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The value of the Mother tongue

By Karmayogi

The 1950s and 60s were the heydays of Tamil. In 1956 when a college celebrated its centenary, the Education Minister was the chief guest. The Principal spoke in English welcoming the Minister. The Minister stood up and uttered his first word in Tamil and it was greeted by a thunderous applause, Now-a-days we hear that Tamil is dying a slow death. Many children are in English medium schools where the mother tongue is neglected. Those students are not able to write Tamil. Some of them cannot even read Tamil. It is a sad situation but can only be a passing phenomenon. The age of great literature and expansive life do not go together. When life expands, prose, especially commercial prose, expands. For great literature to be born, the society must be stable for centuries. It happens only when the society stagnates.

The mother tongue is buried in the subconscious. The subconscious is saturated with the mother tongue. One hears it all the time. Great literature usually emerges in poetry. It does so even in prose to a lesser extent. Such literature represents the fullness of the writer’s personality. It does not issue from the surface mind. What is true of literature is true of music also. Children can speak many languages. It will be useful. But it all emanates from the surface mind, which is shallow. There is no evidence of great literature in prose or poetry written in a language which is not the writer’s mother tongue. Sri Aurobindo has done it, as an exception, but we cannot compare ourselves to Him, though as a possibility it stands before us.

Teaching the mother tongue is a serious requirement for any school that wants the child to develop a balanced personality. The mother tongue gives a depth which no foreign language can give. At times of crisis the first word is in the mother tongue. A story illustrates it. Some one who was fluent in many languages took lodgings in a house. The young boys were anxious to know what his mother tongue was. One boy poured hot water on him while he was sleeping and the man shouted his abuse in Tamil, disclosing that he is Tamil. The mother tongue cannot die, except when language dies. Those who are devoted to language know that the beauty one’s own tongue reveals is not perceptible to him in another language, in spite of his proficiency.
 
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