Search This Blog

Friday, August 8, 2014

Language debate

Why the language debate is unending, unrelenting, emotive and yet very meaningful?

I have many more points to make as I can read, write and speak in some 3 European languages and know to read and understand a bit two more European languages. Besides I did my entire schooling in my mother tongue Tamil. Sanskrit is a language I love and I got the university second mark in that and thanks to my sister I learned a bit of Hindi she is a Hindi pandit. Thanks to Saint Tyagaraja’s kritis I can understand very chaste Telugu which unfortunately very few speak. 

Besides I have read and can quote from some 100 best books and authors on linguistics, not only those who have written  purely academic stuff  but more so very interesting books by  those who have made in depth observation and research on how languages are used and how they use, make, modify, motivate, maneuver , manipulate and do many more things to the mind and thinking process itself with the help of /hype of many wonderful expressions, intricate usages, sublime suggestions [as used in religious business] , sensuously enticing usages [ as used in business promotion advertisements], surreptitious intentions [as used in political brain washing techniques] and many more subtle aspects of many languages.

As with any other subject languages too are, and preferably must be, analyzed from two extreme ends of the pendulums and all our debates, discussions and discernment swing between these two extreme points they are:- 

1] Very close to everyone’s heart purely subjective, passion filled [sometimes even with a tinge of fanatical affinity] with an ethnocentric and cultural affinity influenced and impacted by several generations of association and enhanced by ideological indoctrination promoted with a proportionately pleasant bunch of literature and philosophy, symbols imbued with extraordinarily valued and sometimes venerated substance because of the knowledge and perception of the significance of the concepts hidden beneath or manifested by those symbols a sort of magical lens that reveals what eludes the normal outside observer or a prism that unravels a kaleidoscopic splendor of patterns and colors etc.

2] Very objective, prosaic analysis in terms the inherent value of the subject [[here language] under scrutiny with reference to its utility, value for survival, significance to life of humanity especially the functional aspects of life etc.

Both are right and wrong because both are relative and being an umpire here is as unpleasant or an uneasy task as being an adjudicator in an argument between a mother and wife.[ [if you view it subjectively] or between a mother-in –law and daughter in law [if you view it quasi subjectively] or between two women of different ages with different relationships to you [if you are very objective].

For example the syntax of a sentence describing the beauty and importance of eyes is very objective and precise to the point when it is used to advertise a product or lens or spectacles for the eyes but the very same description of the beauty and impact of the beauty of the eyes wanders into very poetic and romantic realms throwing all rules of grammar /syntax to the winds when describing a lover’s beautiful eyes.

So the language debates will always be reasonable, could be recreational, relevant [ for various reasons]  and reverberating with vigour.

As per the great linguistic scholar Steven Pinker in his wonderful book one of the trio logy ‘THE STUFF OF THOUGHT-LANGUAGE AS A WINDOW INTO THE HUMAN NATURE’ writes “language itself is not a single system but a contraption with many components…….syntax itself encompasses several mechanisms, which are tapped to different extents by different languages……one of the key phenomenon of syntax is the way that sentences are built around their verbs. The phenomenon goes by many technical names [including subcategorization, diathesis, predicate argument structure, valence, adicity [roots thus mark points of interface between the language faculty and the wider cognitive makeup of a person], arity [the number of arguments that a function can take] , case structure, and theta-role assignment], but I’ll refer to it using traditional term verb constructions.”

He also goes on to write , “For example, pour, fill and load are all ways of moving something somewhere, and they all have the same cast of characters: a mover, some contents that move, and a container that is the goal of the movement. Yet pour allows only the content -locative [pour water], fill allows only the container –locative [fill the glass], and load goes both ways [load the hay, load the wagon]”

A book by the linguist Beth Levin classifies three thousand  English verbs into about eighty-five classes they appear in; its subtitles is ‘A preliminary Investigation’

But due to want of time and space I am not going into the details and as suggested by many well meaning, experienced and erudite persons in this long drawn discussion on English versus Hindi debate I am more comfortable and convinced with English for various reasons which you may find in the links below.

One must also read David Crystal on language studies besides Vygotsky the much neglected great linguist whose only mistake was being born in Communist Russia during cold war period

No comments: