Globalization, language and Ekushey
Aftab S Ahmad
There are very few concepts that are as fiercely debated as globalization. The voices of its proponents and its opponents are equally loud. To some, globalization of the world economy is an unstoppable train. You either get on it or fall by the tracks. It has its advantages, both for the consumers and obviously for the producers and traders. To others, this is something which is to be resisted tooth and nail, not because it does not do some good, but in the process of doing them, it does avoidable damages all around.
The neo-liberal policies of economics and global trade, known as the 'Washington Consensus' formulated by the IMF advisor John Williamson in the seventies became the ten commandments of global thinking unleashed on the not so fortunate South. Promotion of foreign direct investment, deregulation of the economy, protection of property rights, reduction of public expenditure, privatization of state enterprises, tax reforms and trade liberalization are the ideas which came down to hapless millions and clueless governments with promises of prosperity and progress. The world is a village, and you cannot ignore efforts to make it more homogenized and prescriptions to have the same sort of rules (with some gaping and curious exceptions) to transact business.
Making a 'MacWorld' may be deemed a meaningful pursuit for many proponents, but like any other paradigms this was also challenged by groups and people of dissimilar backgrounds. While the 'Particularist' protectionists wanted to keep 'foreign' elements out of the economy and society of particular regions and countries, the 'Univarsalist' protectionists pointed out the damage that globalization is causing or will cause to shared resources of the world.
The debate has encompassed not only economy, environment and trade, a large number of people concerned with the issues also drew attention to another very important aspect of globalization. Cultural globalization is the next most keenly contested areas of the debate in this turn of the century. Culture incorporates the meaning we assign to our lives and the contents and the means of its transmission.
It is often said that the technological boom and its consequent networks, like the internet, has turned culture into a global concept rather than restricting itself to regions and local variations. What was meant to be a song sung by a folk singer by the river turns overnight into a cult elsewhere in the world. What was supposed to be a graffiti on the walls of the downtown railway depot transforms itself into an accusation of the inequality of water sharing regimes across another continent. Nothing is local anymore. Everyone everywhere is being watched, appreciated or condemned.
One may argue that culture has been an unwitting victim of globalization, but the real casualty of the process is language itself. One may very well measure the impact of globalization in the shift of the use of languages in the past half century. One way of understanding what globalization has been doing to our lives is to look at the rising dominance of a few languages, and the decline or extinction of many others. If we consider that globalization is a mixed blessing, with more things to offer than it takes away from us, we should have a serious look at the way Ekushey and the Bangla language has shaped and continues to shape our culture. The spirit of these two interrelated elements of our national consciousness and culture needs to be juxtaposed with the global reality and universal prospects which we face in the near future.
We would like to put forward a blunt question which may annoy a lot of people and may be seen as an affront to the very basis of a month which is supposed to be near-sacred in cultural terms: How would we reconcile the needs and reality of globalization of languages with the socio-cultural spirit of Ekushey and the language we all hold so dear? Is the pressure of globalization and the consequent need to speak, use and communicate with the same language worldwide a basic threat to the development and nurturing of the Bangla language and culture? Can Bangla survive the onslaught of global homogeneity in languages and technology?
We understand that in demographic terms, the Bangla language as we know it today is facing no immediate threat. With 250 million speakers worldwide it may very well survive into the next millennium. But from another perspective we may be fighting a losing battle in the global push towards speaking the same language. We must all face the stark reality: Only one state out of almost 200 actually speaks the language, but then so does the Chinese. We neither have the economic clout or the numerical strength to make a one-state language into a global player. The entire world uses technologies which are not actually Bangla-friendly.
So where does this leave us? In a world where homogeneity rules over diversity, a diversity of which Bangla is an example, it is something which needs to be nurtured and protected. We may speak the same language on the world stage, but it is Bangla, and Bangla alone, which gives us the uniqueness which defines us. There are tangible and far-reaching threats to the way of our life and we should realise that it is not always an economic one.
Aftab S Ahmad is a poet and a critic.
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