Cover Story

Is Bangla falling out of the young tongues?

Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree | Published: 00:00, Aug 12,2018

Cover story

The growing tendency among our youth to anglicise Bangla remained a contentious topic. From a youth perspective, Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree reflects on the issue. 

Bangla is falling out of the young tongues. When it comes to the use of Bangla as our first language, especially among school going millennials and 90s generation, from daily communication purposes to official avenues, our stance seems to be a grey area. It is either deviated, or replaced, by the more convenient and ‘smarter’ option, English. As hopeless as it might sound, especially to the older generation, it might not be all that bad.

However, there remain concerns, of losing the taste of Bangla, losing a connection with its rich history, with its literature that goes hundreds of years back. What if our English speaking young generation loses its tie with its origin! Is it an indication of us Bangladeshis identifying ourselves as global citizens? It may be.

But where does Bangla stand among the young generation? The language we take so much pride in, the language that presets the birth of this country and defines the identity of its people, the Banglas, where is it placed by us really? About thirty years from now, at the middle of this century, will Bangla remain the same beloved-respected language as it was in the middle of the previous century? Or will it cease to exist among the newer generations?

There are a few defining forces. If we look at the general use of Bangla, especially among the urban youth, we see the use of a deviated spoken form of it, the words are meddled with, vowels and consonants are either dropped or added according to which is the current trend. This deviation is not any recognised dialect, the form of deviation changes rather rapidly too. The RJ-style of spoken language has a big deal to do with it. Back in the first days of 24-hour FM radio streaming, radio jockeys maintained a somewhat standard use of Bangla. However, with time, feeling the need of making radios more fun, or maybe programmes more catchy, there came a weird blend of Bangla and English. To be specific, Bangla spoken in an English tone. That is Anglicisation of Bangla in linguistic terms. This swooped the teenagers with an excitement as they tried to go with the trend and mimic the tone. Even though, at the beginning, it created a lot of nuisance for orthodox Bangla speaking people, and managed to receive sneers from people in general, over the time it has become more normalised. This happens when the youth are still speaking in Bangla, but as it seems, more and more people prefer English over Bangla these days.

Thus, going hand in hand with the Anglicisation of Bangla among the youth, there has been a nativisation of English, as in adapting the language as our own on a daily basis. Even though young urban generation speak both the languages, some prefer speaking in English altogether, whereas some are trying hard to maximise the use of English in their speech. The colonial hangover plays an undeniable part in this. English still dominates the corporate market, academics – the job sector in general. Rural youth, thus, believe having a good command of the second language will give them preferences getting a job. And the preconception of English being a sign of class and intellectual superiority prevails with a strong force. Urban parents put a lot of emphasis on their children learning English, some send their offspring to English medium schools just because the curriculum is taught in English without understanding the curriculum itself, some even encourage their children to speak in English at their homes and with friends from a very early age.

No one can blame the parents or teachers while the government itself puts an emphasis on the learning of English, for practical reasons of course. Knowing the global language does give us an upper hand in broadening our international communication and cooperation, it also offers a broader career choice and lifestyle choice. Higher education abroad is impossible without a good command over English, following the prospect, many of our reputed universities in the country also teaches a class in English.

Coming back to original concern, while this all looks good and prosperous for the future taking from a linguistic perspective of developing education and career, where does it leave Bangla, given that it is still, and obviously, the official language in our country?

Whereas the changes, often noticeable in spoken use, does not throw a threat at us, a more important concern lies in other uses of the language, say, reading and writing in it. Bangla falling out of the young tongue seems to be a lesser concern when it comes to reading and writing. A language is not only words and grammar, it is an entire history, a culture, and a lifestyle choice. Thus, our English speaking urban youth, very naturally, also adopts English literature, music, movies and other art forms. School going children, even a big portion of youth in their late twenties, have not read as many Bangla literature as they do in English. School children, especially following an English curriculum, find it extremely hard to read Bangla literature. They do not know the words and their application. Most horrifyingly, many of these students cannot read the joint letters, having no idea of which alphabet they are originally consisting of.

English speaking youth in their twenties have still some exposure to contemporary Bangla literature, thanks to Humayun Ahmed, however controversial his work is! But when it comes to classics of Bangla literature, the teen generation would go nowhere near it, young adults would prefer contemporary Bangla and English literature than to explore the old Bangla classics.

Preference in music has changed in the same course as that of literature. As it is the age of rock music, rather so, hard rock music, our youth would rather resort to those than Rabindra Sangeet, Nazrul Geeti or our folk songs. When it comes to Tagore songs, it apparently makes our young ones ‘sleepy’ from the slow tempo. Folks seem unfathomable to the young ones, more because of the changed lifestyle which has become more global than authentic Bangali, the philosophical strands of folk music is hardly translated to the high beat rock generation. There has been a significant gap between Bangla culture and the young generation, the choice of language and speech only indicates to the tip of the iceberg.

The same goes for writing, whether for official purposes, for personal communication or writing literature, a significant amount of youth’s comfort language would be English rather than Bangla. Our social media profiles shall vouch for this claim. The newsfeed of a Bangladeshi’s Facebook would have majority of the posts written in English, whether one has foreign acquaintances on their profiles or not.

The claims in this article are of course made from a personal, and conscious objective observation. However, I strongly believe the findings of a concrete research on the same would not be far from the ones I have talked about in here.

Are these changes necessarily bad for us? Probably not at all. Probably we do not have to cling hard on to Bangla, making space for English in a global context is as important as anything. However, what we need to focus on, is that, in the course of becoming a global citizen, in the course of socio-economically developing our country, let us not let down our roots. Because when we reach there, to the global platform, if we only succumb to what they have to offer, and not show what rich jewels we have in our sack, who are we to them, anyway?

Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree is a member of the New Age Youth team.


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