warning signs of extinction

An Extinct Language

After digging up some archeological ruins, some strange scripts [shown in the figures] were discovered. In an unrelated discovery, playback of some tapes recovered from old FM radio stations showed that words from a strange language used occasionally. After further research, scientists could map the ancient script to this language. Scientists then traced the language down to what people in Karnataka used to speak a long time ago!

Though the above paragraph was an exaggeration, it is really not very far from the bitter truth the way things are going on now.
You can choose to change things.

Why bother?

More and more people speak English than Kannada in Karnataka, and
hence English is so much more convenient. And after all English is
indeed a link language in the entire international community which
allows us access to a wealth of knowledge. Speaking brutally
honestly, we have enough problems in our day to day life, why should
we care about some ideological sentiments about saving our own
language? Aren’t there other people having more free time on
their hands who are already doing that?

The hard fact is that a language gives one a sense of IDENTITY,
just like one’s religion or nationality. E.g. when I visited the
Taj Mahal… I could hear people all around me speaking all kinds of
languages… Hindi, Tamil, Telegu, Bengali and Malayalam were those I
could recognize. It was a beautiful
display of national integration, so many people from all over India
coming to visit this magnificent structure common to
all. As I strolled around, I was delighted to hear a group talking in
Kannada… I felt really happy and went and chatted with them. Funny
thing is that was the only way I could recognize that they too were
from the same place as me. This sense of identity is even more
important outside India. One day, in a train in Germany (where its
often hard to find someone who knows even English!), somebody
approached me and my friends when we were talking in Kannada and
asked “bengluurindha bandhidhira?” (Are you from
Bangalore?). After many months in a foreign country,
it was great to meet someone from close to home.

Evidence of extinction

The introductory story was of course an exaggeration, but here are
some observations which depict the true gravity of the situation.

–      company
names and signboards
– have you seen any new establishment name
or signboard in Kannada? Any new company that comes up now will never
think of having a Kannada name. A rare exception is HaLLi Mane
started in Malleswaram.

–      government web sites – the government has done an excellent job in
e-enabling all the government web sites. That’s good progress,
but at a cost. Have you noticed how few of these web sites have a
Kannada interface at all?

–      schools
– a great number of schools do not make Kannada mandatory at all

–      fm radio stations – We have three music FM radio channels in
Bangalore. We have to thank FM 91 for making the radio popular.
Yet we hear mostly English on it, something I feel that
would be unheard of in any other state in India. Even on FM
Rainbow, I heard somebody who had dialed in pleading that
the programs continue to be conducted in Kannada and not be replaced
by English radio jockeys.

–      conversation
even when rarely started in Kannada changes to English. Sometimes
some Kannada words here and there are only a pathetic excuse that the
conversation is still going on in Kannada. There are some people
who act as if they do not know Kannada at all even though it’s
their mother tongue.

–      books
in Kannada are something to be really searched for, inspite of
Bangalore having many huge book stalls such as Strand and
Gangarams.

In a cosmopolitan city like Bangalore, English is an
irreplaceable value addition, but has gone on to
become a substitution. However I would say condemning English or
any other language in the name of Kannada is hypocrisy. It would
be an extreme and impractical measure to think of replacing English
completely with Kannada, we have to take a more balanced approach
with the convenience of non-Kannadigas in mind.

Considering that a person who cannot speak Kannada can manage perfectly well in
Bangalore, why should one even make an effort to learn Kannada? Su.
Ram. Ekkundi, a late Kannada poet had said “Learning the
language of the land is like saying `Thank you’ to your host when you
go to someone’s house and accept his or her hospitality. It is one’s
primary duty.” We can only let non-Kannadigas know about this,
but should not put them into any discomfort if they currently do not
feel like learning the language. Hence it must never be forced on
others. Kannadigas should start a conversation in Kannada, and if the
other person is feeling uncomfortable, switch to the language of his
choice. The only time I don’t do this is when the other person
is also a Kannadiga and wants to start talking in English. The most
important change required is in the Kannadigas themselves.

