“According to Census of India of 2001, India has 122 major languages and 1599 other languages. However, figures from other sources vary, primarily due to differences in definition of the terms “language” and “dialect”. The 2001 Census recorded 30 languages which were spoken by more than a million native speakers and 122 which were spoken by more than 10,000 people.”
~ Wikipedia.

You can imagine what a task it will be for a travelling salesman if he had to cover the entire country or even some parts of it.

And that was my problem. My mother tongue is Tamil. We spoke it at home and my siblings and I still speak it among ourselves. Our children however are more comfortable speaking and communicating in English, and in my case, now, in my home, we use English and Hindi besides the occasional Marathi. Within our extended family, there are Marathi, Konkani, kannada and Urdu speakers, with a branch that has English as its mother tongue as well. Thanks to an education system designed by the English during our colonial times, all of us can communicate with each other with ease in English.

Due to compulsions of my career in sales, I had to perforce learn to speak Hindustani/Urdu, Malayalam, Telugu, Marathi and Gujarathi and though now I am not fluent due to non use, can still follow conversations in all these languages besides being able to read and write in Tamil, Hindi, Marathi and English. I was able to build bridges that have stood the test of time and can reach out to people all over our country even now, despite retiring from active service the last fifteen years.

Wouldn’t you like to be in my shoes?

I suggested this topic for the weekly LBC blog posts. You can see what the other writers of the LBC have to say in their respective blogs.  Maria, Pravin, Ashok and Shackman.

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29 Responses to Language.

  1. Your situation is very different than mine – we essentially only speak English although anyone wishing to connect with our large Hispanic population should learn Spanoish. In 7th and 8th grade we were taught Spanish. I dropped it upon entering high school and took Grman.

    • My situation is not unique in India, particularly in the cities and larger towns where cross pollination as it were, is a constant process due to employment, trade and overacrching all, the cinema. Bollywood as our Mumbai movie industry is called has taken Hindustani/Hindi/Urdu to the rest of the country and all schools in India teach English besides the local languages.

  2. Wow! Loved this post

  3. Wow! I’m impressed but love being in my own shoes. Wouldn’t trade with anyone.
    Cheerful Monk recently posted..What Do You Got?

  4. Looney says:

    I am green with envy. Which has me wondering if being in someone else’s shoes has the same sense when translated literally into all those languages. We were just discussing a German manager’s consternation at the English expression, “to pay someone a visit”. Do each of these languages have unique expressions?
    Looney recently posted..Trivia regarding the Arabs

    • Yes, all local languages have different idioms and adages and some of them are very difficult to translate into other languages and still make sense. The local context matters.

  5. tammy j says:

    I have a good ear for accents. but that’s as far as it goes. I love other languages!
    I took a year of spanish in high school because that’s all the school offered.
    I’m amazed at how many words I can still understand. but I could never speak it.
    too many years and non~use have passed.
    my mother spoke french. she tried to teach me but as a teenager I would have none of it.
    and she didn’t force me. I now regret it of course. just as she said I would! I have taught myself a few words with vocal internet lessons. but nothing seriously.
    I have great admiration for people like you. . . fluent in other languages.
    but like monk… I’m still glad to me me! 🙂
    tammy j recently posted..moving on old bean

    • I quote from my post – “Due to compulsions of my career in sales, I had to perforce learn to speak ……..”. The majority of Indians speak two languages at best and the second is likely to be English. The migrant Indian however has to learn other languages to survive!

  6. Kaitlin says:

    Impressive! Great post. I do wish I knew more languages. I find it intimidating at times when traveling to only know English.

  7. joared says:

    Given what is known about language acquisition, I think one of the shortcomings of our U.S. educational system is that a language other than just English isn’t introduced to students pre-puberty in our public school system. Multi-language speakers are fortunate. Your brain’s neurological functions are greatly enhanced by your varied language skills. You might benefit even further if you stimulated some of those dormant languages.

