The irreplaceable mother tongue


The emphasis on promoting mother tongue along the line of preserving one’s identity and heritage has develop into an essential underlining message delivered in many Naga gatherings and events. The annual commemoration of International Mother Language Day on February 21 is a great reminder on why speaking English and Nagamese is not enough. The skill to speak multiple languages is becoming increasingly important as the world today gets more connected with geography and economics influencing on politics and on the relations of different countries. Without understanding and knowing the language would mean lesser opportunities. 

However, moving away or not learning the mother tongue also cannot be overlooked. Mother tongue is the first language or the native language that one learns, is the language learned by children and passed from one generation to the next. And therefore, it is regarded as an integral part of a person’s identity and cultural heritage. 

The United Nations General Assembly, on May 16, 2007 in its resolution called upon Member States “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world.” It was by the same resolution the General Assembly proclaimed 2008 as the International Year of Languages, “to promote unity in diversity and international understanding, through multilingualism and multiculturalism.” The United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was selected to serve as the lead agency for the Year. The United Nations asserts the many studies and researches done on importance of mother tongue stating, ‘Today there is growing awareness that languages play a vital role in development, in ensuring cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue, but also in strengthening co-operation and attaining quality education for all, in building inclusive knowledge societies and preserving cultural heritage, and in mobilizing political will for applying the benefits of science and technology to sustainable development.’

Being identified as an indigenous nation, it is required of the Naga community to adopt an approach that would support ‘intergenerational learning and cultural preservation’ by learning and speaking the respective mother tongue. For indigenous peoples, languages bear the ethical values and knowledge system of their ancestors. One factor endangering the mother tongue in the Naga context can be the lack of attaching value or importance to the mother tongue. 

The editor of one of the largest vernacular newspapers in Nagaland observed that losing one’s mother language is tantamount to losing connection with its own progenitors and losing roots of its own origin. ‘The one who cannot speak her or his own mother language find themselves disconnected from their own descendants. Consequently, they forget their village, tribe, clan and values of good tradition and culture and made themselves foreigners in their own native land.’ An Assistant Professor in Mokokchung had remarked the ‘inability to codify or standardize mother tongue, foreign language playing a dominant role in our day-to-day functions, lack of concrete effort towards preserving our heritage and developing our language and influence of dominant culture, sub-cultures and languages over the younger generation of the Nagas’ as some of the major reasons for the decline in the importance of mother tongue.

Globally there is a growth in recognizing the indigenous knowledge systems for sustainable development, and it has rekindled the need to learn, speak and preserve the native languages. Lately, the Naga communities are also determinedly working towards preserving mother language, and it comes from the place of understanding that ‘The backbone of a sustainable society is in its mother tongue. It is irreplaceable and is the key to development and political well-being.’

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