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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

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Mastering (our) master's voice

Term 'postcolonial' has almost become a household word in our day today life. We discuss pro as well as adverse effects of it from education systems to highway systems. As a result of colonial encounter, we, Sri Lankans, were entitled to a unique global passport. It is English language.

Although we inherited English language from our colonial masters, we have become the ultimate custodians of our own versions of English. It is rather ironical to find books like 'Empire Strikes Back' in Emperor's bookstores and bookshelves.

Much postcolonial literature depends on unacknowledged processes of translation working like the 'radio' in Salman Rushdi's Midnight's Children that magically renders all Indian languages intelligible to the children of midnight.

It is surprisingly difficult to determine what languages the characters in Rushdie's novel are actually speaking. It is a process of representation of one language within another.

Just as there is safety in numbers, there is safety in a shared language. Our voice quality, accent, vocabulary, and particular idiom all denote who we are and where we come from. Language articulates our identity. Others recognise this identity and either there is a synchronicity or there is not. Friends feel the same about things; have similar interests; and will often express themselves in a common language.

Language education is crucial as an instrument of personal development, and the promotion of a sense of personal identity.

The shaping of personality and the exploration of self are inextricably bound up with language development. But also, the role of language teaching develops wider identities. From childhood, we learn to use language not only to identify with certain groups but also to exclude others.

To belong to a particular 'nation' is a sense of identity. We reside in a certain geographical area and are as a result, a certain race. India is a good example of people of many different races trying to develop a sense of patriotic identity in respect of the nation. English is India's 'lingua franca' or the link language as most of the Indians use it to communicate their highly linguistically diverse fellow countrymen. India at any sense fascinates me because it once had a Muslim as its President, an Italian as a leader of the governing party and its national anthem in minority Bengali.

It is always seen that how certain groups who do not talk the same, look the same, or act the same are excluded from the 'greater' group. However, given the importance of communication in fostering links between people, it is not surprising that language is high on the list. For example, South Africa has eleven official languages (we have three) but English is the one you need in order to get a worthwhile job; in fact, there are few countries in the world where English is not used in the course of a day. English has become our global common ground.

Language helps to articulate cross-national identities that would otherwise be difficult to sustain. Therefore, the social requirements emphasise the need for children to widen their horizons and prepare themselves to enter a 'public world' to which the passport is language.

Language is seen as opening pathways not only to careers but also to fulfilment in identifying with the global community at large - and which you may seek to identify with as well.

Ministerial decisions are likely to take over making English as the medium of all university courses. That looks very timely because once you are there, you find very little material is written in your mother language on what you study.

Your identity is not necessarily what you inherit. It is built with what you have acquired, borrowed and explored.

 

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