Language is the vehicle of expression and the heart is best expressed in one’s mother tongue. When we are talking of mother tongue, we need to carefully understand what it connotes. According to UNESCO, India is the ninth most linguistically diverse country of the world, Papua New Guinea being the first with 840 spoken and 12 extinct languages. The Indian Constitution recognizes 22 major languages, written in 13 different scripts, with over 720 dialects! Quite understandably, India doesn’t have a national language. However, Hindi (which is spoken by a majority of Indians – especially in the North, North West, and Central zones) and English (which is considered to be a common medium) are the official languages of India.

The vast diversity of languages read, written and spoken in 29 States and 7 Union Territories, make India a multi-lingual diversity along its length and breadth. The country has seen zealots strive to preserve the linguistic identity of their respective regions with their sweat and blood. With increasing cultural exchange and migration, people have developed a tendency to learn new languages. While this is welcome, it is also essential to preserve one’s parent language.

In 2010, with the death of the last Bo person, the Bo language spoken in parts of Andaman Islands became extinct. A language erased from the face of the earth! The scripts of the Indus Valley Civilization have not been able to be deciphered till date because it has not been possible to decode the codes that the people of that time used. The detailed history of an entire civilization remains a mystery, apart from what has trickled out of the painstaking research of some historians!

If we wish to see the diversity of languages along with the rich foliage of culture and ethnicity survive the tempests of the centuries, we need to ensure that they percolate down the generations. ‘Mother tongue’ has been so labelled because the developing foetus in the mother’s womb starts learning to recognize the sounds and speech patterns of the mother’s voice and is able to differentiate the mother’s sounds and other sounds after birth. That’s why you must have observed babies stop crying as soon as they hear their mother’s voice, no matter how desperately others would be trying to pacify it.  

In a multi-lingual country like India, passing the mother-tongue down the generations is a big challenge in the present day, especially with too many interstate and cross-national marriages seeing the light of the day. And so, either the couples decide to use a common medium of communication or get into frequent conflicts. I have heard of many such couples arrive at the verge of a divorce just because each of them want their children to learn to communicate in his/her mother-tongue. These are critical cases – with the issue in question being seemingly trivial but having serious ramifications.

The human brain is wired to receive, process and learn multiple languages during the stage of language development. The more the number of languages acquired by a child, the more cognitively flexible s/he turns out to be. The ideal time for training in multiple languages, wherever desirable, are the very early years of life. 

While it is a drawback to stick only to one’s vernacular, its a handicap of similar nature to learn unifying/common languages without knowing one’s mother tongue well.

In the present world scenario, in a diverse country like India, in my opinion, children need to be taught three languages – regional language according to the State they belong, Hindi – which is a unifying language within the country and a language for international communication. No matter how globalized the world becomes, the tongue that speaks the heart expresses the best!