Let not Bengali slide down

Nazma Yeasmeen Haque

Who would have dreamt that a demand for making one's mother tongue a state language, for the realization of which a supreme sacrifice was made, would one day elevate all languages and dialects in whatever form they are from around the world to the highest status of recognition and honour?

This year Ekushey assumes special significance in terms of completing a decade of its being adopted as the International Mother Language Day on November 17, 1999 by the UNESCO. This admirable task was made to be a success by the initiative and determination of two Bengalis coincidentally bearing the same two great names of the martyrs of 1952, Rafiqul Islam, a great freedom fighter in the War of Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, and S. M. Salam, both of whom are residents of Canada. We have traversed a bumpy long way in getting Bangla recognized as one of the state languages, then another considerable period of time to transform it into its usability in offices, courts, colleges and universities of all kinds. Although the achievements so far have been commendable, yet much remains to be done in order to retain its purity and naturalness as a rich and refined language.

Pakistan witnessed the consequences of ignoring Bengali spoken by the majority of its population. Nonetheless we have been confronting another kind of indifference if not negligence to the proper use of Bengali with much of its consequential ramifications. Bengali as we have been hearing for quite a considerable period of time has very much deviated from its normal look that comprises the quintessence of its construction, beauty and elegance which by no means indicates perceptual differences due to a generation gap. Or else, evolution of Bengali language from the days of Michael Madhusudan Dutta, Bankim C. Chatterjee, Vidyasagar and others of a later date would not have been appreciated by the readers and writers belonging to the younger generations. Therefore, the problem that we have been facing lies in a peculiar kind of mind-set that is everything but Bengali. Infiltrations of elements of other cultures were always there that were absorbed by stylistic assimilations in the language that those made an incursion into.

Against this backdrop of an anomalous state of Bengali that we have been experiencing, a brief survey of some aspects reveal a quiet acceptance of Bengali words and their pronunciations besides some other irritants that have undergone mutations as heard even in the utterances of educated people. Some of the examples are: (a) an age-old practice of mispronouncing Bengali letters and their phonic sounds, e.g., ebong (aebong), kebol (kaebol), shamanno (shamainno), broto (brot), mon (mwan). One latest addition to this already long list of mispronunciation is the word 'birodhi' that is mostly used by both politicians and so-called politicians as 'brodhi'. A hurried 'br' sound is heard in place of 'biro' that mars the opposition completely as desired by the party in power of any period to fulfill its wild dreams into actuality. (b) The latest fad of pronouncing 'chhe' as used in the present perfect tense of verbs as 'saeh' that creates words like bolesaeh, koresaeh, etc., sound most weird particularly when heard on audio and audio-visual media. Such an attempt to modernize Bengali pronunciations is absolutely ridiculous.

It has often been noticed that many speakers on TV programmes grope for appropriate words in Bengali only to end up using words in English. A little homework would have saved them from our feeling of embarrassment if not theirs. It is very well understood that many words in English have since long been used more or less by all of us while speaking in Bengali, a matter about which no one should be so pedantic as to thwart the flow of one's communication. Nevertheless, all efforts should be made to keep this habit at bay. In this connection, the present day fashion of using too simple English words like 'so, but, always, again, because, then', etc., in spoken Bengali has rendered the language into a cheap and a hybrid one that can very well be described as pidgin Bengali. Some well thought of people describe such a morbid situation as Bangraji or Benglish.

The spellings of words have granted almost absolute liberty tantamount to a license to their users. Oversimplification of spellings vis-à-vis the policy and practice of doing away with chondrobindu (the nasal sound) is deemed most atrocious, more so in view of a prevalence of our already flawed kind of pronunciation. It puts us in double jeopardy. On top of all such messy and, therefore, confusing situation concerning Bengali, the way calendar dates in Bengali are uttered nowadays adds insult to injury at least to my auditory sense organ. For example, aek Magh, dui Srabon, etc., that very well can be put as 'Magh masher / Magher aek tarikh, Sraboner / Srabon masher dui tarikh' and so on and so forth would not be time-consuming if the authorities thought in that line.

This essayist would like to humbly put forward a few suggestions to better the existing situation. First of all, the correct attitude towards learning good standard Bengali has to be developed early in life which is a collective responsibility of all educated people from various walks of life; emphasizing the fact that learning good Bengali has no conflict with learning English well or any other language for that matter a case for which we have precedents in the person of great scholars in our own society; realization by the younger generation that lacing Bengali pronunciations with so-called English sounds simply twists it that is absolutely devoid of merit and, therefore, superficiality is not a sign of smartness at all. It will not be asking too much that some kind of qualitative standardization of both spoken and written form of Bengali has to be made mandatory when presented in public forum both orally and in print. We are badly in need of some effective form of remedial education on Bengali as a whole that in no way will mean discrediting anybody. Or else there is a fear that complacency might set in further so as to relegate Bengali to a lesser language in our own country that has been the torch bearer of not only earning Bengali as one of the state languages but also raising everybody's mother tongue to a rank and status of pride across the globe.

Dr. Nazma Yeasmeen Haque reviews books, writes on music and history and is Principal, Radiant International School, Dhaka.

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