Editorial: Language Barrier

Language needs contemporary and relevant literature to flourish

Speaking to a young Nepali-speaker a few days before Bhasa Manyata Diwas was eye-opening. The youngster could rattle off a Nepali proverb to suit just about any situation or irony that abounds around us nowadays. When asked what she would recommend to someone beginning an exploration into Nepali literature, and she listed out only what would qualify to be classics. When it comes to the region, she says that while there are some interesting contemporary works in Nepali, there were not enough invested with the endurance or even lasting relevance that the past greats have nuanced their works with. Make no mistake, she was not being dismissive about the language itself, in fact, she, like perhaps her entire generation, is rather passionate about language and what it means for a people. Their conviction on the importance of language is encouraging even as it is uncomfortable to stare into the mirror they hold up to reflect the legacy that the present generation passes down to them by way of language. Speak to students of Nepali language at the school level and they will complain that the Nepali taught in schools is too outdated and out of step with their realities. The stories in the textbooks speak of issues which none of the students can identify with and in a language that is almost alien to them. Of course there are still gems hidden in the syllabus, but the overall content is less than inspiring, they insist. They have a point there. Nepali writing is moving in two extremes at present. They are either too archaic, or too esoteric. There is not much that is contemporary and this is also reflected in the less than handsome circulation figures of Nepali publications which have not even touched a small fraction of what is possible. Nepali writers, the young speakers contend, are not only out of sync with the times, but also distant from their readers. As a result, few students end up developing any serious interest in the language which is already compromised by the fact that it is of little use beyond the region. Take vibrant literature out of the mix, and the language stares at a very real danger of becoming a dialect. Not everything the young say can be dismissed as an emotional outburst of rebellious and easily bored minds. They will after all be carrying the language further and going by what they have to say, they are not confident about delivering on this responsibility. Why? Because the present generation has not equipped them well enough. Students who speak Nepali at home have to take tuitions to pass in the subject. They could not possibly be weak in the language, it is obviously because the material does not excite enough interest in most of them; an interest which those responsible for developing and promoting the language have failed to kindle in them. The students want a more contemporary syllabus which they can identify with; they want greater respect shown to the language by their elders; and they want a genuine interest in the promotion of Nepali as a language to be learnt by those who control the language cartels. Tokenism will just not do, they stress. Justified points, but are we equipped to deliver on them? And this is not just about Nepali or even language for that matter.