I have faced a couple of occasions when a non-Kannadiga condemned
Kannada, claiming his own language is better. On such occasions, I
did not argue, because such arguments are foolish, a waste of
precious mental energy and time. They are as foolish as arguing that
a lotus is better than a rose. Every Indian language is like a
beautiful flower. I do not believe in starting a conflict and
becoming fanatic about protecting my language. We must never get
carried away and forget the fundamental concept that each of us is a
spiritual being having a human experience (and not the other way
around as it is commonly assumed). Hence do not build up grudges
against people who in casual conversation speak lightly about the
language. That particular aspect of their character may not be very
commendable, but they could turn out to be very wonderful people in
other aspects. The best way to protect my language is to speak it,
not to force others to speak it nor to prove that it is better than
what they are speaking.

Common Reasons

When I think of it, I realize my English is good (“good” is a
very relative word here) because I’ve read a whole lot of books all
my life from comics to novels, hence my English has evolved over
time. My Kannada has been restricted to an informal language
that I
speak with my friends and family.

I studied in a convent school since they are supposed to provide
high quality education. Luckily it was converted to a girl’s
school, and I got chucked out in the third standard, and joined a
government school. Had I continued there, I would have had no
exposure at all to Kannada poets like Da. Ra. Bendre, Kuvempu,
Kailasam, etc. and no knowledge of Karnataka’s history.

I recently went to an Elder s Day Care Center, a very nice place for elderly people. I had heard that they conduct fortnightly cultural events and get togethers for aged people. My grandmother had been complaining of getting bored sitting at home, so I wanted to enquire about whether it would be nice if she could spend a day there occasionally. I spoke to the manager there, and she told me
about the various noble undertakings of the organization. Then she asked if my grandmother knew English. I said yes, she can understand, but not speak in English. She surprised me by saying “all the old people who come here are very maardern, and all the programs are in English”. I did not know what to say. Here I was, a whole generation ahead of her, a specialist in the newly evolving software industry… and I was speaking in Kannada. And this lady here was claiming to be more “maardern” than me! But I did not start a debate about it, since I did not want to be distracted from the main purpose of my visit. However it certainly gave me food for
thought.

Another relatively more valid reason is that it is quite hard to express advanced thoughts in Kannada. Notice any learned person such as a doctor or engineer speaking about some technical topic in Kannada. He makes an attempt and then gradually more and more English starts slipping in. Finally he uses only a few Kannada words here and there and speaks mostly in English. The reason for this is that the language has to evolve along with all other aspects of society. And if the usage of the language  itself is less, there is no chance for it to evolve!! If it does not evolve, it will end up becoming more of drudgery for well educated people, struggling hard to express their thoughts in Kannada merely out of obligation to the language. In that case it is only a matter of time before they end up giving up and reverting to the more convenient alternative, i.e. English. There should be some organization (Kannada Sahitya Parishad?) which continuously coins new words and phrases as per the dynamics of modern society, and adds it to the dictionary, and then publishes it regularly. This may look tough but it is far from impossible. Look at an advanced country like Germany. Though they lead the world in a lot of research and technology, they still have masters and post graduate courses in
German.

 

[I was informed that this is really not a limitation of the language itself but of my knowledge of the language. This kind of an exercise has been done already, e.g. Dr. Shivarama Karantha worked and brought out volumes of English to Kannada dictionaries in 1950s itself to help students pursuing higher technical studies in Kannada.  Sahitya Parishad has also made several attempts to help reduce English usage in government offices by publishing English-Kannada handbooks. But due to government’s negligence and officials’ indifference all these attempts have gone waste. But let us not start blaming each other, that is a waste of time which will end up in just pointing a finger at someone else and forgetting about it.]

 

Root cause

The basic attitude towards the language has to change. It is
considered as a language spoken until we discover that the person
knows English.
It should be the language of choice, we
should understand and internalize within ourselves that it is the
language for “high-class aristocrats” as much as it is for
the common man.  We can see that when two Kannadigas meet for
the first time, they start talking in English, and often the
conversation continues for a long time in English.
Eventually it may happen that they never get to know that the other
person knew Kannada at all. Why is it in our character to
always talk to well dressed aristocratic people first in English?

