My background includes having grown up in India, exposed to about four languages (besides English) on a regular basis: my 'mother' tongue - Malayalam; the 'national' language - Hindi; the state language - Marathi; and the language of the trustees who set up our school - Gujarati. I can only claim any literacy in Hindi, however, since I received the most formal training in that language.

Since my first language is English, I suppose I slip into the English arrogance/imperialistic attitude from time to time, and my opinions may well be coloured by that fact. I believe, however, that while the ongoing loss of linguistic diversity is sad, we would be ill advised to reject English on the basis of the need to retain identity or diversity.

The problem with cultural identity (and perhaps this is a wider subject than this forum may allow) appears to me to be identical (depending upon one's stance on this) with that of xenophobia: you cannot distinguish a cultural identity unless you show how some (or the majority) are excluded from that group. This, in my opinion, is one of the leading causes of the xenophobia that has resulted in the internecine conflicts that we still seem to see only too often (Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland etc).

I do not believe we can eliminate this 'exclusiveness' all together, nor that it would necessarily be a good thing. But I think it would be worth our while to mitigate its effects as much as we reasonably can. Unfortunately, the 'our mother tongue must thrive' brigade often seem to me to miss this point. Yes I regret, to a certain extent, the fact that I am not fluent in, nor literate in, Malayalam. But if I were offered that fluency and literacy as an alternative to the fluency and literacy have in English, then I would reject the offer. I am all for expanded horizons - but not when so many of these promises appear to be at the cost of actually limiting the horizons of those who 'should be native speakers' of a particular tongue.

My apologies if all this sounds a touch convoluted or disjointed. I suppose I might have summarised it as: keep English, but learn other languages by all means.


the sunshine warrior