Language is never colonial or postcolonial but ideas are
The English language remains a reminiscence that we have been overpowered by this language for more than a century. Its speakers and writers carried out their imperialistic strategies easily because we did not know it. We did not know the power of words. The moment we learned this language, we comprehended the significance of words and their power. We now for instance understand the words of Thomas Babington Macaulay that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. The query arises why did he say it? Perhaps he said it because we had no access to this library. We were unfamiliar with the language of this library. The language contains ideas but we could not know these ideas because of linguistic barriers that stood there like the Great Wall of China – never to be climbed or penetrated.
English language, since then, evolved as a global language connecting us to the whole world. This language opens windows now to the greater world of ideas that could never reach us sans this language. Although post-colonial critics rebut this language and dub it as a colonial language, they criticize it in a similar language otherwise they would have never been known as critics of this language. Language is never colonial or postcolonial but ideas are. Occidental ideas make it colonial and oriental ideas make it post-colonial. Language is always innocent but ideas are never.
I grew up studying this language and literature written in this language. I was taught in this language. After pursuing a Master’s in this language, I instantly began teaching this language. What I met since then is linguistic rivalry. I met it on the streets, in different institutes, in seminars, in interviews, in debates and in discussions. I felt its burden on my shoulders wherever I went. Recently in a gathering in which I told a student to talk in Urdu at least if not in English, I saw different people around from different linguistic backgrounds. Unfortunately, a lady, who teaches the Kashmiri language, asked him to talk in the Kashmiri language only. She thought speaking in English or Urdu meant denigration of the Kashmiri language. This linguistic rivalry exists and we cannot deny its existence.
Does speaking English mean we stand against other languages? Does it mean we are colonialists? I believe we never forget our mother tongue. It is there whether we speak and write it or not. We are born with this language. We learn it in the wombs of our mothers as it is spoken in our homes all the time around the conceived lady but the English language is a different entity. We need to work hard to learn it to understand the bigger world of ideas waiting to be explored. And English tutors – if they don’t speak well, they are considered incapable but if they speak well, they are labelled as carrying forward the legacy of imperialism.
Linguistic rivalry evinced its consequences. It checked the exploration of the world of thought that is pabulum for us. Our thoughts and ideas undergo purgation only when they strike at each other. Our students are often times taught to preserve their mother tongue. Is the mother tongue preserved by not acquiring other languages? If we take the mother tongue only as a medium to promote our culture and civilization, we will succeed in preserving both our language and our literature. What sustains language is the culture and civilization that is the content of this language. That is transported through this language. That is preserved through this language. If we cherish English colonial ideas but beat the drum to preserve the Kashmiri language, it is detrimental to our civilization.
Let us have the English language as a medium but the ideas of our own civilization. Let’s preserve the body with thick clothes. It is the requirement that does not give any substitute. Kashmiri language and literature can only be preserved with the help of the English language. Lal Ded, Habba Khatun, Mahjoor, Abdul Ahad Azad and other greatest Kashmiri poets are known to the greater world only with the help of the English language.
Language cannot be preserved by speaking or writing; it is preserved when culture finds expression through it. Culture never dies and it sustains the language through which it is given a vent. We must culturalise the English language to express our culture through it so that it reaches the greater world and people get acquainted with it. Indeed it may not assimilate our culture completely but we should work harder to enrich it on a daily basis so that one day we will best express ourselves in this language so that our culture is best known through this language, so that our civilization prevails and attains the deserving recognition. We have plenty of examples of the people who accomplished this task.
The linguistic rivalry will land us back to thralldom if we don’t learn the English language and propagate our culture through it. Our posterity will grow handicapped. They will not be able to understand the trends of knowledge that shape the world. They can’t decrypt the subtleties of both language and knowledge. To counter any linguistic ideologue, the prior requirement is to understand his language and respond to him in his own language. The English language is now as important to us as our own culture. Its extinction is definitely an extinction of our culture.