    I studied French in college many years ago, but not using it these years since, I would likely not be able to communicate. I later began Spanish studies when I lived in the midwest area of our country, but stopped the class when I began dating the instructor. I wish I had continued studying since these fifty years later I’m living where so many native Spanish speakers reside. I encountered many different languages in my health care work so made an effort to work with family members/others, even a hospital phone translation system on one occasion, for basic needed words, phrases, short sentences — verbal and written as needed — various Chinese, Russian, Hindi and numerous other languages, but my use was so limited as to be quite temporary. All that said, unfortunately for me, I basically speak only English, but continue to be a strong proponent for learning multi-languages.
    joared recently posted..FISHY — TWO DIFFERENT MEANINGS — SHARKS

    • Many of my English and American friends will agree with you. English having acquired global language status, other countries are ensuring that their children learn English besides the local languages and this does give them an advantage.

  8. interesting post and of course comments…

    with so many migrants in my own country – it is difficult to understand if the groups of people in the bus, are on the same page with their language or not. I think many dialects as well, along with “sayings” that of course wouldn’t necessarily translate over easily to another language, let alone English.

    Apparently our official languages are: English, Maori and Sign (deaf) language

    My neighbours next door/unit – are from the Phillipines. According to last tenant the people directly across the fence from my living room also from Phillipines (they screech a lot), at the end of driveway a young couple of Asian descent – on the other side of grapevine/fence – a young couple possibly Polynesian… (other n/a although the people with the very high grass and rubbish have a huge vocab of bad words)

    • Your neighbourhood sounds very much like mine is. In fact, most Urban Indian neighbourhoods will have multi lingual textures to them as people from different parts of the country and overseas as well live in blocks of flats mostly. With globalisation and internal mobility this is but natural.

  9. nick says:

    It’s disgraceful that so many Brits only speak one language – their own – and see no need to learn any other languages. It’s the height of arrogance and insularity. Everyone should be bilingual at the very least, and preferably speak three or four languages. I know quite a lot of Italian, but I’m not by any means fluent.
    nick recently posted..A tragic decline

  10. Anita says:

    Great post. So you have linguistic talents too 🙂

  11. Max Coutinho says:

    Hi Rummy,

    India has all those dialects? I can only imagine the challenges when you were travelling all over the country. But I bet it was fun too.

    My birth country has quite a few dialects too, even though the official language is Portuguese. My mum speaks 5 of them, but it doesn’t even represent half of total dialects. I have my share of languages (including now Arabic, a language that I’m learning to understand our ME friends), but I don’t think I will ever go beyond language #10 – we must not be greedy lol.


  12. Wisewebwoman says:

    I had 5 languages when I graduated high school and can still manage though rusty from disuse. But that all pales against your versatility dear Ramana. Wowser!

    Wisewebwoman recently posted..Update

  13. Kylie says:

    I am embarrassed at speaking only English but at the same time, there is no single other language which would be an obvious choice.
    My husband has spoken a number of languages during his life: his native Cantonese, a different Chinese language for each grandmother, Malay, English and Mandarin. I don’t think he is really fluent in any but Cantonese but I admire the versatility he displays

    • I don’t think that there is any need to be embarrassed. All of us from the Commonwealth countries are very lucky that we are very comfortable with English which has now become the language of the world.

  14. Being a linguist is such a Gift! I was told as a Child, since we traveled extensively and were very Nomadic in my childhood, I spoke 5 languages fluently. Today I can only speak English and a smattering of Spanish and for some strange reason can read some French, probably stored away in my subconscious perhaps, smiles… alas, if you don’t use it you lose it and I Wish I had preserved multi-lingual usage all my life. Now as a Senior I find it difficult to learn a new language, with Children it comes almost effortless and I think it is wonderful if any country encourages learning at least a 2nd or 3rd language. Enjoyed this Post very much, but don’t think I could keep as many languages straight in my head as you’ve managed too… standing ovation, I’m very impressed! Dawn… The Bohemian

    • I may have the linguistic ability but I envy you your artistic ability! But, yes, it is an advantage to be able to speak more than one’s mother tongue.

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