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My apathetic language

  • Published at 12:03 am February 28th, 2019
Bangla Language
Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Proficiency in Bangla is not something to be ashamed of

I happened to stumble upon an article written by a friend in Dhaka Tribune around two years ago about the frustrations and the lack of rewards our language has brought on us all. While my friend seems to believe all the claims are still fresh and relevant in 2019, I’d like to begin by validating the emotional narrative. 

Yes, the language has not given us anything in return. Our life-long discipline and the devotion to stay true to one of the only important symbols of our culture has washed away any semblance of reasoning and truth, in the name of structural development and all the shenanigans it brings. But let me address the claims one by one.

A series of betrayals and disappointments 

Assessing symbolism takes a lot more effort than maintaining an emotional narrative.

Yes, we somehow have been trained to expect rewards for reading, writing, and speaking in flawless English.

Just because the world functions in English does not mean that it should be a universal requirement for the smarts and the quirks. 

But a Frenchman, trying to function in a global corporation, would keep their sophisticated and sexy language aside to communicate to a global customer in a universally denominating expression. Every language has its purpose. Global communication, and meeting global requirements would, of course, ask for a global solution.

If we can agree on this, then we can agree on English lexical abilities being rewarded during education. That way, learning the intricacies and the ways of communicating complex thoughts in English would be a requirement. 

However, to tie Bangla back to the lack of structural dis-improvement in 48 years of independence is an unfair claim to make. 48 years, statistically, is a very small timeframe (sample size too) to assess the contribution of language and symbols in a culture, politics, and country. Pre-industrial revolution Great Britain had the worst rates of gang wars, theft, and oppression.

We suffer a little bit by arbitrary luck, and a lot more by neo-colonialism, where our pathways of development and the governance systems are still heavily influenced by foreign ways.

Unfortunate as it may seem, there doesn’t seem to be any other way of shaking this off. 

Can we conclude that in the next 50 years we will be better off? Probably no. We did not make our own fate, and by virtue first-movers’ advantage, some other country would still get to exert tantamount pressure on what we do, how we feel, and how to trade. But can we expect signs of becoming decision-makers?

Yes! While scraping instances that we see now won’t make the cut for the pessimist few, the basic pre-requisite for development is earning the respect for making own decisions. We are battered, bruised and deeply unhappy, but we are getting there. 

What does language, a symbol, truly mean? 

I think we can never go anywhere if we disagree that language does not define us. I whole-heartedly agree with the sentiment that on a tough day, the only solace we find is to ask for a munch through the most intimate expression we can find: “Chabanor kichu thakle asholei bhalo hoto, ma.”

But the fundamental flaw in expecting tangible returns from language is that we would be using language as a means to an end.

Where, construction of symbols is supposed to be an end itself -- an end that serves to remind us of struggles and how to keep the spirit moving within us every day. In this regard, studying Bangla is of paramount importance. 

Beyond what we use for our daily use, and what we learned when we were young, the unending skies of language requires effort to be explored. And I whole-heartedly do not believe tracing the proper roots of Bangla is the end of our exploration, but it is a very good start.

Linguistics, formation of words, synonyms, how some words exist because of usage and some made to resemble the emotive feature of expression -- are all important starts towards the same end.

I am no linguist and I am no expert, but I do not back down from learning to speak Bangla properly every day. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Just because we were placed in this country, in the laps of our mothers, does not mean the end of our knowledge, refinement, and effort. So, I believe it is not right to ask what Bangla has done for you, but what you have done to preserve Bangla within yourself. 

It is also not right to point fingers when someone can’t speak in Bangla properly, rather important to rectify mistakes with a smile -- you’d be doing a whole lot in preserving the symbol with a lot of grace and respecting the fallen in 1952, my friend. If English was truly the only linguistic benchmark, you wouldn’t find Frenchmen continuously refusing to speak in English on most global stages.

Apathy, betrayal, corruption, disappointment -- that is what Bangladesh apparently has given all of us. And I could see why this is quite possibly true.

A nascent nation, incessantly trying to fight its way through the shackles of what seems to be holding back improvements can only ensue a barrage of disappointments, one after another.

As soon as we recover from million-dollar losses, we sigh deep into our souls to the images of burned faces and narratives of what it means to be burned alive. 

In our own ways, we breathe in our own poverty-stricken, apolitical Tiananmen Square, but all we do is whisper to ourselves that it will all be alright.

To be let down is the malady of our times, and it becomes so hard to escape the thread that tightly hold us. But does it mean that all our suppressed anger be projected towards an element of our culture that has no contribution to the evil that spread its wings? 

Yours to choose. 

Asif Hassan is a journalist involved with Climate Tracker.