Monday, June 21, 2010

Language, linguistics and me

I was 18 and a 1/2 then. The year 2003. Two years of the study of a subject that I thought I'd ace had left me as disillusioned as they come. I mean, who opts for BA Literature thinking that they're scientific and important enough to change the world and offer the world something profound and altering? In college, I discovered things like being 'spaced out'. I discovered 'depression'. I discovered that boys were significant enough to us for us to be discussing them. I also discovered this gem of a genre call post-colonial literature.
It was the final year, and we were waiting for another semester of new subjects when someone walked in with post-colonial literature. My friend Seema and I were already planning our trip to Higginbothams to block copies of our texts before anyone else got their hands on them. After books were blocked, we had to give our parents estimates of how much the whole exercise would cost them and go out and buy those books the next day and cover them in wrapping paper (ok, I did!) and get to reading the book in the middle of a boring lecture. It was in those pages and photocopied pages that I discovered the stories of love for the land. A love that was not about eyes meeting across a room and some fantasy shit. A love that had a lot more to do with identity than anything else. I was suddenly in a world that I understood and I empathised with. But here's what amazed me, these people were talking of an identity in translation. Not one single of those texts were nuanced in vernacular, but in English. That's what got me. How could it be that the language of another can be made your own in such a basic way.
This thing about language has worried me no end. I mean, I write in English, but technically, I'm a malayali. In a perfect world, I should be running around spouting literary malayalam in every context that requires that I express myself a little intelligently. However, that is not the case here. I'm talking, showing off to a large extent, in a language that is not mine. I'm addicted to throwing big words in a text message to prove a point. I get a kick out of being able to make sense in a fashion that sounds comprehensible but requires a second hearing. I love word play, but it all happens in English. It's not mine. Should it be? Can it be? Will it become the language of generations after me?
Language is important. Case in point is the World Classical Tamil Conference happening in Coimbatore. Why would there be so much hype over a language. What is it to people? Why is it to people? Can I, a malayali by ethnicity, at some point in time adopt a language that is not mine, technically? Should I be trying to learn a language that I may not have future use for, just for the sake of identity? Does language really make me? Are adjective becoming more and more customised? How in the hell am I asking so many questions and not offering any answers. This is one of the few things that I contemplate on a day like today. :-|

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