Mother’s tongue or Mother Tongue?

One’s mother’s tongue may not be one’s Mother Tongue at all! In HP for example nearly all literates (and there are many) have filled some form or the other stating that their Mother Tongue is Hindi, which is very different, in fact not connected at all, to their mother’s tongue. The mothers have been by and large illiterate and communicate with their children in their mother’s tongue. For the first five years the children are mainly exposed to their mother’s tongue, uncles, aunts, grannies of both sides and village women care givers. The various and specific dialects that are extant and vary from valley to valley within a district are numerous.

The People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI), Vol. XI, Part II, (2017) lists 24 languages / dialects used across HP. But each of these 24 is not a separate, standalone language / dialect. One of the Pahari languages, the Bagali for instance (spoken in parts of present day Solan and parts of adjoining Bilaspur district), has a number of sub-languages like Kuthiari, Kunihari, Mangali and Mahalogi. Such sub-language / dialect links apply to all the 24 recorded / recognized languages in Himachal Pradesh. The number of mother’s tongues becoming stupendous.

The 1961 Census of India had recorded 1652 languages being in use in India. However, it was decided to exclude languages spoken by less than 10,000 people in the 1971 Census, which brought down the figure to 108 languages.[2]People’sLinguisticSurveyofIndia 

India speaks 780 languages (PLSI, 2013). 100 more could exist and be in use?

So, if we talking of using the mother’s tongue in the first 5 years of schooling, then the teachers need to speak the mother’s tongue of the child? This means that Primary teachers have to be local and locally recruited? This could prove to be a huge change in existing teacher training and recruitment policies and will be opposed strongly by the inveterate education vested interests / mafia? There are neither lessons, nor reading material nor books even in a small fraction of our myriad mother’s tongues. Practically and politically, therefore, Mother’s tongue is not an option for teaching primary kids. Over much of North India the default mother tongue would be Hindi or the state’s official language. This has been the case so far anyway.

In the absence of what Central Government means by switching to mother tongue, it is not clear how the NEP changes / proposes to change the medium of instruction?  A possibility is that English as a medium of instruction could be banned if the bi-lingual option mentioned in the NEP, 2020 boils down to Hindi versus English? The death knell of English medium schools?

There is talk of the tried and failed 3 language formula, which is neither here nor there. The sad fact is that in Primary schools our system has consistently failed to make children reach basic language proficiency in one language as numerous ASER reports have confirmed over the years. We are again being told that research says kids can learn several languages quickly.

Interestingly, despite the general nationalistic brouhaha over mother tongue and national / state language, and the Government persisting in trying to disadvantage/ block the use of English to get “rural” students into Central jobs, the following table is revealing:

Civil Services and medium of UPSC exam/learning / study: Probationers at LLBSNAA

Similarly, the medium of instruction in school for the civil servants was overwhelmingly in English.

Given the current state of disarray in schools and push to ‘Indianise’ education generally, the apprehension is that the switch to mother’s tongue will become a tussle between Hindi versus English. With easily one of the largest school going kids population in the world with most doomed to indifferent government education and a growing number clamouring for English medium schooling, it would be very interesting to see how schooling unfolds with reluctant parents and children being made to choose in favour of Hindi in place of aspirational English?

Nodnat - is a pen name that the writer with deep knowledge of Himalayan flora and fauna and a keen environmentalist has adopted. He hails from Kotgarh, in Shimla Hills and retired as Principal Chief Conservator of Forests from Himachal Pradesh forest department.

2 Comments

  • The article is of great interest for two specific reasons: (i) the interpretation and (ii) the relevance.

    In respect of relevance it may be remembered/ reminded where and when necessary, that language teaching in schools has enjoyed clarity, chaos and compunction, virtually in equal measure, ever since education was actually entrusted to the political government.
    The Civil Service, on which the Political Government is so dependent, has done its best at various times in history, to (a) let sleeping dogs lie; (b) gladly offered support with and without ulterior motives (usually of political and/ or pecuniary purposes) and (c) sell the government down the drain or sink.
    The Press has, as is its wont in recent times, mentioned that this is the first NPE since the Kothari Commission.
    The thing is, this is the third time that the BJP Govt. has tried to impose a ‘new’ NEP, notwithstanding Mr. Kapil Sibal’s MHRD and its hurried resuscitation on behalf of the UPA.

    The BJP, like some punch-drunk head-swinging behemoth, has tried to ride the pummeling at the ropes – Director Rajput of NCERT at one time, with Prof. MM Joshi’s strong insistence at another….An entire draft National Education Framework had to be junked because after six regional conferences of school Principals it was suddenly discovered that neither were minutes kept nor were there commitments for action.
    As a brief aside with regard to sentiment – a dhoti clad, senior Principal, stood up at the Jaipur conference to say in flawless English , “Dr Rajput, it is important to remember, that the history of India is not the history of the Indo-Gangetic plains.”

    Despite cynical observations from ‘experts’, it is true that children and animals respond quickly to a multiplicity of sounds, tones and intonations.
    Unfortunately there is, as yet, no alternative to English as a sort of ‘lingua franca’ in the world.
    In India, Bollywood Hindi is a great alternative. As is the stuff passed off as Hindi among the people of historical bias such as West Bengal, The South, the North East and other such.
    But the reason why Mother Tongue loses out to Mother’s Tongue is because no one really knows who or what is ‘Mothertongue’ next to Mother’s Tongue. And so this particular diversity of the THIRD language is so delightfully impossible to pin down that it has escaped sanction for 70 years.
    However, the loophole is, let Mother use her tongue at home – it will never be learnt to forget. Syllabus not required.
    In school, please teach English, Hindi and the predominant language of the State. With a choice, dependent (as it has been for aeons) on what a particular school is able to provide by means of teaching and facilities (resources).
    Some schools have a large Languages Dept. and offer Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Dzongka (Bhutan), Nepali, French, German, Spanish, Chinese and what not, as choice for a third language. My own alma mater, St. Paul’s Darjeeling, being a case in point.
    The compulsory language being English. And what can at best be described as the language of ethnic identity – if available – and then a third language, by choice, but an Indian language (almost always Hindi) if the second was foreign (usually for overseas residents).
    The language issue will only be a burden if you let the incumbent Education Establishment Of The Country be the facilitator. And the present incumbent does not know how best to bring the babel to a close. Especially as it seeks to stop at nothing to prove to itself that it has its own bull by its horns and Sanskrit is its goal.

  • I wonder if the language of instruction (as per the new NEP) up to class V will be Haryanvi vs. Hindi in Haryana or Bhojpuri vs. Hindi in Bihar or various Paharis vs. Hindi in Himachal or Gharwali / Kumaoni vs. Hindi in Uttarakhand? Right now, and for as long back as one can remember, it has been Hindi right up to government high school and where English is also taught in Hindi. It appears well nigh impossible for the local mother tongues/languages to steal a march over Hindi in the foreseeable future. So, Hindi becomes the de facto mother tongue across much of India, except where strong state languages like Tamil and Punjabi will manage to hold ground. But these too have more or less near obliterated local variations / dialects in their own linguistic chauvinism?. In practical and political terms India’s language diversity, like our much touted pluralism, is headed straight into that slogan, “One Nation, one ration card, one language”, the new NEP notwithstanding!

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