Mother Language in a Multilingual or Multicultural Scenario

Aziz Haq By Aziz Haq, 7th Apr 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/22fq_23_/
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Columns & Opinions

The mother language is the language of one’s soul. We might have knowledge of other languages, but more often than not, we have better command of our mother tongue. An immigrant’s linguistic capabilities must embody their mother tongue as well as the language of their country of adoption. While the former language meets their emotional needs, sustains their ethno-cultural identity, brings self-confidence and self-esteem, the latter facilitates their establishment in their country of adoption.

Mother Language in a Multilingual or Multicultural Scenario

Your mother tongue or native language is the language that you learned first. It is the language you learnt at home from parents and others with whom you live together before your schooling began. Your Mother tongue may not necessarily mean that it is the language of your mother. It should rather mean the language that you naturally learnt at home as a child or infant without anyone formally teaching you. You may, however, have more than one native language if you learnt all of the languages before you started to go to school. Children growing up in bilingual homes can naturally have more than one mother tongue.

As mentioned above, you can have two or more native languages. One can, therefore, be a native bilingual or even multilingual. The order in which these languages are learnt is not necessarily also the order of proficiency. For instance, a Bangla-speaking couple might have a daughter who learnt Bangla first, then Norwegian. But if she grew up in Norway, she is likely to become more proficient in Norwegian.

The role our mother tongue or native language plays in developing our thoughts is immense. The mother tongue sinks into our blood. We understand its nuances and subtleties. So, we are likely to be able to more precisely capture very subtle nuances of our feelings and thoughts, express our imagination and experiences, formulate our ideas, views and opinions and voice our hopes and aspirations in most appropriate and forceful words in our mother language. It is truly the language of our soul. It may be easy to conceptualize an idea, thought and feeling in the native or mother language before expressing and developing it in a foreign language. Bangalee poet Rabindranath Tagore, who won Nobel Prize in the year 1913, very aptly said: ‘’The mother tongue or native language of a child must form the foundation of the child’s language learning process, and then foreign languages could be the materials of its superstructure’’. This same idea was very powerfully expressed by a modern poet of Bangladesh. I quote in Bangla:

আদিম অক্ষররাশি অ আ ক খ
আমাকে রেখেছে ধরে
গলায় ফোটে না একটুও স্বর
যদি না দূর পিতা-পিতামহের
কণ্ঠে কণ্ঠ রাখি; চেতনায় ফোটে না
একটিও ফুল যদি না বাংলার
বর্ণমালা শিখে থাকি।

I translate:

The age-old letters of the Bangla alphabet sustain me.
I don’t really speak unless I speak the language of my forefathers,
Not a single flower would bloom in my consciousness
If I didn’t learn and use Bangla.

There is diversity in every sphere of life in the world. Biodiversity makes the living world so rich and fascinating. Similarly, linguistic and cultural diversity enriches our knowledge, sharpens our intellect and lifts us morally and spiritually. Nature or God, you choose the term, designed it to be so for the good of humanity. So, like bio-diversity, we must protect, nurture and promote the linguistic and cultural diversity too.

One’s mother tongue or native language is often inextricably related to one’s ethno-cultural identity. Ethnicity and culture, or for that matter languages, are related to regions, subcontinents or continents. Our origins are rooted in our ethno-cultural and linguistic identities, no matter wherever we reside in the world. And our origins are our identity and we should be proud of that, for our identity gives us confidence and generates self-respect in us.

Linguistic and cultural diversity brings an enormous wealth of knowledge to a multilingual and multicultural society. We need diversity in unity, as we also need unity in diversity. This is needed for richness of our lives. So, in a multicultural society or in a country of our adoption, while we must be able to nurture our mother tongue or native language, we must also be proficient in the local language, which is often the official or state language in the country of our adoption. This will help us establish ourselves well in our adopted country, enhance our employment opportunities there –and as a member of the society –to draw closer to the local population, widen our sphere of influence and work. One must integrate oneself in the country of one’s adoption. Besides other languages, there must be a common language in a country, which every citizen must be able to speak. Commonality of language draws people closer to one another. It is a key to forging good interpersonal understanding and relationship. Linguistic commonality is a very potent tool for integration among different ethno-lingual communities in a multilingual or multicultural society or in a country of adoption where you have chosen to live. In such a country, integration is an unavoidable necessity in order to develop and sustain the sense and consciousness of nationhood and to stimulate among the immigrants love for and allegiance to the country of their adoption.

In a nutshell, an immigrant’s linguistic capabilities must embody their mother tongue or native language as well as the language of their country of adoption. While the former language meets their emotional needs, sustains their ethno-cultural identity, brings self-confidence and self-esteem, the latter facilitates their establishment in their country of adoption –politically, culturally, financially and in numerous other ways.



Tags

Bilingual, Mother Language, Mother Tongue, Multiculturalism, Multilingual

Meet the author

author avatar Aziz Haq
A civil servant by profession, I endeavour to express through my writings how I view life.
Human sufferings, the transient nature of life and profound love for the world are my dominant themes.

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Comments

author avatar Val Mills
13th Apr 2012 (#)

I am a teacher. Once immigrant children were forbidden to speak in their native tongue at school, but had to converse in English. I'm pleased to say that, here in NZ anyway, children are encouraged to be fluent in their other languages. If a child is to become literate in English it is usually easier if they are fluent in their native language.

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