After some introspection, I concluded that
this reason comes from our past generation. Around a decade
ago, people used to regard with awe any person who speaks in
English. Knowledge of English was an indication that the person
was well educated. As far as he/she was concerned, the natural
tendency of any well educated person is to try to gain respect from
the society, the easiest means of showing he was well educated
or was in a high position was by speaking in English! Look no
further than many old Kannada movies, where a sophisticated character
like an inspector or a doctor usually uses more English than Kannada.

I would not like to judge whether that was correct or wrong. But
now, in the current times, we need to realize that we have advanced a
lot more in our thinking. One example is that Bangalore has become
one of the IT hubs of the world. We should know that character
is the true indication of education, not the language. I would say
that dependence on English to gain respect only shows weakness in
character, a sign of insecurity that the person is not really proud
to be a Kannadiga! We must share the vision of India being a
developed nation represented by each of her languages,
where English is a value addition to open out to the global
community.

Actions

It is quite easy to forget about all this and get on with life as
if none of this matters at all. Its a little more tough to live
believing in the value in protecting one’s culture and identity
which has been handed down to us from the past generations. I do not
believe in forming organizations and making a hue and cry for a
week and forgetting about it. I believe more in a quiet private
revolution, and that the only change required is internal. For
the past one year, I have been taking the following measures to
improve my Kannada. There is no point in taking drastic resolutions
that I will speak only in Kannada in all situations. Change should
be gradual and natural – only this can relentlessly sustained.
It should never be forced merely due to a feeling of
obligation. A little bit of discomfort may be inevitable in the initial stages, but soon it will
become a habit pattern just as speaking in English has been so
all these days.

conversation

Use it in your daily conversation.
Once you are observant of what you say, you will notice as a typical
Bangalorean like me, that you can only speak adulterated
Kannada.
A good policy is to speak in pure English while
speaking in English, and pure Kannada while speaking in Kannada. Use
of adulterated language is doing injustice to both Kannada as well as
English. There are so many common English words for which you will
not know the Kannada equivalents at all! If I take my own
example, I would need a lot more time if I were to write this
very essay in Kannada. (I am saying “you” only
for convenience, it applies to me also). It is necessary
to frequently update your vocabulary by some means, e.g.
making a note of some words and at the end of every day, look up
those words using a
n English to Kannada dictionary and remember to
use them next time. Alternatively, do not hesitate to take the help
of your more friends more adept in the language, asking them for “the
right word” (while speaking or writing) or of meanings of
difficult words (while reading or listening). One thing is it may at
first seem awkward to speak in pure Kannada. Once we patiently and
persistently free ourselves from our own social
conditioning, surely a day will come when it will be seen as awkward
to speak in an adulterated language.

Another aspect is that when there are
a group of people, and a few are non-Kannadigas, then it is
considered as bad etiquette to speak in a language that they all do
not understand. If you look at the root of this opinion, it comes
from the West. In the West, people feel highly intimidated if
somebody is speaking in a foreign language, because they speculate
that the person is speaking something against them. So this is quite
valid under many circumstances when you don’t know the other
person well. But when the others are your known friends, who trust
you that you are not taking undue advantage of their lack of
knowledge of the language, and you know that they are not feeling
terribly left out, then you should not hesitate to speak in Kannada.
This should be entirely dependent on the situation; it should not
become a blind rule to speak either only in Kannada or only in a
common language all the time.

encourage others

Encourage others to speak in the
language, but be sure to never carry it beyond a point where they are
not comfortable. Leave it entirely to their interest. An extremely
important point is that when they try to learn, do not laugh at their
attempts and ask them to stop saying that they are killing the
language. This is a common and grave mistake committed by many
Kannadigas.

