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Language: Are the Tagoreans any different from the Hefazat?

  • Published at 05:59 pm March 9th, 2017
  • Last updated at 06:36 pm March 9th, 2017
Language: Are the Tagoreans  any different from the Hefazat?

The government has decided that language is a matter to be enforced by the watchdogs in each media outlet.

In 2012, a court ordered committee was set up at the behest of several intellectuals to do the same, but it was mercifully allowed to die. This concept of official guardians of cultural purity is well known in many fundamentalist societies, including Saudi Arabia.

It’s nice to know that the liberal Tagorean middle-class behind this move is just another version of the Hefazat, whose tolerance for plurality is the same.

* * *

The refrain is that language is like a river and that it is being polluted by other languages. Actually, using a river as a metaphor for a social product like language is fundamentally flawed. It emphasises on notions of purity and impurity, which is religious in nature and not social at all.

The idea flows from rivers as a religious symbol in ancient India and one reason why Ganga’s pollution is about the pollution of faith practices.Just like a liquid version of Wahhabism.

Instead of being principally a functional tool, language becomes more about the ritualistic purity controlled by cultural and bureaucratic priests. It’s not a socio-human vehicle but a ritually classified representation.

* * *

The examples that irk the new language Brahmins are that people mix words from other languages, particularly English in verbal Bangla. FM radio lingo is particularly critiqued and seen as the greatest threat to Bangla since Yahya Khan.

Excuse me, what is the problem here? I don’t have to like them but I accept them as natural products of time and space. In their own space, they have a right to exist along with other language expressions.

The language of the court, literature, FM radio, all are different but should and can exist together. That is what is called democratic culture

Using several languages to make a point is universally accepted if the language is understood by the audience. It is not clear how one can call it “pollution” when that is what is done everywhere else in the world. And that is how language grows, including our own.

* * *

During the London riots of 2011, many people criticising the looters and rioters, who were mostly poor blacks, described them as “Jamaican patois-speaking lumpens.”

People seemed as much offended by the language of the black underclass as their crimes, and most people said that the language of black/rap music largely distributed by FM radio community was responsible for much of the disturbances.

Using “non-mainstream” English language in the West is the biggest argument used against employing new immigrants.

“They don’t speak like us” is common to hear and has developed a new study of exclusion called “accentism.”

Where does purity end and exclusion begin?

And that thing called freedom of expression?

The committees will decide how the rest of the people will speak, which is very similar to “cultural totalitarianism.”

* * *

There is no substitute for democratic pluralism, and a society that doesn’t practice that becomes less and less robust.

Our democratic failures have resulted in enhancement of the intolerant space, and this language minding in the cultural space will add to that.

The language of the court, literature, interviews, chat shows, FM radio, all are different, but should and can exist together. That is what is called democratic culture.

Language is generally left everywhere to build itself, but out here, we need bureaucrats to do the whipping as well.

* * *

Bureaucrats will decide what acceptable Bangla is and what is not. It will be divisive and as the Pakistanis once tried to make Bengalis speak a proper, acceptable Islamic Bangla, we shall now have the same proper Tagorean Bangla. And in doing so, we are ignoring the fact that language is produced by the very inter-mixing that is being denied now. Anyway, you deserve what you are going to get.

Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and a researcher.

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