Tracking tongues
Editorial

Tracking tongues

January 4, 2018

The number of languages in use for communicating and other purposes such as writing globally is said to be more than 8,000. In India, their number is placed at more than 1,600. However, the tongues of the masses that are served by exclusive scripts are only a small fraction of the total number. In fact, Kannada script, in addition to being the script for Kannada language, has the proud privilege of serving many other languages in the State, notably Kodava and Tulu. A large number of dialects, spoken by people of exclusive sections of society, accounting for small numbers compared to major languages, have endured for centuries by sheer word of mouth as it were, being without script. The eight languages of the land, including Kannada, which have been bestowed classical status not too long ago, also have a history of several centuries, thanks mainly to each having an exclusive script.

But for the facility of script, there never could literary works emerge nor history written. Because of the way languages change gradually, it is usually impossible to pinpoint when a given language began to be spoken or used for communicating among people. However, some regions of Africa, described for long as a dark continent, figure among countries having claim for their tongues to be the oldest in the world, Kannada emerging much later.

Polyglots who can communicate with ease in many languages have the distinct advantage of understanding and being understood by people who speak the different tongues. Children upto the age of seven are said to possess extraordinary ability to learn languages, even other than what their parents communicate in. In that context, the attitude of dislike or disfavour for other languages, displayed either openly or on the sly, deprives people the fascination of reading, writing and speaking in various languages of both our land and beyond its shores. We owe it to writers, particularly playwrights of the genre of T.P. Kailasam (1884-1946), G. P. Rajarathnam (1909-1979), whose literary works would trigger the desire to be conversant in many languages, in addition to Kannada.

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To whatever extent lobbying is done in the cause of a particular tongue and the State pressurises people to learn and use that tongue exclusively in all walks of life, no language can stay alive or increase its preference by the masses unless it is allowed a free play in its use for various purposes. This applies to Kannada, which also is feared in some circles to become extinct at not too a distant future.

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