'Polluted' Marathi: A case for techno-remediation of a language
How languages get corrupted, misused and how to remedy them.
- Amit Bhalerao
'Wait, what? Pollution of language? What idiocy is this? And what does an environmental sciences guy knows about language when he himself is writing this very own article in English?'
Yes, I know I'm not a linguist and in no way am I going to act like one. Whatever I will type now is my own take on the current state of Marathi or we can say all the other Indic languages. But my view is mostly confined to Maharashtra & the status of Marathi language right now.
Well, how can I say a certain language or in this case, the Marathi language, is polluted? To understand this, let's see the common definition of pollution.
'Pollution is something that contaminates the environment with unwanted elements. Once contaminated, the subject is now polluted.'
'The presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance which has harmful or poisonous effects.'
Once something is polluted, it starts losing its own characteristics and thus becomes something impure. This impurity keeps growing to a point where the subject is not even 10% of what it used to be.
Now, replace 'something' with 'Marathi' and you can see where this is going. If you think I'm over-exaggerating the situation then take this challenge.
Spend your whole today or tomorrow without using English, Hindi or Urdu words in your day to day conversations whether at home or at your workplace or in a group of friends.
Can you do this?
The answer is definitely a 'No'. Even my illiterate grannies use 30-40 English words in their daily conversations and I'm not talking about regular words like fan or table but the new words which are getting made regular right now. The second generation, which includes our parents are already using a minimum of 80-90 non-Marathi words in their daily Marathi conversations.
Let's talk about 'The Millennial'. Here, when the kids were at their young age, capitalism and globalization were skyrocketing (Cartoon Network, Fox Kids, 90s cringe adverts are a good example). Plus the proportion of non- Maharashtrian kids also started rapidly increasing in their school, colonies, and societies. This, as well as English Schooling, in turn, made them use English and Hindi more frequently as compared to Marathi. This bringing up has affected Maharashtra so much that even my Marathi friends (from localities like Thane, Dombivli & Kalyan) talk in Hindi with each other most of the time. The rural youth of the same age group first tried to mix up with these English, Hindi speakers but still felt alienated. So they decided to pressure on speaking in Marathi only. And what to say about Generation Z! I don't have a single idea regarding these kids. But I know enough for sure that they won't be the hope for re-establishment of our language in the state.
( I searched for research papers & graphs regarding the use of Hinglish, Marathi & English in India but got nothing so take my opinion with a pinch of salt.)
This whole realization of disability has been a major pain of mine for a month or so. I realized that I cannot speak pure Marathi even though my schooling was from Zilla Parishad's Marathi School. The more problematic part is that I cannot speak pure Hindi or English either. This means only one thing धोबी का कुता (धोपाटनं) न घर का न घाट का.
You can draw the same conclusion with a comparison of other Indic languages getting polluted with Hindi, Urdu, and English. No, I'm not a frustrated Bhagwa pilled youngster & I'm not criticizing other languages. I surely hate globalization for destroying the indigenous cultural values of various populations whether Indian, Asian or African.
''JUST BUY 'THIS', MORONS!!!''
Capitalists from Western Countries wanted to spread their roots to the Indian subcontinent so they picked Hindi as the language for their comics, movies and most importantly kids shows. Reaching the whole demographic using only one language saved their money and time. When I was a kid I wanted to buy every single thing they showed on the TV whether it was Action ka School Time or Mango Frooti Fresh & Juicy. Kids of our generation bought every kind of toy shown on TV may it be a Bayblade or a Pokemon Deck Collection. Kids of the whole nation were being imprinted to learn and use Hindi and English just to sell them American Pop Culture through shows & ads and I'll be honest here we still do the same even in our adulthood. If you can remember, recall how they first started Animax around 2004 in Hindi only but once they understood that English was becoming a norm, they fully switched to English only.
Okay, enough of the fall of the language. Let's move on to its effects.
If you have seen or read enough Sci-Fi then you know that English, Hindi, Arabic, Japanese & Chinese are the languages that are never going extinct.
The Hindi language is going to be a common language for PA announcements, signboards and UIs when the world becomes one single district. Hinduism and Buddhism are already elite fetishes in the West so Hindi and to some extent, Sanskrit will be preserved.
