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Daily RC Article 153

Language Development: Dynamics and Challenges in Indian Context


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The powers and abilities conferred by the use of language entail cognitive successes of various kinds. But language may also be the source of cognitive failures. The idea that language is potentially misleading is familiar from many practical contexts like politics, and interpretation of works of scripture, literature, etc. Confucius, for example, held that, when words go wrong, there is no limit to what else may go wrong with them; for this reason, “the civilized person is anything but casual in what he says.” This view has inspired efforts by some philosophers and linguists to construct an “ideal” language − i.e., one that would be semantically or logically “transparent.”

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Language development is not always a unidirectional process moving from non-development through under-development to development, it may be a change of direction of development or revival of earlier development. In India, there are languages of technologically primitive tribes, whose development may belong to the first kind of linear direction of development. Efforts at making a classical language like Sanskrit a vehicle to serve modern needs especially in the public domains belongs to the third kind of revival of development. The development of modern Indian languages is of the second kind, which is a change of direction of development. Most of them have developed for centuries as vehicles of creative literature and some of them as vehicles for deliberations on grammar and philosophy. The contemporary demand on them is to become a vehicle of modern science and technology, education and government. Their development is partially a kind of revival also, at least for some languages like Tamil, which were languages of education, administration and commerce in the past. In some ways, their present developmental efforts are to restore their old status.

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This aspect of change of direction of development of Indian languages introduces new elements into the planning of their development. One such element is about the agent of development. Since litterateurs and scholars of language were the main actors in languages development, the present-day planners consider them to play a primary role in planning. The other is the emphasis on aesthetic and grammatical aspects including language purism in the development of new technical vocabulary and registers rather than on the communicative and functional aspects. The third is the distance from the language of the common people. As the people of highbrow literature exert their influence on codification of language for modern needs, the virtue of simplicity in language is under-recognized. This attitude is also shared by subject specialists like the professional of law, administration and science and it makes the newly codified language less comprehensible. The difficulty level of the language helps these professionals to remain as brokers between the content of the planned Indian language and its users…



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Restoration of the earlier status of the language also carries with it the burden of the past. The developmental exercise becomes backward looking rather than forward looking…The positive contribution of the past development of the language is that it becomes a resource to draw materials from, particularly lexical materials as well as an inspiration for developing the language to sustain the glory of the past. An example of the past being a resource is that some of the new vocabulary of administration in Tamil is drawn from inscriptions which have recorded the royal proclamations and decisions of the past.

The discussion delves into the multifaceted nature of language, highlighting its empowering role in cognition while acknowledging its potential for cognitive pitfalls. It explores the development trajectories of Indian languages, categorizing them into linear progress, revival of earlier stages, and directional shifts, emphasizing their adaptation to contemporary needs and historical roots. The involvement of literary scholars in language planning is noted, focusing on aesthetic aspects but occasionally distancing language from everyday usage. The text notes the challenges in reconciling past prestige with contemporary relevance, utilizing historical resources to enrich and sustain linguistic heritage.
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