Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Parasitic Language

Quite an unusual title to a post, right? ‘The Parasitic Language.’ I’m sure that a majority of you reading this post right now came here hoping that this was a short story of some kind. I assure you now, well in advance that it most certainly is not. I also know that a lot of you will probably leave this page after reading the previous line which makes this line sort of obsolete but those of you who've managed to persevere till this point, I’m sure this will be worth it.

First, a slice of history.

Image courtesy: Wikipedia.

We humans developed language as a means to communicate since we seem to have lost the awesome power of telepathy, well most of us anyway. Every part of the world developed its own language and then each specific region in turn developed a dialect of their particular language. In time, we humans also figured out that we could use our hands for something other than hunting and killing both animals and people, thus the weapon mightier than the sword was born and the written word came into existence.

Skipping a few millennia we come to the age of expansion wherein the ‘civilized’ nations carried the burden of educating the rest of the ‘barbarian’ world with the concept of colonization and international trade (read: Forced Globalization). And in the race to be the mightiest world power, the British came out on top there came a time when it was said, ‘The sun never sets on the British Empire.’ Yeah, they were basically what USA was to become in the modern age, but more aggressively so.

The result of the above events.

Image Courtesy: Google Images.

Since the British managed to conquer various parts of the globe, they obviously became the rulers there and spread their technology, religion and the most important thing: their language. Over time, the English language became the primary language of governance and finance in most of the world simply because the Empire managed to survive that long. However, even after they relinquished their hold over their colonies because the natives had become smart, thanks to their education policies, the language was deeply entrenched in the society and refused to leave with its departing countrymen.

Unlike certain languages like Sanskrit (in the Indian context), English managed to stay rooted and blossom wherever it was sown because it had the ability to adapt. The scholars in England were smart enough to realize that to survive; the language had to adopt words from the cultures they were spoken in, simply because there weren't words in English to describe some things in their former colonies. Things that were either not found in England or not been recognized before. It was only this long-term planning that allowed this language to not only blossom but turn into the massive banyan tree that envelopes the world today.

Now, the point I’m trying to make.

Image Courtesy: Google Images.

Now it’s all hunky dory to have an international language that binds most of the world together and promotes everything from business to international relations. But I wonder if English is becoming a threat to the regional languages which with it co-exists. Again in the context of India, as far as I know, English is becoming a threat at least to a number of languages; to their spoken as well as written form. In this Age of Information, it is a almost a sin if one doesn't know to speak English. It has slowly turned from being spoken in compulsion to something that is a requirement if one has any sort of ambition. To not know even a smattering of English is considered illiteracy and a sign of incomplete and second–grade education.

Because of this situation, India is experiencing a dearth of candidates who opt for the state or national languages. One might expect that due to the rainbow of cultures residing in not only this country but the entire subcontinent, languages might have no fear of dying out. But it is frightening to see how fast dialects and whole languages spoken by a small number of people are on the verge of extinction. Is this what is survival of the fittest? It is not like other languages do not adopt words from other languages, they do so unofficially but since English has the advantage of having an institution of its own that constantly updates words into its lexicon, I fear there will come a time when this language will finally eliminate its competition to emerge as the one language of the world.

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