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Finding A Balance Between English And Mother Tongues

There is a justified demand for re-enumeration of census data on mother tongue. The Census 2011 data released by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner has revealed that 22.56 lakh people in the country have recorded Konkani to be their first language or mother tongue. The figures indicate a drop by 2.32 lakh as compared to Census 2001. The sharp fall of 9.3 percent has raised concerns among Konkani protagonists who are going to meet on Sunday to discuss the drop in the number of Konkani speakers. The emergency meeting at Mangaluru organised by the Jagotik Konknni Songhotton (Global Konkani Organisation) will deliberate on the issues on whether the census figures truly reflect the real strength of Konkani vis-à-vis Census 2011. Konkani has been caught in a paradoxical situation wherein the number of people using Konkani as first language or mother tongue has dropped in the country by over two lakh (Maharashtra accounting largely for the decline) while in Goa, the number of people using Marathi as their first language or mother tongue has gone down by one-and-a-half lakh.

Many reasons have been forwarded by Konkani champions for decline in the number of Konkani speakers, with the foremost being that the third or later generations of Goans, both Hindus and Catholics, staying in Maharashtra reported Marathi and not Konkani as their mother tongue. These people have been residing in a Marathi-dominated region for long and were more used to that language in their everyday life for long, so they prefer Marathi to Konkani. The huge drop of over 2 lakh people in Maharashtra giving up Konkani as their mother tongue has puzzled the Konkani protagonists who have called for investigation in the matter. They suspect that the enumerators merely recorded mother tongue merely on the basis of statement of the person, without checking on the related parameters. The claim by 9,000-odd people in Goa that English was their mother tongue has intrigued the Konkani followers, so also the fact that there was a huge increase of by over a thousand people claiming that Sanskrit was their mother tongue. The number of Sanskrit speakers has jumped from 46 in 2001 to 1,055 in 2011. Similarly the number of people claiming Hindi as their mother tongue has doubled.

Marathi protagonists have sought to downplay the Konkani paradox in census figures, arguing that the figures cannot be treated as true and the data should be taken with a pinch of salt. According to them, the drop in the number of Konkani speakers at the national level and of Marathi speakers in the state was due to increasing inclination of the people towards English language. There is possibility that the users of these languages having declared a change in their mother tongue or first language because they feel opting of a language in the region they stay could deprive them of certain privileges. If that is true, the leaders espousing the cause of languages should focus on working towards convincing the authorities in the other states of protecting the languages by according them special status.

The drop in the number of Konkani speakers indicates that the steps taken for preservation and promotion of the language across states have not brought about the desired results. Many a battle has been fought to protect and promote the Konkani language. In Goa, Konkani has been reported the mother tongue of 68 per cent of people. On one hand, it shows that Konkani continues to be the mother tongue of over two-thirds of the state’s population. On the other, it shows that the other languages are rising in terms of speakers, though Marathi has shown a fall. The fall in the number of Marathi speakers need to be reevaluated too, for Marathi continues to be the language of communication in a number of Goan families. The huge increase in the number of Hindi speakers indicates that Marathi could lose its status as the second most spoken language in the state in the years ahead. Overall, Goa needs to protect and promote both the Konkani and Marathi languages, without any elements of hostility playing any role. The rise in the number of English speakers is attributable to the entrenched notion that if children start speaking English in their homes they are sure to do well in their careers. That is a notion only an intensive social campaign of Konkani protagonists can change by interacting with the families holding it. Sunday’s meeting of Konkani protagonists at Mangaluru should discuss a strategy to motivate parents to speak to their children in Konkani or Marathi at home even if they go to an English-medium school.

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