Towards a Monoculture

I cannot explain why I am attracted to words and sounds: there is this mystery to alien sounds, like listening to strange music. There are words like caïque* which sound and read mysterious and interesting. Naturally, sounds in other languages are even more interesting that words in the dictionary. Even if you don't understand a word there this is mysterious enjoyment of just listening to the phonemes, phrasing, the cadences and rhythms.

My abilities in German have been asymptotically diminishing, but it's fun to be able to catch some snatches of Italian and Spanish and guess the meaning by using the Latin roots. But, do languages have utility? The general attitude is to learn languages that are 'useful'. So, English, Spanish and lately Chinese, are more useful than learning say, Pashto, Tagalog or Swahili. While communication and understanding maybe improved when people speak the same language, it's not entirely a good thing as the world drifts to a monoculture, or monopoly of a few select language. It's well known that when the last speaker of a language dies, he or she takes with him/her a whole way of expression, an entire culture, and often it's the end of a way of life.

Sadly, in India, a land of many languages we are losing reason to learn or master the vernacular. It seems likely that in a generation, chaste Hindi or even Urdu will be lost. I will not dwell individual dialects and accents that color languages. My own mother tongue - Gujarati has variants depending on whether the speaker is Parsi, or Bohri, or from Surat, Kathiawad, or Ahmedabad. Of course, these dialects and other Indian languages will survive in the the hands of few. But, it's quite likely that poetry, plays and books will cease to be written as often as they were. First, there won't be writers with the fluency, and sadly they will be starved of an audience. An artist needs an audience that actually understands the nuances or subtleties to appreciate the skill in creating within the confines of the language.

It's sad but true that many of my friends have not taken any great effort to teach their kids languages other than English thinking that it will 'confuse' them. A common idea is that child development is hindered with learning more than one language and that they won't get admission since they can't speak English properly.

The polymath Jared Diamond presents research to the contrary. In a piece for Science he demonstrates that conventional thinking about language confusing kids is quite wrong. (See: The Benefits of Multilingualism, by Jared Diamond, Science 15 October 2010: 332-333| link to summmary)More importantly there are additional benefits:

Recent studies show that children raised bilingually develop a specific type of cognitive benefit during infancy, and that bilingualism offers some protection against symptoms of Alzheimer’s dementia in old people.
He goes on to write...
More recent studies, comparing subjects matched for those other variables, have found bilinguals and monolinguals to be largely similar in cognition and language processing.

He presents additional material to show that those who speak more than one language are better at handling multiple inputs, ie better multi-taskers. Now who wouldn't want that?

So, if you aren't so interested in sounds, or saving poetry and languages from extinction you may be interested in conferring some benefit to your kids by teaching them more than one tongue.
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*caïque: A Turkish hand-rowed boat

3 comments:

SKP50 said...

I am so delghted what Dr. Hiriak has enunciated and defended stoutly in soft-sell approach on his blog..

(1)..Sadly, in India, a land of many languages we are losing reason to learn or master the vernacular. It seems likely that in a generation, chaste Hindi or even Urdu will be lost...(2)It's sad but true that many of my friends have not taken any great effort to teach their kids languages other than English thinking that it will 'confuse' them. A common idea .is that child development is hindered with learning more than one language and that they won't get admission since they can't speak English properly.
(3)So, if you aren't so interested in sounds, or saving poetry and languages from extinction you may be interested in conferring some benefit to your kids by teaching them more than one language.

Yep that is it. Pragnya and I endorse and validate what you have said.

ektaal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ektaal said...

Nice one Hirak! Stumbled upon your blog after quite some time. Relishing all the gems! -Aniket