Death of a language
By Gopal Sharma
A recent report in The Economist, London, on the fate of the ?endangered? languages all over the world makes a disturbing reading. It says that of the 6,800 languages that currently exist in the world, 400 are close to extinction with another 3,000 or so on the ?endangered? list.
The definition of an ?endangered? language is: When the children of its adult speakers do not learn the language. That'smostly the case with many Indian languages, particularly in the case of the children of the elite and affluent, thanks to the craze for ?English-medium education?.
Mr David Crystal (UK), one of the foremost experts on the English language, has predicted that half of the languages spoken in the world today will be extinct by the end of this century. He is the Chairman of the UK National Literacy Association and patron of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language.
He has written more than 100 books including the Cambridge Encyclopaedia of English Language and Language Death. He was in New Delhi some weeks ago to deliver a series of lectures, organised by the British Council.
He was asked: When does a language die? ?A language dies when people try to stop children from using their mother tongue?, he replied.
What are the reasons for death of a language? ?Globalisation, cultural assimilation. Also languages like Spanish, Arabic and Hindi are swallowing other languages?, he said.
What'sthe future of English? ?It has a very bright future. English, as you know, is a Germanic language. But 80 per cent of it includes French, Latin and even Hindi. About 350 languages have given words to English?, he said.
The following table shows the number of countries where some of the major languages of the world are spoken:
(countries) English 46 Arabic 32 Spanish 27 French 18 Russian 17 Hindi 8 Portuguese 7
Whether one likes it or not, English today has become the world language. It is the first language in more than 30 countries, second in about 75 countries. Although there are a little over 6,000 languages in the world today, 60 per cent of the world'smail, 70 per cent TV and radio broadcasts are in English.
India has the third largest English-speaking population in the world after the United States and Britain.
Currently, about 400 million people have English as their first language, 250 million as their second. Around one billion people worldwide are learning English.
Linguists estimate that by 2050 half the world'spopulation is expected to be more or less proficient in English because today it has become the language of global commerce, diplomacy, information technology and culture.
Those who have been denigrating the importance of English in world affairs for compulsions of politics or in the name of ?preserving the national culture and traditions from being swamped by western civilisation? had to pay a heavy price for their narrow-minded thinking.
David Crystal (UK), one of the foremost experts on the English language, has predicted that half of the languages spoken in the world today will be extinct by the end of this century.
States like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka, which dispensed with the teaching of English at the primary stage, saw their students doing badly in competitive exams as compared to the states where there was no discrimination against it. Now, they are correcting their earlier mistakes.
What happened in India with some states, more or less the same thing was witnessed in many countries such as Russia, France, China and Germany. Take the case of France. We all know about the historic rivalry between France and England. The result was that France never allowed its citizens to learn English. Even today, speaking English in France is looked down upon as some kind of an anti-national activity. It is like eulogising your enemy.
But times have changed. Today a large number of French citizens are learning English. As one of their ministers said at a meeting recently that they are ?perdus sans l?anglais???lost without English?.
The German Television?DW (Deutsche Welle TV)?now runs a bilingual TV service?in German and English alternating every 30 minutes. It is reported that Russia is contemplating to start its English language TV channel shortly.
The Chinese are good at correcting their past mistakes. Today they are catching up with the rest of the world in every field. It has earmarked a budget of $ 5.4 billion for teaching the English language.
When you learn English in a proper way, it is easier to understand and achieve proficiency. Some people say that it is tough because its grammar and verbs follow a complicated and sometimes non-intuitive set of rules. There is a clear disjunction between its spellings and pronunciation. George Bernard Shaw, the celebrated Irish playwright, made fun of this disjunction by saying that ?ghoti is fish? and he proved it: gh stands for f (as in tough, enough), o for i (as in woman) and ti for sh (as in attention, retention etc.).
What we, in India, need is to improve the quality of teaching the English language. If we don?t, such hilarious howlers will keep disturbing you as a professor of physics provided at a farewell party: ?I have nothing to say. Things that I was to say has already been said.?