A February resolution

How we communicate can speak volumes about us

Powered by Froala Editor

Bangladesh and its language movement is a unique event in world history, where people raised their collective voice for the right to use their mother tongue in all spheres of life. Brave souls laid down their lives to ensure the rights we enjoy today, which was the beginning of self determination, and ultimately, a sovereignty having a map etched out and a flag designed of our own.

We owe it to our leaders, subsequently, who have taken our urges and sentiments to a level where the unforgettable day has been recognized as the International Mother Language Day. This definitely has raised our image as a nation to enviable heights.

Languages are kept vibrant through literature, music, dramas, cinema, and everything else, which is part of a culture reaching out to its own people and transcending borders to the global arena. We have a sizable population speaking Bangla (228 million native speakers, fifth largest). We made progress in various spheres so far the use of our national language is concerned.

All our correspondence in the government offices is now done in Bangla, the medium of instruction -- at least in secondary level -- predominantly also is Bangla. Though court proceedings are still held in English, we can say a lot has been done to materialize Bangla as a national language. 

We commend the government and the authorities for popularizing the use of Bangla in various fields reflecting our hopes and aspirations. As a matter of routine we pay our deepest respect to our martyrs for their sacrifice and organize a host of activities countrywide to commemorate various events including our very special Ekushey Boi Mela in a befitting manner. 

How about things that we can and need to do at individual, family, and social levels? Are we all conscious enough and doing whatever we need and can do in this regard to uphold the glory of our language? 

Invitation cards on social occasions, especially weddings, are a case in point. It seems rather trendy these days to have wedding cards in English. The other day I received a card from a retired army sergeant inviting me to his daughter’s wedding and of course the card was in English. His daughter is a doctor and his sons are university graduates. I wonder what makes us print the cards in English and not in Bangla?

It is something very much in vogue, now that most wedding cards are done in English which has become a status symbol. I have seen families who hardly use English in their day-to-day conversation, who are printing their cards in English. I have also come across a lot of funny mistakes in such cards which simply speak of their lack of bare minimum knowledge regarding their language of choice. But, to my utter shock, people continue exercising the privilege of using a foreign language they hardly are familiar with. 

There was a time when Persian language used to be regarded as a symbol of aristocracy. That was the language of the ruling elite and those who used to associate with them by virtue of their education and service. Later this was taken over by the English during their long colonial rule of the British. Gone are those days. Yes, of course, we need proficiency in English to communicate with the world at large and also as an avenue of learning in a multitude of disciplines of science and technology. In the present day world, even closed societies like China have opened up to English. In many societies, it is rather common to have proficiency in two or more languages other than one's mother tongue. 

If we look at India, a multilingual society, we find Hindi as their state language while English is spoken very widely all over. There are parts of India for instance in the south, where people are not very keen on using Hindi, but English serves as a common language bridging gaps between Indians coming from different parts of the country. This, of course, gives them a certain advantage. We find that just because Indians are good at communicating in English, a good number of them are even serving in Bangladesh in many sectors.

It is not very surprising that, having similar academic qualifications or job skills, a Bangladeshi loses out to his Sri Lankan or Indian counterpart just because they can communicate in English better. Hence, there is every good reason for us to master a foreign language like English. But when it comes to the use of Bangla at all levels -- in particular at the individual level, family, and social occasions -- there is no justification that we should not give Bangla a chance. 

Now, what does this tendency and mindset of using a language other than our mother tongue indicate when we intend to communicate within ourselves? Would we term it as a lack of social resolve, lack of self confidence, or even a serious mental bankruptcy? Do we think that using English in an invitation card on an occasion, where there is hardly any participant who is a speaker of any other language, barring Bangla, adds some sort of glamour to that occasion?

We need to do some serious soul searching to find the answer to this very pressing question. We need to have a very hard look at our own image next time we are in front of a mirror to find out who we actually are, how we look, and who our forefathers were. 

Now I would like to urge upon the readers if you are secretary, a general, a member of the parliament, a minister, a businessman or simply a commoner -- the next time you are printing an invitation card, please ask yourself who you are inviting. Are they predominantly Bangla speaking? If so, please do it in Bangla. Let it be a conscious resolution this February commemorating our sacrifice for the language. 

Brig Gen Qazi Abidus Samad, ndc, psc (Retd) is a freelance contributor.

Powered by Froala Editor