LANGUAGE IN INDIA
http://www.languageinindia.com
Volume 5 : 9 September 2005

Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

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

ORIYA LANGUAGE- PROCESS OF DECAY?
A SOCIO-LINGUISTIC STUDY
Smita Sinha, Ph.D.


"I am always sorry when a language is lost,
because languages are the pedigree of nations.
"
Samuel Johnson, Letter to Boswell

INTRODUCTION - CONTROVERSY REGARDING ORIYA TEACHING IN THE COLLEGES OF ORIYA

The future of Oriya language became a hot topic of discussion among the intelligensia when the Department of Higher Education of the Government of Orissa released a notification on May 25, 2005 to scrap Oriya as an elective subject from 140 degree colleges of the State of Orissa, including Ravenshaw Unitary University from the academic year of 2005. The reason given for this decision was that the students are not showing interest to study Oriya as a subject (The Samaj, May 26, 2005). The Times of India, one of the premier newspapers of India, reported on May 27, 2005,

The state government's decision to drop Oriya as an elective subject from 140 colleges has raised the hackles of linguists and politicians. The Higher Education Department took this step as part of its rationalization programme. Under that, enrollment of students vis--vis the availability of teachers in various subjects was studied over the last three academic sessions.

We are now removing Oriya from the college syllabus. It will remain compulsory in plus II (higher secondary) and plus III level (graduation) and it will continue as an Honours subject. We will only stop Oriya as a pass (elective) subject at those colleges where enrollment has been poor or even nil for the last three years" - Higher Education Minister Samir Dey said.

D.P. Pattanayak, an eminent linguist and founder-director of the Central Institute of Indian Languages, commented, 'On the one hand we talk about our strong Oriya tradition and, on the other hand, we do not want our children to study Oriya. Though Orissa is the first state in India to be formed on linguistic lines, use of [Oriya] language in communication is quite poor in education as well as in administration."

A STRANGE RESPONSE FROM ANDHRA PRADESH - FISHING IN THE TROUBLED WATERS?

Soon after the Government of Orissa's decision to scrap Oriya as an elective subject, the Government of Andhra Pradesh released a notification to scrap Oriya medium education / examination to Bichinanchal Oriya students and asked them to study in Telugu medium (Dharitri, June 26, 2005). It is worthwhile to mention that some part of Orissa bordering Andhra Pradesh were originally in Madras Presidency before Orissa became a separate state in 1936 and vice-versa. These areas are known as Bichinanchal. Hence the Andhra government had retained Oriya teaching to the Oriya-speaking children of border areas in Andhra. Similarly, the Telugu speaking children of Orissa border in Southern Orissa are allowed to study through the Telugu medium by the Orissa government. Whereas Orissa government did not scrap the Telugu medium instruction, Andhra government took the decision to scrap Oriya medium. Scholars specializing in the field of education, and local Oriya politicians raised their objection to this sudden, and in my opinion, unwarrnanted move. With the interference of the Government of Orissa, this decision by the Government of Andhra Pradesh was ultimately withdrawn.

LANGUAGE ATTITUDES REVEALED!

These events clearly showed the attitude towards Oriya language both among the Oriya-speaking population and the officials of the Department of Education, in Orissa. In modern times, a language has a great chance of survival only when it is used in education and in administration.

The Indian Express (August 04, 2004) reported,

The three language formula, drafted as a compromise to meet pressure from various groups was good in theory but has proved to be a failure. Tamil Nadu for instance, follows a two-language formula, teaching only Tamil and English in government-aided schools. Hindi-speaking states never introduced another Indian language.

In 2000, the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) released a document called the National Curriculum Framework for school education providing a framework and path for school education in this next decade. Under the proposals relating to language, the framework argued that the three-language formula is still relevant and efforts should be made to implement it more vigorously.

Politicians in general, and some academicians in particular, argue that mother tongue or the regional language is the best medium for the education of children. Others point out that where English is taught only as a language, students fail to acquire adequate competence. We read reports about the mushrooming of English language teaching schools all over the country. While every child must know his or her mother tongue and regional language, there is no getting away from the fact that English is now the language of globalization.

DECAY OR DEATH?

Under the circumstances, can we infer that the future of Oriya language is in the process of decay?

In 1872, the German Scholar Fraz Bopp claimed that languages are considered organic natural bodies, which are formed according to fixed laws, develop as possessing an inner principle of life, and gradually die out because they don't understand themselves any longer, and therefore cast off or mutilate their members or forms (Bopp 1872 in Aitchison, 1981).