Small languages such as Assamese, Marathi, Gujarati, and others will be lost in time. And in no way is this me stretching my imagination. I will like a linguist to suggest anything better.
I'm not going to comment on whether this one language future is good or bad. You have to decide for yourself what your language means to you.
A Ray(s) of Hope Techno-Remediation of language
We environmentalists teach our students something called bio-remediation where we teach how we can neutralize the contamination of an area using plants or micro-organisms.
In the case of a Language's pollution, we can use the digitalisation and technology to slowly reduce the contamination within the language. I'll call it techno-remediation of language. See, not so hard to create new 'meaningful' words! See you in my own TedX talk, guys!
People no more watch TVs like they used to and everyone whether rich, poor, Indian or American now has his own smartphone. A personal smartphone is an easier path for making money than a TV used by four to five people. Personally tailored 'goods' are showed and sold to every single smartphone user through the algorithms.
Earlier I said that I cannot speak purely in Marathi but I can write in pure Marathi excellently. Why So? Because of Indic Keyboards. Also, because I'm good at writing in Marathi in general.
The same capitalism and globalization that reduced the importance of local languages are now trying to endorse these languages as much as they can. Why? Because capitalists are never satisfied with 'most', they always kill for 'all'.
The urban population was already a big consumer but as I said earlier, the rural Millennials always felt alienated and the population of India is growing rapidly in the rural area and every giant tech comp CEO wanted to enslave this rural youth. This, in turn, increased the creation of translation apps, marketing apps, UIs, Google's RailWire WiFi and such.
The only goal was like, 'Okay, you don't know this language? fine. Take this Indic keyboard and buy our products.'
Now everyone will jump to the conclusion that we never 'bought' any app or tool or service. Well my little pumpkin, we were already sold to big tech giants like four to five years ago whether we existed on the Internet or not. And we cannot do anything about that. We will have a depressing article related to that some time later.
Right now what I'm saying is whenever people use these Indic Keyboards, they, I don't know how but end up typing Shuddha Marathi. Yes. And no, it's not the AI or any algorithm within the app but I think it's the ego of the person who is typing the words. People always try to- want to appear very serene, pure, elite and presentable online. And they use the highest order of the grammar they can to appear pure and elite.
How does this affect a language's future?
As everyone tries their hard to appear 'bhashapandit' on-screen, they are also storing the proper grammar and wording they used in their minds subconsciously. Marathi Uncles post all their life online in Marathi whether it's a Facebook post or a WhatsApp University Message or just a status.
My close to 50-year-old father is typing all his news pieces, news articles, even saving his contacts in Marathi since the Marathi typing became a norm. A few weeks ago, a 60 or so aged Uncle showed my father how he is one step ahead of everyone in the tech race. He uses Google Voice typing to write messages in Marathi. Even I was blown away by Uncle's 'one-step ahead'ness.
The Aunties some padh some unpadh, use WhatsApp insanely. They too, communicate through typing in Marathi. Ah, and the good old beach photo edited with a सुप्रभात message. Classic.
And lastly, the most important group, the alienated rural Millennials, they try to use as much Marathi as they can when they appear online. Sometimes it's just for the love of the language and basically most of the time, a result of cultural frustration, feeling of losing the importance of their superiority in their own land. And I can completely understand this rage but it is not going to produce anything good at all.
If we teach Generation Z to use Marathi regularly whenever talking online then maybe they will too get a good grip on the language.
The insane amount of words and sentences being typed are being collected by Tech Giants like Amazon and Google. Oh yes, also by our very own lizard person, Zuckerberg. The way we type this trivial, useless information, the language databases are already being completed which will be used to grow these capitalist bellies more. I can't say for sure whether this storage of language will be useful to us or not but the regular usage of Marathi in communication, may that be technological, is a good development in our Language's recent history. I just hope even if our language does not get remedied then at least it should stay like what it is right now. Anything more than this is really a disgrace to the History and Legacy of the legends who graced माय मराठी.
Amit Bhalerao is an Environmental studies scholar and an Assistant Professor in Mumbai.