“This is Bangladesh, if you want to speak in _______ language, go live in _________ country!”
“Ugh, God knows what he was saying in his ching chang! I didn't understand at all.”
I am sure you have heard it, being hurled at someone, by someone who claims to love their mother tongue, so much that they cannot stand any other in their home turf.
Some make fun of the words, guttural sounds, and all vocalisations that sound “other” to ears that grew up on Bangla alone, all in the self-absorbed belief that the nation's sacrifice for the right to language on 21st February, 1952 has somehow made Bangla a Brahmin amid plebs.
But is that truly what love for my own language means?
The love for one language does not need or require the hatred or disrespect for another. My language is the greatest or sweetest to me, because it is mine, just as yours is to you, and not because it is factually better in any way, but because it is beloved.
Every year, as the International Language Day comes and goes, there is a slew of events and programmes to mark this day of deep significance for Bangladeshis, and Bangalis, of course!
We march before dawn, we pray, we sing, we preach and teach about the significance of our mother tongue Bangla. But once the programmes and events end, and more commonly throughout the year, I often find myself stopping in my tracks while reading or listening to many proponents of patriotism and love for Bangla, while professing their pride and love for Bangla, berate or demean another language, all in the same breath, without shame or guilt.
Another language which perhaps is mother tongue to thousands or millions of people in another nation, in other countries! I feel then, that the actual meaning of the day, or what it means to love a language, is completely lost upon the collective psyche of our nation. There is no pride in refusing to learn other languages, or making fun of those who speak them.
The real and undying message borne by the Day is not love for just the language Bangla, it is to underscore the right of all individuals around the world to be able to speak, express and nurture their very own languages, without discrimination, disregard, or subjugation.
In the modern world, we are gradually recognising the worth of languages. We know today that education, as a universal right, can only be realised in the mother tongues. The languages we are born to help shape our intrinsic individual as well as national identities.
Each mother tongue, to its native, is a salient reservoir of hundreds of years of tangible and intangible heritage, the most powerful, yet the most vulnerable, as language assimilation and substitution are both all too real aspects of the modern world. Which is why the International Mother Language Day is only gaining in importance every year.
Bangla is my mother tongue, and for that, it is sweet to me, but it only makes me realise the beauty of other languages, nuances carried by words and phrases that Bangali life did not feel the need for until now, and the infinite riches the world unveils when you seek life's difficult answers in languages more than one.
Languages help us be human, and communicate. They carry our culture, our hopes and convey our pain. Each language is a bridge to its speaker. Let us build more bridges, strengthen and create connections. In this world full of all kinds of strife, let my love for languages be my bridge, not my wall.