Hello, Marhaba, Andorovo: What’s Your Mother Tongue?

mother tongue

Safa Yakoob Society ,,

Many new expats to the U.A.E presume that the moment they begin working here, they will have to learn to be fluent in Arabic and will struggle with communication in the office. An Emirati neighbour of mine got me thinking when he spoke to me in Hindi during an elevator ride. Living in the U.A.E, I haven’t had to learn Arabic but this man has adapted and become multi-lingual.

I recognized, in a flash, that everything from magazines, newspapers, content on the internet, organizational documents in almost every country are primarily in English. This highlights the condition of native languages, which have started to qualify as minority languages – languages that are slowly diminishing from societies – as they are threatened by the ‘official standard state languages’ or what appears to the most dominant language now: English.

UNESCO scholars envisage that up to 90% of the world’s languages will be substituted by governing languages like English.

Basically, 97% of the world’s people speak about 4% of the world’s languages; and about 96% of the world’s languages are spoken only by 3% of the people in the world. Don’t you think these facts are a bit alarming?

I am afraid if we don’t preserve these languages, then the present and coming generation will never know them or of them.

I came across a language study and read about its substantial impact on mental and emotional growth from childhood. The study was conducted at a University in Milan, by Professor of cognitive electrophysiology, Alice Poverbio, on fifteen Italian interpreters who were well versed with the English language. They translated scripts into English and Italian for the European Union. The brain activity of these interpreters was monitored when they were exposed to different words in English and Italian. Professor Poverbia deduced that the brain activity was higher because the brain captivates a language in childhood and actively recalls it later in life, when required.

She explained that during childhood when language is being absorbed, the brain also stores visual, emotional, and nonlinguistic knowledge simultaneously, which instigates association between these processes and language. This means that the language we use to dream, think and even feel is our mother tongue! This study echoes late Nelson Mandela’s wise words

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Another interesting thing I discovered, during research, was that your native language also makes learning another language easier. Professor J. Cummins, explained mother tongue plays a role by serving a foundation in the acquisition of a second language. Cummins further explained that this is known as common underlying proficiency (CUP) and states:

“Conceptual knowledge developed in one language helps to make input in the other language comprehensible.”

This explains the point aforementioned that if a child understands basic language concepts in his own language, he only needs to learn the specific ‘term’ for that concept in the second language. On the contrary, if a child is not familiar with the concept, then it requires double effort as he would have to learn both the concept and different terms used to refer to that concept in different languages.

Every language is idiosyncratic and it has own its own uniqueness.

For example, words and phrases like Carpe diem, Inshallah and Mashallah when translated to English lose its effectiveness and are much more impressive in their original language! Losing a language will not only be a great loss for a single community, but it will prove to be a shame for the world.

“If you don’t breathe,
there is no air.

If you don’t walk,
there is no earth.

If you don’t speak,
there is no world.”