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Put your language where your mouth is

  • Published at 05:21 pm February 19th, 2018
  • Last updated at 11:19 pm February 19th, 2018
Put your language  where your mouth is
Only when one is able to speak one singular language is its value most felt. Consider a regime in which all languages apart from French were banned. How would you feel, choking on your gutturals Rs and your silent Hs? I suppose that is a feeling that we, if we are fortunate enough, will never feel. That is why, perhaps, (and I will be the first one to admit this) I have bastardized my mother’s tongue into a million little globalized pieces, infusing within it words foreign and words invented. “Ami hospital-e jai, pera khai.” Speak to me like one of your Bangladeshi boys, with the tongue a-twisted, mouth a-contorted with khaisos, marsos, parsos. In the language of the gutter, gutturally resounding through the twisted afflictions of class and wealth, are you crying for help? One, after all, can’t get khaisos without an SOS. Linguistic ignorance But what do we need help for? Could it be that (and again, I would be the first to admit it), we are awaiting a renaissance, a re-emergence, a re-imagining of our mother’s language, so that it may re-manifest itself, drop like honey from the tips of our tongues? I can create such pretty sentences in English and yet have a headache when trying to read Bangla. I can sing the entirety of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and maybe, at least, in the past, have quoth the opening line of Sonnet 18 while trying to poorly flirt with a girl (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day, mademoiselle?”) but struggle to remember the second verse of “Amar Shonar Bangla” (maybe that speaks more of a lack of nationalistic pride, but could I recite Tagore?). I have the entirety of the NATO phonetic alphabet memorized (“Bravo, Alpha, November, Golf, Alpha”) but trail off entirely in the midst of the Bangla alphabet (“taw, thaw, daw, dhaw … maw?”) to say nothing of the butt-end where the letters become symbols.
Has Hollywood and Bollywood and the bubble of English Medium, English newspaper, English media that you reside in given you the wrong impression of yourself?
And I’m not the only one. There is a collective linguistic ignorance, brought on perhaps by increased globalization and though we recognize (or, I hope we do) its existence, we tell ourselves that this needs to change, it does not happen. On the shelf goes that copy of Humayun Ahmed’s Nondito Noroke gathering dust that you bought from that one-time visit to Nilkhet. Or that Chacha Chowdhury comic book you borrowed from some cousin or the other hoping to ease yourself into this (what you deem to be) tedious process. But that never happens. For all intents and purposes, you need English, you don’t need Bangla. It is on every storefront, every Facebook post, you need to be good at it for whatever job you get (or, at least, it gives you a boost, a certain je ne sais quoi, don’t deny it), it’s at the tip of everyone’s tongue, and it’s not like you’re roaming around the street, putting on airs and mimicking the Queen of England, but you know that it has some substance that Bangla does not give you. Or, are you wrong about the impression it creates? Has Hollywood and Bollywood and the bubble of English Medium, English newspaper, English media that you reside in given you the wrong impression of yourself? Maybe you don’t need Bangla, but don’t you want Bangla? When you’re stuck in a foreign country where your value as a person is automatically divided by the darkness of your skin and the perceived extremeness of your religion, in the face of such condescension, at least then, don’t you miss it? There is a comfort one feels at being able to speak three languages fluently and with some irony, not to mention the potential for wordplay and puns (“Bangladesh match here gese, yaar”), allowing such freedoms of expression that few can boast. Start off in LA, stopover in Mumbai, get off at Dhaka, if you please. Such is the power of your multi-lingual tongue, but is its real estate being overtaken by one language more so than it should? Does one language always come at the cost of another (save for a few eclectic and erudite individuals) or are we, through laziness and maybe some iota of intent, choosing to continuously engage with whatever tops the linguistic charts? Could this be an English-medium, born-to-privilege-and-air-conditioner type of thing? Or is this an ignorance that is slowly spreading, eroding like the history on which our country was built? SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant in the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.