Sunday, April 13, 2014

Losing a language


The original residents of America are the Native Americans who spoke different languages. Then the continent flooded with immigrants. They came with their culture, traditions and languages. The immigrants stayed as parts of a salad, but by the third generation, they blended in a melting pot mainly through social and economic reasons. And the immigrants' language is lost in America, however it survives in their native country.

This story is about the loss of a language from our environment. There are languages that are lost completely. Linguists fail to understand how or why a language dies. It reduces in strength, and slowly disappears from the face of this earth due to social, economic and political reasons---all a stress from outside.


This is Yours to Keep

Six-year-old twins talked in hushed tones in the den.

Soori said, "I don't like to speak in Hindi."

Suchi agreed, "Me neither. We are Americans, let's just speak English."

Soori added, "Yeah, I think it's called American English."

Their older siblings, ten-year-old Sapna and fourteen-year-old Sagar entered the room. They exchanged glances.

Sapna said, "Hey, Suchi-Soori, what's cooking?"

Sagar said, "Ye kyaaa goos-poos chal rahi hai (what's all this whispering going on)?"

Suchi said, "Bhaiya, we don't speak Hindi, speak with us in English."

Sapna said, "Oh, really? Well, girls, Bhaiya and I just wondered what are all these susurrations?"

The twins spoke together, "Huh? We understand only English."

Sagar smiled, "I think your Didi is speaking your language."

Sapna patted the twins on heads, "All I asked was what were all these susurrations, all these whispers."

Sagar said, "Now Didi is your Guru so you'll become pundits."

Suchi said,, "We don't need Didi as a guru to ---"

Soori completed the sentence, "To become a pundit."

Sagar and Sapna laughed and gave a high-five to each other, Sagar said, "Girls, you just used two Hindi words, actually Sanskrit words, Guru and Pundit, a teacher and a learned person."

The twins widened their eyes, "We did? They are Indian words?"

Sapna said, "Hindi words. When I was about your age, Bhaiya told me that English becomes richer, nicer when it accepts words from other languages too."

Sagar said, "Have you heard Mummy and Papa slip into Hindi when they want to say something we need not know?"

Sapna said, "Not any more because Bhaiya and I understand and speak Hindi. They speak in Marathi or Gujarati now, but we understand those too. Mummy once said that her father and grandfather used to speak in Marwari, a language that the other family members did not know."

Suchi asked, "Like a secret language?"

Sagar said, "Exactly, many of their friends speak different languages, Punjabi, Sindhi, Kannada, Tamil, Spanish and many more. They just go back and forth in those languages when they are together."

Suchi and Soori kept quiet and listened.

Sapna said, "From what I understand, if we don't use a language, it'll be as good as a dead language for us."

Sagar said, "That's right, our parents moved away from India, and you guys are about to lose Hindi. Your Japanese friend Misaki learns Japanese every Saturday, Didi and I know enough Hindi to teach you."

The twins said, "Well..."

"Well, how about ten-fifteen minutes everyday?" Sagar asked.

Sapna added, "Just speaking and listening to stories in Hindi."

Soori said, "Okay, we can do that."

Sagar said, "You know the Japanese and the Chinese speak to their kids in their languages, many of the Russians and Polish parents did not do that with their children and now many of them want to learn it in colleges. Hindi may not die in India, but if we don't use it, it's dead for us. Besides---"

Suchi said, "Bhaiya, Soori said, OKAY, we can do it."

Soori said, "Please don't give us all this information even if its not in sus-u-rra-tion."

The twins laughed and burst into a chant, "Hindi---Hindi---"

The End

© 2014, Meera Desai Shah