Disuse would push Oriya into death, warns Prof. Ajit K. Mohanty


Joining the Bhasha Andolan Lecture Series, renowned psycholinguist and former JNU professor Dr. Ajit K. Mohanty warned on August 24 that, Oriya language shall have to be used cent per cent in management of Orissa, as otherwise, it may be lost to us for ever in the 2nd century of formation of Orissa as a separate linguistic State. Around 3000 languages out of 6,900 in the world are dying due to disuse, he informed.

Describing how disuse is destroying different laguages even at the moment, he informed, the world has now 1535 such languages wherein the number of their respective users has reduced to below 1000; to below 100 in 437 language, to below 10 in 144 languages and to one each in 18 languages.This may happen to Oriya if it remains disused, he predicted on the basis of in-depth research.

Some people may still be nurturing a confidence that Oriya being the mother tongue of around 4.5 crore of people under the sun and being a splendid language of many thousand years to become classical, may not meet any such pathetic end. But it is time to come out of the cocoon of such illusion, as severe attrition has already set in with around 71 lakh persons educated in English medium schools in the last decade unable to write in Oriya, a situation that portends the doom for Oriya language. If the officially pampered craze for english medium in education is not reversed, by the end of 2036, there would be no student in Oriya medium schools and the classical language of the present population would be surviving only in colloquial condition on its way to eventual extinction.

If the alarming situation is to change, cent per cent use of Oriya in all official, social, legal and commercial works shall have to be inviolable. To man this management, education in mother tongue must be an unquestionable must, he said.

The State must build up linguistic skill to create the essential human resources. And for this, it is essential to discard the idea of initiating primary students into education in a foreign language. In a multilingual country like ours if a 2nd language is to be taught, the responsibility would be to develop one’s native language to an advanced stage before introducing the second language. This is because, he said, learning the mother tongue at elementary level is merely intuitive and organic. Linguistic skills remain largely undeveloped unless they are honed for usability in critical thinking and formal academic settings, where one has to then use the native language for furthering imaginative and creative thought processes.

To attain a relatively sophisticated level of language acquisition, children need to use their mother tongue in classroom settings at least for five years, after which it shall become easy for them to pick up another language. But if they neglect their first language in the formative years, it will be difficult for them to get better with a second or third language later on.

Prof. Mohanty said language forms the core of every new knowledge and experience. Even the deaf have to use sign language to communicate. Not only do we express and share opinions using a language, we also think about the language itself – that is, both the self-awareness and the interpretations become subconscious endeavours, thanks to our language. Therefore, we need to have a command over the language to correctly grasp the content as well as the stylistic forms and this process needs to start with using our mother-tongue.

Why? Because it is inevitable that the children will learn the language of the family – no one can prevent them. By the time they turn five, they learn the native language – it is intrinsic. So, at this stage if parents in Odisha send children to English Medium schools, they learn English merely as a school language, not as an environmental language. At that time, it will appear as though they are imposed with another language which they can manually learn, but they can’t use to guide their thinking process.

According to Prof. Mohanty, it is wrong to send children to English Medium schools at elementary level because they invest way too much time in learning a language that is external to their natural settings. The capacity and energy to learn a foreign language will drain the students of their problem-solving skills and will promote rote memory whereby the children do not use a language in improving their lives, but rather learning a new language itself becomes the sole aim.

According to researches, students can remember using a non-native language, but they cannot understand fundamental concepts this way. In a multicultural society it is important to learn several languages, but mother tongue becomes the biggest strength for the children as that will help them to think about language, rather seamlessly and effortlessly.

Researches conducted by Prof. Mohanty indicate that more the number of years students have spent learning in Odia, easier it has been for them to learn in English, and not vice versa.

Unfortunately, these days as more English Medium schools are being promoted everywhere in our state, expressing love for Odia language has been reduced to merely a political declaration. True love for the language has to involve abundant usage of it. Out of 49 lakhs students in English Medium schools (ranging 6-18 years old), almost 22 lakhs are unable to write in Odia. This disuse of language will eventually lead to language attrition and looking at the rapidly shifting statistics in favour of English Medium schools across rural-urban settings, it will not be very surprising if around 2036 (after 100 years of formation of our state on linguistic basis), there shall not be any native user of Odia left anymore.

To keep the language alive let alone thriving, it is therefore critical that we ensure that our educational settings as well as administrative ones use Odia in everyday communication and our readership for Odia newspapers and books increase in the process. We have to treasure the remarkable Odia literature of the past as well make promising strides in ensuring that we continue producing Odia readers, speakers, and writers. After all, a language is only as viable and authentic as its users. We put below the speech of Prof. Mohanty for the world of Oriyas to watch and cogitate.

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