Prof Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque is a former professor of Bangla language and literature at Dhaka University. He is also a well-known Bangladeshi writer, essayist, translator, critic, columnist, and activist. In an interview with Dhaka Tribune's Nawaz Farhin Antara, he explains how to focus on the usage and evolution of the Bangla language in our life and literature.
Are we still far behind in practising and developing our mother tongue?
There are several countries where more than one language is spoken as a mother tongue, including Bangladesh. We consider Bangla as our mother tongue but there 45 other ethnic groups with their very own native tongue.
There is nothing too worrying about practising your mother tongue. However, some of these native languages are disappearing. Especially those spoken by small ethnic groups, who are bilingual. They themselves do not pay much attention to their native tongue. Although they speak in their native language at home, they speak Bangla outside. So, these other languages never actually developed, and created an opportunity for Bangla to be established as the only state language.
As this country was under British rule for a long time, English still remains. But through our language movement, nationalist movement and the Liberation War, a demand was created to establish Bangla as a state language.
We will learn another language but with that, we must enrich the Bangla language also. The situation has changed over the last 40 years as a section of society believes that Bangladesh will never become a developed nation. So, they focus on learning English to migrate to other countries.
Do you think Bangla is being used properly in important areas of the state, including courts, public and private offices? How can we introduce Bangla at all levels?
The people want the orders and verdicts given by the Supreme Court to be in Bangla so that it is easier to understand.
We need to learn English but not everyone needs it. English must be taught well in certain institutions while official activities should be conducted in Bangla.
I think there are lots of qualified people in our judiciary. If the government orders as well as provide incentives to those who work in Bangla, then it would be possible to establish the language in the court within five years.
In this month of Language Movement, what kind of development do you want to see?
The people of this country do not have any respect for Bangla as a language these days, but there was a movement and people gave their lives in 1952 for the right to speak in their mother tongue.
And, as a continuation to that, Bangla Academy organizes the Amar Ekushey Book Fair in February every year. It creates a certain kind of pressure. This is one of the major reasons why the language is still alive.
If there’s no Amar Ekushey Book Fair, everything will be anglicized within five or six years.
A language needs to be used extensively for its development. We need to practice knowledge, do research and run the state affairs in Bangla if we want to improve our language.
Speaking Bangla with great passion only during the month of February is nothing but cheating with the mother tongue.
What is the difference between research on language in other universities of the world and universities of our country?
Bangla used to be the medium for research and higher education, but in the last 30 years it is moving towards English. That would not have been the case, if the government focused on establishing Bangla in universities.
English is important but only when and where it’s required. There is no need for policies, which require everyone across the country to learn English.
We must come out of the concept that learning English is the only way to improve one’s life.
What do the educational institutions lack?
I do not think there is any need of English medium schools. Teaching the language properly in Bangla medium schools is sufficient. Moreover, English medium schools follow the British curriculum. Students there learn about the British government and do not learn much about Bangladesh.
Can we differentiate our language from the Bangla language of West Bengal in terms of modernization?
During the British period, by learning English, people gained European knowledge. Our and the West Bengal people’s thoughts on Bangla language were similar to some extent. But a lot of things have changed in the last 70 to 75 years.
When there was no Dhaka University, everyone went to Calcutta University to study. In that sense, West Bengal is a bit ahead of us in terms of literature and education. Moreover, we have fewer numbers of new intellectuals, writers, and researchers here.
Translations of literary works are important for international recognition of any language. Are we falling behind?
Developed countries have shown interest in the works of our writers and researchers, however, the numbers are still very low.
Our biggest failure is that we are not focusing on enriching our own language following examples of other countries. We, rather, prefer English as a tool to improve our lives, especially, to become citizens of other countries.