The consensus among intellectuals is that Oriya language is slowly decaying out as the elite mass, specially the younger children, prefers to speak and write in English, ignoring their native tongue. Language is the most powerful means of communication and human beings never have stopped talking. How, then, can a language die out? Linguists like Aitchison (1981), believe that when a language dies it is not because a community has forgotten how to speak, but because another language has gradually ousted the old one as the dominant language, for political and social reasons. Typically a young generation will learn an old language from their parents as a mother tongue, but will be exposed from a young age to another, more fashionable and socially useful, language at school.

THE HISTORICAL RESPONSES TO THE QUESTIONS OF LANGUAGE LOYALTY AND ATTITUDES

During the freedom movement, the need for developing the different mother tongues was felt as an important tool for political awakening and regional consciousness. (Prasad, 1979). During the post-colonial era, with the introduction of the three-language formula in school, the regional languages were given importance by the policy makers. The policy makers felt that under the three-language formula, English should be taught as the international link language, the classical language Sanskrit or Hindi for national identity, and the mother tongue for regional identity. In Orissa, Oriya, the regional language of the majority, is introduced in schools as 1st or 2nd language. But, in spite of the fact that Oriya language is taught in the school, people from the elitist classes and younger people of today prefer to speak in English because of the vast number of functions it serves and the prestige attached to it. "English alone and no other Indian language, not even Sanskrit, could meet with our new type of intellectual hunger and our eagerness for knowledge which has come to us in modern age" (Chatterjee, 1973, p. 45).

THE OBJECTIVES OF THE PRESENT STUDY

The aim and objectives of the present study is to find out the attitude the younger generation and their parents in urban and rural areas towards Oriya language through samples. For this purpose, 400 samples, out of which 200 are from elite localities of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar, from people whose native language is Oriya, were interviewed. Out of these, 100 are children of the age group of 14-16. 50 Boys and 50 girls and 100 are parents - 50 mothers and 50 fathers. The rest consisted of the samples from rural areas in the Cuttack and Khurda districts. Out of these, 100 children are of the age group of 14-16, 50 boys and 50 girls and 100 parents - 50 mothers and 50 fathers. The samples were selected on the basis of random sampling method.

All the samples are exposed to television, and rural parents have had education upto the matriculation level. All the urban parents have received education up to the under-graduate level. All the rural children go to Oriya medium schools and the urban students go to English medium schools.

TOOLS AND MEASURES

The samples were given questionnaires to fill up, one set for the children and another set for the parents. The questionnaire attempted to elicit the subjects' attitude towards English and Oriya languages, information on what language they prefer to speak at home, with friends, in school / office, why do they prefer to speak in a particular language (whether they like to read (in Oriya or English), or what film they like to see, whether learning Oriya is easier than learning English, whether Oriya should remain as a language for examination in various levels of education, whether Oriya should be the medium of instruction, etc.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

TABLE-1: ATTITUDE TOWARDS ORIYA IN ELITE URBAN ORISSA

 

 

 

Boys

Girls

Mother

Father

1

Prefer to speak in

Oriya

5%

2%

10%

10%

English

95%

98%

90%

90%

2.

More prestigious

Oriya

0%

0%

0%

0%

English

100%

100%

100%

100%

3.

More function

Oriya

0%

0%

0%

0%

English

100%

100%

100%

100%

4.

More available language

Oriya

0%

0%

0%

0%

English

100%

100%

100%

100%

5.

Literature like to read

Oriya

0%

0%

0%

0%

English

100%

100%

100%

100%

6.

Films like to see

Oriya

0%

0%

0%

0%

English

100%

100%

100%

100%

7.

If Oriya is easier to learn

--

100%

100%

100%

100%

8.

If Oriya should be a language paper only

--

95%

98%

50%

80%

9.

If Oriya should be the medium of instruction

--

0%

0%

50%

77%

TABLE 2 -- ATTITUDE TOWARDS ORIYA IN RURAL ORISSA

 

 

 

Boys

Girl

Mother

Father

1.

Prefer to Speak in

Oriya

100%

100%

100%

100%

English

--

--

---

--

2.

More Prestigious

Oriya

--

--

---

--

English

100%

100%

100%

100%

3.

More function

Oriya

--

--

---

--

English

100%

100%

100%

100%

4.

More available language

Oriya

50%

49%

100%

100%

English

50%

51%

--

--

5.

Literature like to read

Oriya

100%

100%

100%

100%

English

--

--

---

--

6.

Films like to see

Oriya

100%

100%

100%

100%

English

--

--

---

--

7.

If Oriya easier to learn

 

100%

100%

100%

100%

8.

If Oriya should be a language paper only

 

100%

100%

100%

100%

9.

