Thursday, 23 March, 2023

Bengali Language and Market Economy

Chinmay Prasun Biswas

Bengali Language and Market Economy
Chinmay Prasun Biswas

Language Movement of 1952 paved the way for the Liberation War of 1971. The result was an independent Bangladesh with Bengali as the state language. From linguistic sources, it is known that Bengali (endonym Bangla) is an Indo-Aryan language of the Bengal region of South Asia. It is the official, national and most widely spoken language of Bangladesh and the second most widely spoken of the 22 constitutionally scheduled languages of India. Bengali is spoken in the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, Assam and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. With approximately 300 million native speakers and another 37 million as second language speakers, Bengali is the 5th most-spoken native language and the 7th most-spoken language by the total number of speakers in the world. It is the 5th most spoken Indo-European language.

Bengali is spoken everywhere in Bangladesh and in the states of West Bengal, Tripura and Assam in India. Bangladesh is the only country which uses Bengali as the official language. Moreover, Bengali is the official language of the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and the Barak Valley region of Assam. 2002 was the golden jubilee year of language movement. In that year, Sierra Leone, a West African country, recognised Bengali as one of its official languages. In 2022 UNESCO survey classified Bengali as the sweetest language in the world.

These are certainly the points of pride for Bengali-speaking people all over the world but after more than seventy years of language movement what is the position of Bengali? In many countries, one language is not sufficient, a second language is necessary. English is normally used as the only second language in Bangladesh but in many sectors, the second language is becoming gradually dominant. In many schools, English version has been introduced. Yet, some guardians want that their children should know Bengali. Those, who want to teach Bengali to their children in English schools, do it not for earning a livelihood but out of a sense of pride for Bengali. Yet, there is a problem also. Almost in every English school, there is just one Bengali book for their students. Everybody secures A in that subject but it does not mean that they are learning Bengali well. In reality, they even don’t know the book properly.

When someone speaks harshly against English, one kind of duplicity is noticed. The question arises - those, who are proud Bangalees, what role have they taken as guardians? Why are Bengali medium teachers also enrolling their children in English medium? A bitter truth comes out from here that the Bengali medium has now merged with the class division of economically backward people. Even if this inequality had existed before, the distance was not that unreasonable. The reason is most of those who studied in Bangla medium did it due to financial inability. As soon as they get a chance they are entering into any suddenly sprouted English medium. Many qualified teachers of Bengali medium schools are not able to hold these students. On the other hand, educated middle-class Bangalees, though having some leftist mentality, do not want to send their children to a school where their housemaids’ children also read. As a result, sudden sensitivity towards the mother tongue nourishes emotion but does not give any solution.

The issue is not exactly English vs Bengali. Not simply out of love towards English but in order to be suitable for professional success in the so-called corporate sector, guardians are sending their children to high-price private schools. The prime aim is to discard hereditary habits and to present oneself accurately in the world market. The only target of parents is to make the child fashionable in a polite manner, not to absorb Shakespeare’s plays or Wordsworth's poems.

Historically speaking, we have learnt western science, philosophy, technology, politics etc. through English. As a language, English has not harmed us but professional success depends mainly on hard work and the ability of the students to absorb, not merely on the language. According to the condition and rules of the market economy, powerful English will try to impose its influence on others (read Bengali). As higher (read marketable) education in the mother tongue is not proving effective, most parents are trying to change the medium from the beginning to alleviate their children’s labour. Effortless achievement does not always reach the goal. There is no reason to believe that opportunity of English medium will push them more steps forward. Many English medium teachers have come from Bengali medium. They had to work hard to be comfortable and match with other mediums. The result is they have become equally proficient in both languages. This precedence is equally applicable to students also. Not the medium but initiative determinations and toil make a difference among students.

Exuberance on 21st February brings forward some questions also. Language movement had a political side also and that is still continuing. As Dr. Shahid Iqbal, Professor of Bengali, University of Rajshahi, has written that even after fifty two years of independence we could not stand erect. Professor Humayun Azad called the month of language “the month of deception of Bangalees because the successors of fifty two do not make signboards in Bengali, no new university in Bangladesh is named in Bengali (almost none), none of the intellectuals of the independent country could establish Bengali knowledge in society (didn't give any sincere effort), no one became self-respecting to establish Bengali. Technical knowledge does not come through it; medical education is void of knowledge.” There is no way to self-realisation. We couldn't do it in seventy years. In contrast, English politics is very sweet. English language is associated with wealth and power. There are very few people of English literature but there is no shortage of English language teachers. Bangalees are always nostalgic. They want to rise above by taking easy and shortcuts way. This climbing ladder is 'English'.

There is no question of enmity with English but if it wraps us like an aggressive octopus then comes the objection. Once Urdu was imposed as the state language, now the corporate system is imposing English language on the helpless state. What will the young generation do now? A multi-lingual person can become global. We are constantly moving away from our national consciousness in the name of globalisation due to the invasion of foreign languages. We are forgetting that in the corporate hustle and bustle, OTT technology is befooling us. As a result, the way to liberation is blocked. This confinement must be broken. In February, the buzz about language is not the last thing. It is not respectful of language. Spending the whole night at Shaheed Minar does not establish the spirit of twenty one. It is rooted in questions of achievement and responsibility. Independent Bangladesh is a country of Bengali language. Besides English, many languages are established like Japanese or Chinese but our position is not similar to those.

Outsourcing is an integral part of the modern economy, software development and tech industry. As per a report of Grid Dynamics, the top 5 outsourcing countries in the world are India, China, Brazil, Argentina and Malaysia. These countries are not Bengali speaking. Bengali has no firm ground among the top languages in outsourcing market. Certainly, our young generation is skilled in this sector but due to language barrier, they have to do it in English. Market and technology have compelled them to rush towards English. Whatever be the extent of emotion for Bengali, though Bengali is the 5th most-spoken native language in the world, in this sector English is the first priority. The time has come to think about how Bengali can be made suitable for the market. Otherwise, only emotion, without action and realisation of the situation, will provide no solution.


The writer is a former

Commissioner of Taxes