Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Do you write what you speak?

Language development starts at home. Though I am not particular in making it a disciplinary routine, I talk to my child in my mother tongue-Tamil or Tamizh! I have therefore decided to participate in the Tulika Blogathan to make my point.

Initially, my second language at school was Tamil and from the seventh grade I moved to French. This was because I could read, write and speak Tamil very well (or so I thought!). Though I did n't understand the 'Tirukural' as soon as I read a 'Kural', I was able to interpret it with the help of a guide! Being a Chennaite all my life, I took great pride at my knowledge (however selective) of my mother tongue.I also gloated on the fact that I 'read' Tamil (apart from what was taught in school) from the age of five or six. So my second language being French in school and College did not make any difference.

All the pride fell to dust in my final year of college. We had to perform a 'street play' for an inter-departmental competition and what better than the local language to express our point, we thought. I was super-excited as I was to speak in Tamil in what was conceived as a TV program. As each team performed, lumps were formed in my throat. When our turn came, we made complete fools of ourselves and I spoke Tamil like badly spoken English and needless to say we lost. It was then that I realized that despite speaking in Tamil with my family and friends, formal spoken language is completely different. If this is the case with speaking, we would need a hundred people to interpret what was/is being written.

The written language is not what one speaks, generally speaking, unless one is hinting at the 'prose-like' lyrics of many of our present Tamil film songs! The spoken form is different from the written language because of colloquialism.

In my opinion, the quality of written language (not only the text book type) depends on what one reads. If you read literature, your writing and oration of the language would become better. But a general 'good-quality' reading exercise will be useful for good writing skills.

I want my child to become familiar with his mother tongue. Though for practical reasons, we may (Sorry V, allow us to make your decisions for the time being!) opt for Hindi as his second language, we are keen on teaching him to read and write in Tamil. His bookshelf has both English and Tamil books, some bi-lingual, apart from alphabet books in both languages. I would also like him follow my track-Magazines!

The problem however, will be seen in the years to come. For instance, when I was about twelve years old, someone gifted me some Tamil books, meant for children and adolescents. I loved them and as was the practice, passed them on to my friends. They gave me a bewildered look and said, "Tamil...nah.
All of them could read, write and speak in Tamil!


Tulika Publishers said...

Hi! Great post - I like that it describes what the gap between the spoken and the written language can mean in everyday life...like auditioning for street theatre and losing because you can't speak the 'right' kind of Tamil:)


Good one. Actually I still wonder why we should have two languages, one written and one spoken. Why cant we just have one. It will be so easy to write and say that
its 'semma gubb'uppa' instead of 'Bayankara thoor'naattram?'
Though English has similar problem, the difference is rather subtle and is only to do with the overbearing politeness in the written language.