English has been accepted as a global language worldwide; the fact that it is the language of international air traffic control, and the principal language of world publishing, science and technology substantiates the initial claim. Around 500 million people around the world have English as their native language, over 510 million speak English as their second language.
The construction of the language as an integral part of life in India began in the early 19th century, with the British East India Company, gradually consolidating their hold over Bengal. Christian missionaries came to the country and set up schools that taught the English language. From being a language of the most elite, high-caste Brahmin mediators to the British, it has come a long way in becoming the second-most common medium of instruction in schools, after Hindi.
If we look at the data, merely 30% of the Indian population can speak English, and therefore vernacular languages are still more prevalent, but not for much longer. Government jobs require fluency in English; this, coupled with the rising levels of literacy in the country point to the fact that more and more people are leaning towards learning the language as a means to improve career prospects. It is implied that with the growing prevalence of English, vernacular languages are wearing out. Speaking on an individual level, people nowadays find it difficult to speak in their mother tongue at a stretch, without squeezing in a few words of English here and there; therefore, people are compromising on their vernacular knowledge to accommodate English, simultaneously doing injustice to the sanctity of both languages.
Recently, Home Minister Amit Shah faced public wrath after expressing his view of the Hindi language as the string that binds India despite its immense diversity. Not going into the intricacies of political ideology, but strictly looking at facts, Hindi is the most widely spoken and understood the language in India. But slowly, and steadily, Hindi and other regional languages are losing their dominance. Urban middle class and upper-middle-class parents speak to their toddlers in English, hoping to imbibe in them good communication skills, they ensure that their children attend the most reputed English-medium schools, and they reprimand the children in case they interact with peers in any language besides English. Parents wanting their children to be good English speakers is a noble notion, but not at the cost of losing one’s roots.
One can have good communication skills in any language; as long as they respect the rules of grammar and syntax, form clear, complete, relevant ideas and translate those ideas into properly constructed sentences, the sanctity of language and communication is maintained. The key to being an effective communicator is to have a good command over the language in which you are communicating; a complete understanding of the relevant language is of utmost importance.
Every language has its beauty; sentences are formed when different words are strung together following the rules of grammar and syntax, which is unique to any particular language. Mixing up more than one language in a single sentence signifies breaking the rules of all languages, and coming up with a hybrid, which is grammatically incorrect. This is the main problem that the current generation is facing. This is a generation of people ‘living on the edge’, rebels (with or without a cause), who believe non-adherence to rules is what makes them stand out, and an extension of this attitude has been felt on the rules of language.
English is the language of the (privileged) youth in India, which would have been completely acceptable had it been the actual, unadulterated English language that they use in daily interaction. Unfortunately, though, with “WhatsApp culture” at its peak, text message colloquialisms are taking over the actual language. This is when the youth slogan of “My Life, My Rules” becomes “Mah Lyf, Mah Rulz”, and many similar abbreviations creep in, which distort the essence of English. Tense is forgotten, prepositions are omitted, spellings are shortened. People have no command over their vernacular language, they find it difficult to construct a sentence in their mother tongue, without using English words. At the same time, text-language contaminates people’s knowledge of and command over English as well.
This is a major contemporary issue. The quality of language is declining. The contamination of language starts at an individual level, but its ripple effect cripples the entire population. Newspapers are widely acknowledged as a treasure trove of vocabulary; indeed, dailies published in vernacular languages are immensely rich sources of vocabulary building and gaining command over the language, and this is because text messages are not drafted in the regional script. The same, however, cannot be said for English dailies.
The Statesman, The Times, The Daily Herald were among the most popular English dailies at the time of British rule, and even after Independence. Their editors and columnists were highly educated individuals, with incomparable command over the language, and back then these newspapers were considered essentials for learning the English language. In the last 5 years, the quality of penmanship in newspapers have suffered a downturn. Every article has at least one, if not more, typing error, grammatical error, wrong punctuation, and so on. The incidence of such mistakes has increased tremendously; moreover, articles are less of a flow of ideas and more of words copied from Thesaurus joined using articles, prepositions and conjunctions. There is a dearth of penmanship that inspires new ideas in people; newspapers which had played a key role during the Independence movement in propagating new ideas have now been reduced to a hotbed of fake news and political propaganda. There is no knowledge to be gained from them anymore.
Contaminating the essence of the English language can have far-reaching consequences on the lives of individuals. Incomplete understanding of the language makes it difficult for people to frame formal addresses, official letters, and e-mails; Autocorrect facility in cell phones derides the ability of people to spell. This is a major issue which unless addressed immediately will lead to the extinction of grammar and syntax as we know it.