21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a 2 day celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life - sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.
(This post was sent by Priya Muthukumar. Priya is a storyteller and runs Storipur. As a student counselor and educator, she enjoys all her interactions with kids. Writing, telling stories and simply being with Mother Nature are few of the many things she loves to do! Storipur intends to fill up the gaps, through the ancient art form, storytelling. Sharing stories about environment, countries, societies, cultures and about all ourselves: it's Storipur's humble attempt to build responsible communities.)
"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.
If you talk to a man in his language, that goes to his heart’’. ~ Nelson Mandela.
Experienced this? I am not giving you examples, do a quiet rewind. You will realize how true the above words can be. So, what’s all the fuss about one’s own language or mother tongue?! Simple. Languages and emotions go hand in hand. One’s mother tongue language, that is the language first introduced when in childhood is an indicator of one’s cultural identity. Hence when spoken to or exposed to one’s mother tongue, very subconsciously, the feeling of being at ease, at home, and a sense of belonging are re- evoked.
So, coming from a culturally vibrant country like India which has few hundreds of native languages, how many of us, really use our mother tongue to communicate?
My mother tongue is Tamizh. I remember, all my friends calling their parents as Amma and Appa. But, fancy me, one fine day, I decided to call my parents as ‘Mummy' and ‘Daddy’. Initially, our neighbours in the colony, gave me those looks which said, ‘ooh.. she must be one modern girl!’. My mother tried to change the Mummy to Amma, but it never worked. I remember her, in a desperate attempt, yelling at me saying, “Even a cow which is born in England will say maaaa, look at you, you are born in Chennai and call me Mummy in English!” I found the example silly and irrational, then. Logic blinded the emotion associated with her nagging to call her Amma and not Mummy. Today, as a mother of an extremely preoccupied teen whose conversations are studded with words like cool, super, awesome, hot, s*** etc. the sentences begin with Maa and end with another Maa. There is a certain warmth that fills my heart. I do understand why my mother wanted to hear a maa from me and not a mummy.
At school, Tamizh was one of favourite subjects. Though considered to be difficult, I enjoyed everything about it. Ilakkanam (grammar) and illakiyam (literature). But, I was’nt able to immerse in the sheer beauty of the language. Because, I was in the race. I had to sustain my first place, right! ‘First rank’ ~ my elixir. Then came a time, I won the first prize for a story that I wrote in Tamizh. And the prize was a thin , unattractive book. A book of poems , by the then new-age poet Vairamuthu. Tamil poetry became my first love. Gradually, I began to see the hidden beauty in my mother tongue. Was it the language or my connect with the language which helped me appreciate it better? Well, I’ll never be able to answer that.
Today, when my husband who is all engrossed in English & Hindi and is forgetting ‘the reading and writing part’ of Tamizh, I take my sweet revenge! All my grocery lists, little romantic notes, reminders ...I make sure to write them in Tamizh. Though he might struggle to read them, I know, I am doing my bit for my mother tongue. His mother tongue.
Some of us, educators, while introducing a language generally, English in the pre-primary years, follow the mother tongue approach. Children are introduced to the language not through the reading, writing, the mundane ‘a for apple, b for ball’ way, but just like how a mother tongue is introduced at home. Through casual conversations, simple songs ~ have you observed the blissful interactions between a mother and her child...then you’ll understand what I mean. It’s not just the language, it’s the way the language is introduced which also makes one’s mother tongue even more special.
As a storyteller, I try to incorporate words, tongue twisters, simple rhymes, proverbs, riddles, poems etc. from different regional languages into my story. I never to fail to ask my audience what a particular word in the story would be in their mother tongue, for eg. what would a tree be called in their mother tongue ? Though I realize many blank faces may look back at me, I know, that the question would work as a trigger to go home and ask their parents or grandparents what a tree was called in their mother tongue. Also, I give simple reminders to take pride in developing literacy in our mother tongue languages.
One’s mother tongue carries a whole lot of unlabelled emotions. Alex Rawlings, a famous polyglot (a person who knows and is able to use many languages) said in one of his interviews, ‘Every language has a personality. There are languages that make you confident, there are ones that make you feel shy’. Well, I am not quite sure whether I believe in those words completely, but, I know, languages .. especially, mother tongue languages and emotions go hand in hand. So, here’s my question for you, what’s your mother tongue’s personality?