Mother Tongues vs English: Language Wars Redux

The politics of language as played out in India and Jamaica

The following headline in an Indian newsmagazine stopped me in my tracks a couple of days ago:

Ban English in the Parliament, says Mulayam Singh Yadav

MPs should be banned from speaking in English in Parliament, Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav has said.

“There should be a ban on English address in Parliament. Countries which use their mother tongue are more developed. It’s the need of the hour to promote Hindi,” Yadav said in a function here last night.

“The leaders of the country have double character as far as Hindi is concerned. They ask for vote in Hindi but give address in Parliament in English. This should be stopped,” he said, clarifying that he was not against English language per se.

Excellent point I thought recalling that it was only a few months ago that the opposite scenario played itself out in Jamaica:

English only in the Senate, president tells Justice Minister

was the astonishing headline in the Jamaica Gleaner.

President of the Senate Stanley Redwood had interrupted Justice Minister Mark Golding as he used patois (also called Jamaican, and Patwa, the unofficial mother tongue of the land) to thank bondholders and workers. As the article reported:

This morning, Justice Minister Mark Golding, who was in his element was stopped in his track as he thanked bondholders and workers for their role in ensuring that Jamaica fulfills prior actions requirement for an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

“Respec’ due to those patriotic Jamaicans,” Golding said when Senate President Reverend Stanley Redwood broke his strides.

“Sorry to break your flow but the language used in the Senate must be standard English,” Redwood told Golding.

The minister had no choice but to relent, and instead of saying respec’ due, resorted to respect is due.

What a farce! Especially since the esteemed Mr. Redwood migrated to greener pastures within a few weeks of making his startling intervention. To be noted is what the Indian politico said: “Countries which use their mother tongue are more developed.” I firmly believe that half of Jamaica’s problems stem from its linguistic identity crisis, insisting its mother tongue is English when a huge proportion of the population can only speak Patois. As if that weren’t bad enough the mother tongue of the majority is not recognized as an official language in its own country. Meanwhile the airwaves are full of English-speakers gnashing their teeth over the ‘growth and development’ that eludes the country. smh. They don’t seem to realize that there’s a causal relationship at work here. Jamaica needs to be declared the bilingual state it is asap.

Author: Annie Paul

writer, editor and avid tweeter anniepaulose@gmail.com

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