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Editorial – February 2021

Language is a powerful tool. It is related to the history of mankind, it is also a cultural marker. Basically language is a code for communication, be it verbal or otherwise. The mighty humans to the smallest living beings, all have their own languages that differ greatly from species to species. The more advanced the animal is the more complex is this code of communication. But all animals depend on this power to interact with their fellow beings. It is essential for survival. Some animals of simpler order may have their instinctive languages. But we human beings have very advanced mode of expressing ourselves.

The verbal language that we use today may have originated many thousands of years ago to help the primitive men and women to survive in a very adverse environment. The language evolved as human society progressed. If it initially meant for coming together for survival but soon it matured to express the various sentiments and emotions that held the human society together and gave expressions to their sense of aesthetics and spirituality. As civilisation progressed and its needs increased the ability to merely express verbally was not adequate. Invention of scripts gave permanence to thoughts and in recording of information. Language became the biggest means of inspiring masses with noble ideas woven mystically in wonderful languages to touch the souls and shape the civilisations.

However, as there were many languages that varied from region to region, people to people, it also became a means of keeping people apart. Often language differences were deliberately made to keep people separated according to caste, creed or gender. For example, the exclusive use of Sanksrit by the priestly classes and the elite society including only the men in our country in the past for generations managed to keep the common people in ignorance and in relatively humble state. Raja Rammohun Roy’s attempt at translating the Upanishads in the language of the common man was a step towards eradication of such artificial discriminations. The same sentiments were echoed in the sages of the Bhakti movement who used the vernacular to reach to the masses.

Even in the political history of nations, language had been used as a weapon of domination of one race over the other. Every conqueror had tried to subjugate the conquered by imposing foreign languages on the oppressed and preventing the natural and native languages to flourish. This is because language is not only a means of expression, it is an identity of the people, a source of their pride, an expression of their aspirations and therefore have a deep emotional connect.

February is the month when we look back at the power of language and its overwhelming appeal. UNESCO in 1999 declared 21st February as the International Day of the Mother Language in order to pay tribute to the martyrs of ‘Bhasha Andolan’, a struggle of the people of then East Pakistan for the recognition of their Mother tongue Bengali as a national language. Paying tribute to the martyrs, United Nation decided to promote the awareness of the multicultural and multi-linguistic heritage of the human civilisation. A resolution was adopted at the United Nation’s General Council to observe the International Mother Language Day across the world to uphold all languages in order “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world”.

What poet Atul Prasad Sen says in his song ‘Moder Garab Moder Asha, ‘Out Pride and our Hope’ in praise of his mother tongue Bengali, holds equally well for all languages of the world since it is our mother tongue in which ‘as a child we have first called out to our mothers and when the journey of life comes to an end this will be our language of expression as we surrender to our Maker!’

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