books

Read a Kannada novel. There are
some excellent literary gems available if you look for it, many of
them have won national acclaim. Start with a simple one, and one
thing is most important for a person who hasn’t read Kannada
for years – patience. For a list of stores selling Kannada
books click here
.

newsletter

subscribe to newsletter – Kannada
Sahitya Parishad publishes a nice newsletter

newspaper

Kannada daily newspaper – the well
established one is Prajavani, the more recent one being Vijaya
Karnataka.

websites

Check out and bookmark these sites
depending on your interest:


http://www.thatskannada.com [they
even have a daily email newsletter]


http://www.kannadaprabha.com/


http://www.sanjevani.com/


Kannada web log!
http://www.kamat.com/econtent/kannada_blog/


KannaDa Saahitya PuTa
http://www.cs.toronto.edu/~kulki/kannada/kanindex.html


Kannada
greeting cards
!

Kannada software

Install baraha, write to relatives in
Kannada instead of English, and even save as HTML or a JPG image. Its
also good fun to experiment with Baraha Direct; this allows you to
type Kannada into a Word document straightaway.

http://www.baraha.com

customer services

All call centers or other interactions
to customer services like banks, mobile phones, etc have to be
provided in Kannada as well as English. Remember that they
are dealing with your money, you are their customer, and you
have every right to demand that they speak to you in your own
language. E.g. I was happy to speak to Hutch in Kannada, and they
spoke really well. If Kannadigas always use only English, then they
will surely phase out their Kannada support.

restaurant waiters

So what if it is a five star posh
restaurant. If you feel that it is undignified to speak in
Kannada, and you have to speak in English just because of the posh
ambience, it means you are only a victim of social conditioning.
Break free from this past and go ahead and order in Kannada, and
if the waiter cannot speak it, let the hotel management get you
another waiter. Often the waiter even though he is a
Kannadiga, insists on speaking in English to retain
the “dignity” or “international ambience”
or whatever of the place. It may not even be his fault,
he may be trained to do so, by his manager who for all
you know would probably be a “high-class” Kannadiga too.
Remember that you are not eating there free of cost; they aren’t
doing you any favor by allowing you to eat there.

jokes

Read jokes in Kannada, thats a good
way to start. Listen to some drama cassettes by Hirannaiya… they
are just too good. Recently even Mimicry Dayanand has also produced
some good quality humor in Kannada.

songs

Listen to more of Kannada songs,
there are many excellent melodies. Beware that there are also many
drab and meaningless songs, especially from recent movies, which
seem to be made out of some desperate attempt to make
money.  Do not get biased against the language itself by
generalising based on a few such songs.

movies and tv serials

Watch Kannada TV serials and movies.
If possible, share your ideas on how they could be
improved. There is no dearth of Kannada channels e.g. Udaya TV and E
TV. I used to think they’re only limited to boring (to me
atleast) family drama serials based on a few occasional times I
surfed through them while switching channels. But after a few more
attempts at different timings, I was really bowled over to witness a
wide range of very good high quality entertai
nment programs to suit a
variety of tastes.

telephone

Say Namaskaara instead of Hello when
you greet answer the telephone, atleast from home.

mobile ringtones

Download Kannada mobile ringtones
for your mobile, for example from
http://in.search.yahoo.com/mobile?sk=Kannada&cat=107

It cannot be emphasized enough the importance of never dividing
people into categories like Kannadiga and Non-Kannadiga
. I am
strongly against making people uncomfortable in any way because they
do not know or are not interested in learning Kannada. The term
Kannadiga used in this article is inclusive of not just people
holding a domicile certificate, but of anybody having any interest in
learning Kannada as a beautiful Indian language, or whose mother
tongue is Kannada. If you identify yourself as a Kannadiga, then
the only change that is required is in you and in you
alone.

Language after all is nothing but an expression of one’s
thoughts; hence there is nothing “wrong” with speaking in
English. Regular usage of Kannada has a more personal touch, as you
are bound to discover with joy once you develop the habit. Let us
make a gradual, effortless effort towards purer Kannada!

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