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Mar 08, 2019

‘Being multilingual is good’

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Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein promoted the Language Games theory to present an understanding of reality from a more logical perspective. The theory states that languages have rules just like any game would. It’s through the understanding of these rules, that players are able to successfully enjoy the game. For instance, if 22 players are playing cricket, all of them are aware of the rules of the game; each of them knows what is a ‘no ball’ or a ‘maiden over.’ Words convey meaning, because they are used in human activities in different forms. Different words may mean the same thing in different languages and this is what Wittgenstein referred to as ‘family resemblance.’

 In other words, languages help us comprehend reality and then communicate it with others. There are tens and thousands of languages in the world and all of them help us effectively express ourselves, which in turn, gives meaning to our life.

“Don’t make language a barrier in communicating with each other. It’s important to express oneself cogently, baat toh insaniyat ki hai — it’s about being humane,” says Vanita, a Punjabi poet and translator, who has translated many works for the Sahitya Ak ademi.


Recently, she chaired a session of a Multilingual Poet’s Meet at the SahityaAkademi, Delhi, where she recited the poem Bhasha Di Talab. Matrabhumi di mahek ne bhasha di talab ki thi paida Gurudev bhasha di talab le ayi twadde charanach Gurudev bole sishya kafi nahin matra bhasha Zaroori hai Sikhni pehle jungle di bhasha

 ‘The fragrance of my motherland gave rise to the yearning for my mother tongue/ Master, my yearning brought me to your feet/ Gurudev said disciple, it is not enough to know one’s mother tongue. It’s important to first learn the language of the forest.’

 “One’s mother tongue is important for one’s literary growth, but if you want to communicate to a wider audience, then you will have to reach out to the target audience in a language they understand,” says Vanita, explaining that we have to think about what should be the reach of our literature.

According to her, we are living in a postmodern world, so we will have to understand other languages. She says now our children are becoming ‘diasporic’; they don’t think the way our ancestors thought about their mother tongues. They think that we shouldn’t be so rigid about languages, and say that there is no problem even if Hindi becomes the link language for India. Vanita points out that if we think in terms of political power, then we stand to lose. She gives the example of Guru Nanak, who travelled far and wide and included words from myriad languages in his literature; sharing them with people.

“We have so many languages and dialects; to unite them we need a medium. At the SahityaAkademi, when we translate from source to target, if we make Hindi and English the mediums of translation, a bilingual person who has good command of both languages can be helpful in making literature available to a wider audience,” says Vanita.

She advises budding poets, “When you read poetry, then you feel the bliss; while reciting poetry, it’s important to take your time and give space to every word, only then it will strike at the heart of the listener.

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