Of mother tongues

  • The French call their language français.
  • The Germans call their language Deutsch.
  • The Spanish call their language Español.
  • The Catalonians call their language català.
  • The Italians call their language italiano.
  • The Bengalis call their language Bengali.

What am I trying to imply?
We do not call our language by the name it calls itself.

বাংলা (bāŋlā) — that’s the name.

If the world doesn’t know, that’s their bad. That’s the attitude the rest of the people have. Whereas we are happy to call our own language by a name the British called it because they couldn’t pronounce “বাংলা (bāŋlā).”

Are the British calling their language “Anglais” because the French call it so? Or “Englisch” because the Germans call it so? Or “Inglés” because the Spanish, or “Anglès” because the Catalonians, or “Inglese” because the Italians, or “ইংরেজী” because the Bengalis?

We are still ready to use an Anglicized name of our own language — the revolution of which to make an official language caused young people to be martyred on a day which triggered a revolution that would later make a country independent of another, a day that is recognised by the UNESCO as the International Mother Language Day — so that we don’t have to write its name as it is pronounced by itself. We are “Bengalis”, you see.

We are still “Bengalis”, speaking “Bengali”. No, I refuse to be one. I am a বাঙালি (bāŋāli), speaking বাংলা (bāŋlā).

So what’s the point of writing this post in English? Because it’s not just about বাংলা.

Some of my other Indian friends and colleagues have told me the following to explain not using the scripts of their native tongues while writing their native tongues:

  • “Currently it’s okay, everyone is used to reading my native tongue in English.” — That’s because everyone has colonial hangover. Don’t you think 70 years is good enough to get over that?
  • “I have an iPhone, writing in Bengali in its keyboard is a big pain.”
  • “I am too lazy to change the way I type.”

Some have argued back, “It’s not colonial hangover, it’s convenience.” Why this convenience, may I ask you? Because you used old phones which would only be in English. Today, you have smartphones in which you can do everything in your mother tongue. By that, I mean everything, even operate the phone in that language (yes, I know someone who does that). And you are telling me that you don’t have a choice? I am not trying to convert you into anything, I am trying to tell you that you are choosing to write your mother tongue in English because the British ruled over your country for 250 years, and it’s time that you start feeling that you don’t need to do that any more. Why, you may ask? What’s the problem if you do? হিয়ার ইস্ দা প্রবলেম। हिअर, सी! हिअर, डू यू सी नाओ? आर इउ सैटिस्फाइड नाओ? অর ডু আই হ‍্যাভ টু ড়াইট মোর ইংলিশ ইন নেটিভ স্কৃপ্টস্ টু কন্ভিন্স ইউ দ‍্যাট ইট জাস্ট ডাস্নট ডূ জাস্টিস টু ড়াইট আ ল‍্যাংগুয়েজ ইন আ ডিফারেন্ট স্কৃপ্ট? এস্পেশালি ওআন হুইচ ইস সো ডিফারেন্ট?

I am sorry to my other Indian friends that I am not being able to demonstrate the point in your scripts: unfortunately I know only two Indian scripts. For your convenience, I wrote exactly the following: “[বাংলা/bāŋlā:] Here is the problem. [हिंदी/hiṃdi:] Here, see! Here, do you see now? Are you satisfied now? [বাংলা/bāŋlā:] Or do I have to write more English in native scripts to convince you that it just doesn’t do justice to write a language in a different script? Especially one which is so different?”

One can also use phonetically correct versions of English to represent indigenous languages. For example: bēŋgaḷūru, mẏsūru in kannaḍā; tamiḻ nāḍu in tamiḻ; vayanāṭ, kōḻikkōṭ, kēraḷaṃ in malayaḷaṃ; ōḍiṣā in ōḍiā; etc. Standard dictionaries exist (IAST is one such example, I have myself worked on the adaptation of the same to বাংলা, in collaboration with friends in malayāḷaṃ and ōṛiā), many others are doing a lot of work in this area.

Today, it is easier to type Indian languages in their scripts — because of the amazing work people have done, the recognition these languages have received across the world and at various platforms — than arguing why it is okay to not do that.

যতদিন না বাঙালি “Bengali” থেকে “বাঙালি” হবে, যতদিন না বাঙালি “Bengali” ছেড়ে বাংলায় কথা বলতে শিখবে, ততদিন বাঙালি মায়েরা গর্ব করে বলবে, “আমার ছেলের বাংলাটা ঠিক আসেনা।” ও না, sorry sorry, ওটা তো পুরাতন, আজকালকার মায়েরা আবার বলেন, “আমার ছেলের হাতে iPhone, তাই বাংলা লিখতে পারেনা।”

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