Others Seek the Same

Smaller but distinct ethnic communities in India have begun to seek political space of their own and assert their recognition in their traditional areas of settlement. Nagas, who speak mutually unintelligible languages, are united under a common label. Kuki-Chin preliterate communities (not so preliterate anymore) such as the Thado, Paite, Hmar communities, who speak mutually intelligible languages, are politically disunited. Nagas seek a larger Nagaland by integrating the Naga-speaking areas of Manipur Hills with Nagaland.

The Kodava Samskritika Mela held early this year appears to have started the process of uniting the various caste and ethnic groups under the general name Kodava (often referred to as Coorgi). As many as 18 communities, including the Kodavas, speak the Kodava tongue, but they have maintained different identities so far.

The Kodava population is declining, and its culture is undergoing tremendous changes in recent times. The Kodava population is around one lakh in Kodagu (the Coorg district in Karnataka, well-known for the birth place of the river Kaveri, and coffee estates) . An equal number of Kodava people are found in the other districts of Karnataka and in major cities of India. The Kodavas are known for their well-knit joint family system, but this system is losing ground.

The Hindu reported early this year that the speakers at the Mela spoke on the need for the 18 Kodava-speaking communities to come under one umbrella. The call was for all the 18 Kodava-speaking communities come together and preserve the unique culture in the "Ain Mane" (ancestral homes) and "Kaimada" (place dedicated to ancestors) (The Hindu, January 2003). Several speakers in the Mela spoke in favor of fostering unity to check the declining population of Kodava people. There was a demand that the label Kodava should be applied to all the 18 communities. So far, it referred to only a major segment among all those who spoke the Kodava language. It was also argued that the Kodavas, thus united, should take advantage of the linguistic minority status accorded to them by the Constitutional provisions and start academic institutions.

The Kodava-speaking people in Kodagu include Kodava, Amma Kodava, Airi, Hegade, Banna, Maleya, Koyava, Koleya, Madivala, and others.

The issues before the Kodava linguistic community are really issues that many castes in other regions in India are trying to come to terms with. Should they include sections of society as part of their own, especially when these sections were historically kept out of the major group? The Thevars, Nadars, and Pallars of Tamilnadu have been dealing with this type of issue for several decades.

The newspaper reported that, "in 1980, over 400 members of the Koyuva family in Srimangala were taken in as Kodavas. The Akhila Kodava Samaja played a crucial role in this venture. It is said that applications of some members of "Airi", and "Banna" families who have volunteered to come under Kodava fold, as also some who have married Kodava girls or vice-versa, is pending before the Akhila Kodava Samaja."

There was a time when the attempts being made to bring all the Kodava-speaking communities together suffered a minor setback. Some members of the "Hegade" and "Airi" communities demanded representation in the Karnataka Kodava Sahitya Academy. Members from those communities have been chosen members now. This is seen as a step closer to realising the goal of forging unity.

Some Kodava-speaking communities are of the opinion that they should be declared as Kodavas by the federal Kodava body without being asked to file applications. Some, on the other hand, are waiting eagerly to join the Kodava fold. There is also the possibility that the body concerned, whether Akhila Kodava Samaja or the Federation of Kodava Samajas, is likely to gauge the antecedents of the Kodava-speaking communities before considering their claims. In that case, a relaxation in the rigid rules may be necessary.

Discrimination and Bias Based On the Language Medium of Staff Selection Commission Exams

Vaiko, a leading politician and a member of the Parliament from Tamilnadu, has written that recruitment system of the Staff Selection Commission showed a "discrimination and bias" against non-Hindi speaking States.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, A. B. Vajpayee, from Vellore Central Prison, where he had been lodged after his detention under POTA, Vaiko said the SSC was following English and Hindi as a medium for its examinations and conducting interviews in both languages and releasing the results in a "hurry".

Only a few candidates were selected from the South due to the Commission's policy and language formula, he said.
The final results showed there was a "indigestible and unimaginably poor representation" by the South Indian candidates. "This shows that there is a clear cut linguistic discrimination by the Staff Selection Commission," he said.
Almost 90 per cent of the candidates from South India and North Eastern States took the examination in English but 90 per cent of them failed, which revealed the fact that those, who chose English as the medium were not equally treated on par with that of Hindi medium candidates, he said.
"This kind of medium bias can be avoided only by the introduction of conducting examinations in all the languages under schedule VII of the Constitution followed by the UPSC for civil services examinations," he said, according to The Hindu, October 29, 2003.

Sentence Structure and Misinterpretation of Telephone Conversations

An interesting report by Luv Puri in The Hindu on October 30, 2003 shows how important it is for the investigating agencies to have some perceptive understanding and control over the language or dialect used by the accused.

According to the report, it appears that the evidence of a recorded conversation between Mr. Geelani, Delhi University Lecturer and one of the accused in the Parliament attack case, and his brother was misinterpreted. Mr. Sampat Prakash, a veteran trade union leader of Jammu and Kashmir, helped the Defence Committee for Geelani as a translator.

Mr. Sampat Prakash said, "On hearing the recorded cassette minutely and seriously, several times sentence by sentence and word by word, I reached the conclusion that a false case had been slapped on the lecturer. The translations made by the police were incorrect."
In the recorded message, Mr. Geelani's brother asks the former in Kashmiri: "Delhi kyah korva?" (What has happened in Delhi?), and the prosecution had cited this as evidence of Mr. Geelani's involvement in the conspiracy.
Mr. Sampat Prakash said: "Every language is the product of some particular culture. The syntactical pattern in the Kashmiri language is radically different from that of English. The thematic communication of a sentence gets altered with the mode of delivery. An assertive sentence changes into an interrogative one by a change in the delivery pitch. `Ye kyah korva? Dilli kya korva?' does not connote any kind of inquiry. It connotes wonder at a happening. Even the translator appointed by the police agreed with my argument".

HOME PAGE | BACK ISSUES | A Prolog Analyzer/Generator for Sanskrit Subanta Padas | From Spelling Bee to Misinterpretation of Telephone Conversations | Useful and Advanced Topics for Conversation in Intensive Courses: Heritage Learning and Current Social Learning | Understanding Proxemic Behavior | CIEFL Occasional Papers in Linguistics, Vol. 10 | The Two Lives of -unnu in Malayalam: a Response to Amritavali and Jayaseelan | The Order of the Inflectional Morphemes in Arabic | Serial Verbs with the Light Verbs ja: and de in Oriya | Multiple Wh-Fronting and Superiority: A Nested Movement Analysis ...
| Stress and Tone in Punjabi | The Prosodic Phonology of Negation in Assamese | Phonological Awareness in Adult Illiterates: Onsets, Rimes, and Analogies | CONTACT EDITOR


M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Bethany College of Missions
6820 Auto Club Road, Suite C
Bloomington, MN, USA
E-mail: thirumalai@bethfel.org