If Oriya should be the medium of instruction

 

60%

45%

75%

55%

WHAT DO THESE SIGNIFY? THE FOREBODINGS

The above results are very significant as these show the attitude towards Oriya language among the elitist classes is not very positive toward Oriya learning, which creates a threat to the effective survival of Oriya language "Languages grow and develop by being made to function in newer contexts and newer interactional network" (Verma, 1984, pp. 12-13). Most of these samples feel that English is the language of Science and Technology, power and politics and of global communication. It is a very developed language with its rich vocabulary. It is also the most easily available language in the world and is the international link language. It is also considered as a language of sophistication. More than anything else, sound knowledge of English will fetch good job prospects. In short, English language offers greater mobility, self-confidence, enhancing self-esteem and better future prospects. It is interesting to note that, although rural people feel Oriya is easier, they do not prefer Oriya medium instruction because only English medium education will fetch good jobs in this competitive world of today.

These are a few of the reasons why the parents feel that their children should be more competent in the English language. On the contrary, they feel that the Oriya language does not offer a wide range of functions and is less attached with the prestige factor. As today's scenario demands globalization, it is highly essential to be more proficient in English. Social changes usually start from the elite and spread towards the general public. The trend in Orissa is that parents, who can afford, prefer to send their children to English medium schools for better career opportunities. These children read Oriya as a second language only. Many prefer to speak in English among themselves to have a good command of the spoken English. If this process continues over a period of time, we shall be left with Oriya speakers only in the rural Orissa although it will still be continued to be taught in Orissa as 1st or 2nd language. When that stage comes, shall we call it a death or decay of the Oriya language? German writer Max Muller asserted that the history of all the Aryan languages is nothing but a gradual process of decay.

Many historical linguists assert that there can never be a moment of true standstill in language, just as little as in the ceaselessly flaming thought of men. By nature it is a continuous process of development. Saussure (1915/1959) argued that Time changed all things: there is no reason why language should escape this universal law. Oriya language over the years will undergo changes. But whether it will slowly evolve into a more efficient state adapting to the needs of time or will there be a language murder remains a question.

MURDERING LANGUAGES

Aitchison, (1981) defines language murder as slaughtering the old language by the new. The first stage is likely to be the growth of a generation of speakers who, in childhood, were equally skilled in two languages, both the old one which they learnt from their parents and a new socially prestigious one to which they were exposed outside home. As these children grow up and become adults, they gradually stop talking the older language, perhaps practicing it only when they visit elderly relatives. In the course of time, they begin to forget their mother tongue. They can still converse after a fashion, but they forget the words for things, get endings wrong, and use a limited number of sentence patterns.

Language death is a social phenomenon, triggered by social needs. There is no evidence that there was anything wrong with the dead language itself, its essential structure was no better and no worse than that of any other language. It faded away because it did not fulfill the social needs of the community who spoke it.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE RIGHT NOW?

What is at this stage needed to preserve the language is that the language planners and policy makers must take note of this impending terror that will attack the Oriya language, and try to develop the language to fulfill the social needs of the future generation. For doing this, the following things should be taken into consideration.

  1. To develop richness in vocabulary.
  2. To develop wider functions for the use of Oriya.
  3. To give more prestige to the native elements of the language and even to revive the obsolete forms with new modern connotation.
  4. To develop the terminology from science and technology and make the language as the language of power and development.
  5. To stop infiltration of external foreign elements into Oriya.
  6. To develop the written literature.
  7. To develop positive attitude towards Oriya among younger people and to stimulate motivation in them to learn and speak this language.
  8. To make the literature of science and technology of other developed languages available in Oriya through machine translation.
  9. To popularize the Oriya language through mass media like film and television by creating good work of art in Oriya.

REFERENCES

Aitchison, J. (1981). Language change: progress or decay, London: Fontana paperbacks.

Chatterjee, S.K. (1973). India - A Polyglot Nation and its linguistic problems, Bombay, M.G. Memorial Research Centre, Hindustan Prachar Sabha.

Prasad, N.K. (1979). The language issue in India. Delhi Leeladevi publication.

Saussure, F. De (1915/1959). Course de lingustigue general, Paris: Payot 1915, English translation by W. Baskin, Course in general Linguistics, New York: The philosophical Library 1959: London: Fontana, 1974.

Verma, S.K. (1984). The changing roles of Asian languages. A study in register creation, Singapore: National University of Singapore.

Newspaper reports

The Dharitri - 16 June 2005, Bhubaneswar

The New Indian Express- August 2004, Bhubaneswar The Times of India - 27 May 2005, Bhubaneswar The Samaj - 26 May 2005, Cuttack.

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Smita Sinha, Ph.D.
Department of Linguistics
Berhamput 760 007
Orissa
India.
smitas6@yahoo.com