Teach children mother-tongue than forcing English or Hindi

Teach children mother-tongue than forcing English or Hindi

February 23, 2023

Noted Linguist Prof. Patnaik says if mother-tongue is ignored, it will lead to separatism

Mysore/Mysuru: Former English and Linguistics Professor, IIT Kanpur and noted Linguist Prof. Bibudhendra Narayan Patnaik has opined that children who study in their mother-language medium schools have a very poor command over their mother-tongue.

“What we need is good pedagogical dictionaries and discourse grammars for the students of Class 6 to Class 8 for them to have a grip over their mother-tongues,” he said. Prof. Patnaik was speaking at the International Mother Language Day-2023 organised at the Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL) here on Tuesday (Feb. 21).

“We are unaware of the fact that the vocabulary, command over mother-tongue and fluency are poor among children in their own mother-tongue. Many students of my home State Odisha, for example, cannot even write a short paragraph on any given topic and children studying in Class 4 do not know the alphabet of their mother-tongue,” he said.

Importance must be given to the learning subjects in the mother-tongue and children should be given the freedom to get an education in their mother-tongue. Even Mahatma Gandhi advocated and strongly believed in education in one’s mother-tongue. “Creating tension on the issue of linguistic territories is against democracy,” he said.

“Unfortunately, we compare the education system in English and hail that learning other languages like English and Hindi is advantageous when compared to education in the mother-tongue. But we are ignoring the fact that our children are forgetting their mother-tongues and this is a great loss. It is imperative for our native languages to be developed as part of the changed education system,” he said. 

“We need to better equip our children in their mother-tongues and teach subjects in the language they are comfortable with. To make this possible, we need pedagogical dictionaries and pedagogical discourse grammar for students from classes 6 to 8 for them to learn to write connected sentences on various subjects and topics. These books/texts must contain short texts which are informative, educative and interesting to the children at their level. This will naturally make them interested in their own language,” he added.

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Explaining the dangers of not giving priority to the mother-tongue, Prof. Patnaik said that if mother-tongue is ignored, it will lead to separatism. “The ‘Liberation of Bangladesh’ is an example of this and India lost a good chunk of its land to separatism that ultimately led to the formation of Bangladesh. It is everyone’s responsibility to preserve the cultural language and its diversity,” he said.

India lost 220 languages in 50 years 

Former Director of CIIL Dr. D.G. Rao said that India has lost over 220 languages in the last 50 years. Speaking on ‘NEP: Opportunities and Challenges for Learning and Teaching of Mother-Tongue’, he said that UNESCO has declared 197 Indian languages as endangered.

“There are many languages that do not have scripts and they are particularly in danger of becoming extinct. Forget about the endangered language list, even some of the 22 languages that have been listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution are facing serious difficulties as Indian languages have not got their due recognition and there is no teaching, learning and resources to carry forward the language,” he said.

To overcome this, teaching and learning Indian languages must be integrated with school and higher education at every level, he suggested. Excessive emphasis has to be laid on the study of the mother- tongue for languages to survive, he added.

CIIL Director Prof. Shailendra Mohan said that apart from the 22 languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, there are more than 100 unscheduled languages in India which is a language-rich country. Besides accepting the development of language in the age of information technology, concrete steps must be taken to save traditional and regional languages.

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Technology and language

“As per the 2011 census, there are over 121 languages that are spoken by a population that is more than 10,000 and there are over 270 mother-tongues. To develop all these languages, we need dictionaries, grammar, linguistics and other language development methods including speaking, teaching, learning and disseminating resources,” he added.

Technology will define the next decade for Indian languages and the role of technology in preserving and disseminating languages is imperative. “Technology in Indian languages, through Indian languages and for Indian languages is the way forward. It is important to have digital resources for all Indian languages and there is an urgent need to create technology-driven resources,” he noted.

Mobile learning app for languages

CIIL is developing a mobile learning app for languages, said CIIL Director Prof. Shailendra Mohan. “The app will soon be offered to all residents of India under the initiative called ‘Let’s learn one more language. Our intention is to promote multilingualism and make learning languages easy,” he added.

“Our Indian languages are equally important as English and CIIL is in the process of developing language learning apps in regional languages and mother-tongues. CIIL is committed to preserving and promoting all Indian languages and we are working with linguists and language specialists across the country for the development of both scheduled and non-scheduled languages,” he said.

This apart, the CIIL will introduce MA, and Ph.D programmes and post-doctoral fellowships in linguistics, languages and literature. “We are already offering language courses in scheduled languages and we are in the process of incorporating some more non-scheduled languages,” he added.

The CIIL continues to work on different aspects of language development such as language documentation, language description, corpus development, grammar studies, lexicographic studies, translation, testing and evaluation, he said.


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