Economics of Languages

The recent write up, Mother tongue: Matter of Identity or Medium of Instruction, in GK on 13/10/20 by Bilal Kaloo was very well crafted piece on language where the author roamed around the theme, i.e., mother tongue is very central to recognize people and help them reconcile with the changing times.

The author sounds very sweet to make mother tongue ‘point of prestige’ in our culture and appreciates every move to widen the world of Kashmiri language. However, all on paper is not always all in priority. Many prospects and promises are in place in NEP 2020 but it actualizes only if it materializes on the ground.

The author also seemed all involved to encourage ‘mother tongue’ in people as an aspiration for ‘Shared Ideal’ or ‘Shared Cultural Identity’. The attempt appreciably asserts that it is laboriously luscious language to interpret all meanings.

However, any interpretation of human activity, as is held by Max Webber, can be considered true only if it objectively validates its position in the society. Going by the above scale, one infers that the language about the ‘Mother Tongue’ in the write up is limited to statement of facts with a humble vainglorious touch; for ‘mother tongue’ today is all under-resourced, particularly in our case, to make meanings objectively.

The social prestige (privileged position in the society) and monetary rewards in the ‘other tongue’ are better than the ‘mother tongue’. This is, therefore, misleading perspective on language because mother tongue is today also suffering due to state’s mal-intent or some inherent weaknesses which resulted into very invidious policies resulting in no in-group feel for the subject (mother tongue) in the society.

In his book Language and Economy, the author ‘Florian Coulmas’ stressed that languages behave as a commodity or economic system and its skills define an amount of income for an individual in the society. The first found fault today with a Mother tongue, however, is that it is an ‘Identity without Incentive’ and no culture can remain intact, if it is least linked to economic efficiencies (wages, employment, etc.).

Language is today an ethnic attribute with a loose cultural heritage of ‘sense of belonging’. Learning a language today is more to deal with an economic investment and cultivating economic rather than cultural benefits. Today language of economics dictates our thoughts and has forced society to consult alternatives and opt one which is basic to smart life. Market today, on one side, is becoming heavily the life-blood of the communities, serving as community center; where highly socially stratified groups would meet, interact, mingle, disseminate their values, opinions and attitudes. Under such influences, nearly everyone is interested to jump out of his/her linguistic skin for monetary gains to attain a privileged position. Therefore, focus is on costs, benefits, utility (money, status, goods) and on the principle of maximizing economic benefits.

Under the new global order, mother tongue as linguistic identity is no tangible force, because societies are gradually losing all the internally placed coherent set of values, mores and norms, quickly but quietly, that once kept it composed. The languages today are largely the ‘other languages’ that are at the base to serve and survive people in the new but tough enterprising culture. Therefore, a very ‘different culture’ and ‘different society’ is gaining ground around market where ‘mother tongue’ is more an opportunity than an identity in the society.

Second, today’s ‘societal corporatism’ has socialized mother tongue not deferentially. They preserved it for a very limited but strategic needs to run only rich occasions in the society. Since societies have turned more money minded where languages are commodified, learned and earned for the purpose of profit; this degraded the position of the mother tongue and sent very scary signals to its future prospects. In our society, the case is very exemplary. Kashmiri being a subject in study circles is today a big ‘Social Slur’ and is entitled to those who are with a derisory percentage of 45-50%. On reality check, very thinly pupil in the percentage range of 60s have turned to this subject. It is not going well with the ‘high society’ and ‘high culture’; and is often in our society as ‘trade of the trivial’. Many Ph.D. holders in Kashmiri are at loss to understand why they are like stranded islanders in the language which runs in their veins and brains.

They feel under-educated today and are hurriedly humiliated at all fronts, thus, hardily finding audience or opportunity in society or economy. On one hand society offers them no advantageous position, ridicules them for being a mere failure or inefficient lot for opting such a subject (Kashmiri) and on the other hand recruitment agencies are very doleful to fit them in the frame of fame to seek their support for making it ‘language of learned’.

Today culture is no curious and coherent to save societies through preserving mother tongue as an identity or medium of instruction; rather it (mother tongue) is dissolving at ease at the hands of imperceptible global economic aspirations. The fundamental problem today is how to reconcile our identities with our actualities.

Today one cannot live long merely with the glories of culture or remain hostage of history for any long. Because under the new global order, the ‘language of liberals’ has brought in an element of equality and harmony, which links one to a new but different lineage where people are not born speakers but are born to speak.

In the new setting the speakers make suitable choices and get goaded by those languages that explore and exploit the opportunities to maintain socio-economic effect.

Mother tongue can become a language with both identity and incentive, if the NEP 2020 promotes mother tongue in our interaction and it becomes a ‘Cultural Capital’ of our ‘Cultural Talk’ (dominant social interactions) in both ‘little tradition’ as well as in ‘great traditions’ of the society.

Mere institutional recognition (home or education) cannot preserve the mother tongue, unless an increased ability of mother tongue to transform any institution (from school to society) into a meaningful asset and connecting same with wide economic opportunities, that define its earning (wages, employment, social status, etc.) besides learning of the language for the society, be set a criterion to deal with the emerging challenges.