Mandarin (Chinese) is the native tongue of the largest number of people in the world, followed by Spanish but it is English which is spoken by more non-natives than natives, making it the single largest language to be spoken in the world.
Our country has 22 languages, not counting dialects, the official language is Hindi. For non-native Hindi speakers like me, Bollywood films and songs have given us an ease with the language that school and government diktats never did. Be that as it may, it is English that has become the medium of communication.
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At a very urbane setting last night, I met an old acquaintance and remarked upon this. The funny part was that both of us discussed this in English even though we are native Kannada speakers. I pointed this out and then switched to Kannada. My friend made a strange remark, “I normally don’t come to parties at such places but the host was very insistent. Kannadigas stay away from such settings.” He made it sound as if Kannadigas could not or would not fit into such a milieu.
I contested this remark. The dinner I mentioned earlier was at a friend’s house and the dozen guests constituted a fairly cosmopolitan gathering: artists, writers, bureaucrats and businesspeople who were well-travelled and well-heeled. All of them could switch comfortably to English when they had to.
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Barring the English speaking nations, I have not met any Spanish people who insist on speaking only in English with each other, nor any French people; the same with Italians, Germans and Chinese. Perhaps it is a colonial hangover that makes us speak English. Or perhaps as one gets older, we reach back to our roots as I am doing now with language. For the time being, I am rejoicing that a Bengali friend who speaks fluent Telugu and Tamil, is now learning Kannada.
By Sandhya Mendonca (Sandhya Mendonca writes a weekly column for the Herald Goa)
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