About 6,500 spoken languages are in use in the world today. However, about 2,000 of those languages have fewer than 1,000 users.
Mandarin and English are the most spoken language on Earth followed by Urdu used as Hindustani and then, comes Hindi, the language that has been adopted as part of the Indian identity by some. A battle rages on in India among people who want to use Hindi as the lingua franca of the country and those who speak other languages, including English. What does homogenisation of languages to create a national identity do to a people?
The Cultural Tool , a book by linguist Daniel Everett shows that languages develop out of cultural needs. As nations try to create homogenous identities with a single language, they wipe out cultures. Everett explains that this linguistic diversity “is one of the greatest survival tools that human beings have … each language is a cognitive tool for its speakers and comes to encode their solutions to the environmental and other problems they face as a culture”.
In this article from Caravan Magazine, the author talks of the cultural impact of Hindi on him, much in lines of what Everett says. The author, Sagar, who did his schooling in Uttar Pradesh in a monolingual Hindi set up, writes : “Once, I wondered why my awakening did not come in Hindi. But the more I learn about the language, the less I am surprised that it never did.” He talks of the impact the language has on character building: “The one writer I have constantly heard mentioned to assert that Hindi literature does deal with caste oppression and social injustice is Premchand. But I read several of his stories in school, and many more of them later, and never felt that they offered empowerment.”
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