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Editorial

‘Poetry is the language of the mother tongue’

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By EMN Updated: Oct 11, 2013 10:47 pm
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[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne language dies every 14 days,” says Russ Rymer of the National Geographic Society
It is generally accepted that by most calculations there are between 6,000 and 7,000 languages on planet earth. But there is fear that by the beginning of the next century 50% to 80 % of existing languages will be gone.
Will the tongues that we speak here also make up this number?And it is in this light that we need to examine what we in Nagaland are doing to promote and preserve our languages. The ‘’unique’ trait of the Naga identity lies in the fact that despite speaking so many different languages we make up one entity in one geographical area.
The influences of the changing times have been swift and in this changeover many of the traditional thoughts and ways are getting replaced with new ones. Language too has not escaped this influence.
With each passing generation our Naga languages are getting weaker and the usage limited. But need it be so? Can we keep learning more about our languages even as we foray for achievements in new sectors of modern day economy and lifestyles.
The Bible which has been translated into all the Naga languages is a best place to begin this familiarisation for the present generation.
But equally important is the importance and opportunity that social, gatherings and events provide for the younger generation to converse and speak in their mother tongues (at least while addressing some part of the programme)
As far as the vernacular media goes Nagaland has a long way to go when compared to the Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, or closer home the Assamese languages to name a few.
However having said so there does exist in some form the vernacular press in the form of the ‘Jaikei’ or The Herald in Konyak, ‘Capi’ in Angami, ‘Suiimi Zumulhu’ in Sema and in Ao ‘Tir Yimyim’
The latter just completed ten years of its journey. And by all reports it has been an adventurous and rewarding one. One of the innovative interventions which Tir Yimyim has embarked on is to encourage the younger children to write and express themselves in the Ao language. The art of storytelling in the Ao language one is told is being encouraged.
Someone once said that ‘poetry is the language of the mother tongue’ and this could not be more beautifully described. We all need beauty in our lives and the mother tongue is that. Without it being spoken or heard it is a matter of time that the human race or in this case the particular tribe or people who speak the language will survive.
Unlike the Native American Indians in the 1950’s whose children were punished for speaking their language in the schools, in Nagaland we have not experienced such cultural oppression.
Reasons for the mass extinction often involve a larger culture doing something, usually bad, to a smaller culture.
Across the globe, children growing up in places where a more powerful group has moved in do not become fluent in their native tongue. A language with no children to speak it does not last very long.
English, Spanish and Chinese predominate in commerce forcing smaller cultures to adapt, due to economic needs.
Languages that dominate television, the internet and printed materials provide incentives for schools around the world to drop marginal languages.
And this is one of the reasons why marginal languages like ours spoken by a small population must be encouraged at all levels and in all platforms.
Still there are others who argue that while the large scale loss of languages is seen as a loss, the advantages are of a world whose citizens understand each other. What do we lose when we lose a language? Languages develop over thousands of years.
And inevitably according to Professor Arok Wolvengrey, professor of Amerindian languages and linguistics, “Each language has its own way of seeing the world, of dealing with the world. When you lose a language you lose that knowledge base and that world view, and that impoverishes us a little bit.”
Marginal languages also contain within them a wealth of knowledge which the world has yet to discover. For example in our own context there are many indigenous beliefs for cures for ailments and dos and don’ts for accident recuperating victims, mothers to be etc… It could well be that some of this knowledge is unknown to the world of science and medicines
There is a tribe in the Amazon basin with an older, secret language.
When translated, it was discovered they had a vast knowledge of medicinal plants that medicine specialists did not know about.
There are many organizations dedicated to preserving languages. Google, National Geographic and UNESCO have endangered language websites.
Many languages have no written tradition, which makes them harder to preserve.
Nagas were fortunate in that the American missionaries brought literally with them the ‘written word’. Because of them we have preserved what we have of our way of life.
The Cherokee are dedicated to teaching and preserving their language and have a literary tradition.
How can a language be saved? Dictionaries must be created along with information on basics of grammar, so the language can be taught in schools. In Nagaland this may not always be practical. Perhaps we need to encourage within the smallest unit of the community i. e in village schools in the church, through small fairs and literary events encourage our children to master their mother tongue and let them learn English and other major languages in the school.
Cultural pride is essential. Marginalized cultures, especially those dominated by globally strong cultures, may not feel their language is valuable. Celebrations of music, history, culture and language help build
Ours is young emerging society. We have the luxury of learning from the mistake of communities who have lost what they once possessed.
All we need to do put is our mind to saving what we can.
Be it language, culture, and the environment.

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By EMN Updated: Oct 11, 2013 10:47:19 pm