The Financial Express

Stemming the rot approaching Bangla

| Updated: February 27, 2021 21:05:33

Stemming the rot approaching Bangla

Few can imagine a French child and his mother speaking English at their dining table in the morning; or the father, preparing for going to office speaking in favour of the boy engaged in an argument with his mother --- also in English. This scenario is veritably atrocious, and an absurd idea to expect from a French family. The linguistic passion of the French and, to some extent, the Germans, is proverbial. Which nation doesn't love its mother tongue? However, in the pre-communist era of Russia, speaking French in the family or a social get-together would be interpreted as a sign of aristocracy. English is fast taking this exclusive place in today's Japanese and fast-opening Chinese societies. The Japanese and the Chinese fought many a war with different enemies, but none was waged for saving their mother tongues. It's a different story, though.

In many contexts, the day-to-day use of foreign languages in a country which has fought a blood-smeared street movement to retain the honour of its mother tongue points to its dearth of self-dignity. Bangladesh is fast emerging as such a morally bankrupt nation. Youngsters and teenagers unabashedly speaking Hindi among them or in family circles are nowadays a common phenomenon. Even nursery-grade chubby-faced tiny tots feel more comfortable at speaking Hindi than Bangla. It doesn't require one to point the finger at the overwhelming presence of Hindi serials and cartoons on the Indian TV channels for this turn of things. Even home-makers do not feel any prick of conscience as they fluently speak Hindi in close family circles. It would have helped the youths and adults had they opted for English, now veritably the global lingua franca. But that, too, has become hard to achieve these days, with the number of students failing in English increasing exponentially. English has long been a dreaded subject. In spite of hundreds of outlets opened to help youths learn and practise English, few of the higher-grade students could be drawn to them.

In the meantime, the state of the Bangla language is headed for being in dire straits. During the observance of the Language Movement Day on 21 February every year, scores of discussions stress working out ways to save Bangla from linguistic pollutions. A great percentage of programmes broadcast on radio and TV on the day deals with the need for taking efforts to save Bangla. But these observations remain merely exercises in inanities. Not even a handful of the proposals placed at the hundreds of electronic media discourses and newspaper articles are known to have been implemented. The educated Bangla-loving segments of people know the truth. They have become used to this ritualistic shedding of tears over the plight of Bangla in the country, at times accompanied by pledges to take urgent initiatives to uphold the dignity of the mother tongue.

The day of Ekushey serves at least one vital purpose by focusing on the failures of the authorities to save the purity of Bangla. We may begin with a small instance. Thousands of words have been written to ensure that the written form of Bangla follows the correct rules. All efforts have gone in vain. The word 'sroddhanjoli', meaning tribute, continues to be written in a wrong spelling. There are many such instances. As most of the general people are least bothered about writing correct Bangla, these errors occupy a permanent place in the language, and keep appearing year in and year out.

English has different forms of speaking and writing in different continents. Spoken English of British and that of America are different from each other; so is the case with the styles of Australian and Irish English. And the spoken styles of West Indies Creole, Indian and African English are distinctively different. Despite these differences, the speakers follow their respective styles in a correct and grammatically approved ways. Even within the native varieties, the English speakers try to retain the correct form of grammar. When it comes to following the rules of a living language, educated nations never fail to adhere to the sacrosanct and basic tenets of the tongue, especially when it is being written. Civilised nations are fully aware of the fact that the grammar of a language can in no way be subject to experiments or whims. However, its true rules of grammar also undergo changes. It continues to occur through centuries, mostly unnoticed by the commoners.

Thus the late 16th century English grammar of Elizabethan or Shakespearean English up to the style of the 17th century Restoration Period follows unbroken rules. Since the period of the Old English epic poem Beowulf, written between 700 and 1,000 AD, the language used a freestyle grammar. Apart from the 14th-17th centuries, it continued to adopt grammatical rules imposed by the times' respective grammarians. English language had to wait up to the times of Lindley Murray in the late 18th century to boast of a guide that imposed sets of rule and discipline on the globally expanding language.

The case of Bangla is different. It was perhaps the only language in the world, the grammar of which was written by a scholar, who represented the British colonialists, then ruling India. The person was Nathaniel Halhed (1751-1830), an Orientalist and philologist. His work was titled 'A Grammar of the Bengal Language', printed at a Bengal press in 1778. This historic book was, however, preceded by the Bangla grammar book written by Portuguese missionary Manoel da Assumpcam in 1743. Despite the Bengalee nation's enormous pride in its mother tongue, few are aware of the fact that grammar rules and the linguistic nitty-gritty of the language were compiled by foreigners. It's a reason of both exhilaration and a feeling of dependence and inferiority. In the end, however, great Bengalee grammarians came forward to be at helm of the language. The endeavours of persons like the legendary writer and scholar Ishwarchandra Bidyasagar, Rabindranath Tagore, the great poet, Dr Muhammad Shahidullah,  Sunitikumar Chatterjee et al have kept shaping the ancient language into its modern form. Thanks to the impacts of periodic socio-political upheavals and the nonstop exertion of other influences, Bangla has developed into one of the most vibrant and widely spoken modern languages in the present world. The language is the state and official language of Bangladesh. In the process of placing it at the height of one of the state languages of the then Pakistan, the language and its admiring millions have had to undergo series of ordeals from 1952 onwards. 

Against this glorious backdrop, the lackadaisical and casual treatment meted out to Bangla speaks of the nation's miserable deterioration in its age-old basic values. A continuation of this treatment to the state language portends invitation of an anarchic situation in the use of Bangla. In the name of uniformity in spelling styles, an indefinite phase of chaos has been thrust on the language. It has made both the young learners and passionate Bangla lovers the victims. They suffer in silence. Due to the indiscriminate changes brought to Bangla by different quarters, by punching into it other languages, it may one day relegate to the position of a pidgin tongue. In stemming the rot, a new-generation language fighters ought to emerge without much delay. The national task is not limited to observing the Ekushey in a spectacular style. What it should comprise are the efforts to inspire the general people to become attached to the language --- emotionally and functionally.  It's painful for the Bangla-loving people to feel that the language is fast becoming alien to them.

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