A Linguistically-Infused Cultural Neurosis 

Arshid Malik

I wonder as to why my only child, around 10 years old, speaks in Urdu or rather a Bollywoodish mix of Urdu and Hindi? He is from Kashmir, born and brought up here, then why does he speak an alien tongue? Well, I guess I don’t need to wonder since I, among the two of us (his parents) brought him up speaking a mix of Urdu and Hindi to him. But, why did we push our only son to learn to speak Urdu or Hindi rather than his native tongue, Kashmiri? Was it fear instilled in us towards our own language and culture? Or was it something else? I wonder. And then I think of the kids he goes to school with. I know most of them, personally. All of them speak this very mix of Urdu-Hindi. And I have come to believe that we as parents are wholly responsible for infusing this trans-mutational trait into our children which leads them away from their own culture and thus alienates them, identifiable only at a later juncture. No matter what we have to say in our defense the fact remains that language is the “cornerstone” to culture and without it, we are not able to pass the collective experience of our society to successive generations. This means the loss of language principally signifies the erosion of culture and the sub-sequential cessation of both.

Language happens to be the “core carrier”, the primary medium, though not the only one, through which culture moves on up from one generation to the next. And since we are keeping our children away from this “core carrier” of culture we are denying culture its right to work its way ahead into the future. We are cutting culture short. So, it means that while we are denying something very critical to our children we are at the same time leading our society to cultural impotence. I am given to believe that we as parents accumulate this stance unconsciously even though the efforts made in this regard are quite cognizable.

Intrinsically, language is supposed to change with the passage of time thus reflecting changes in culture, but what we are looking at here is “linguistic carnage”. We are killing a language, our own language for that matter, and thus choking culture to a point of non-existence. Well ahead in time, our kids might not even recall their native language and this would spell disaster for us as a people.

You might recall my past attempts (in the shape of writings) at isolating factors responsible for the degeneration of Kashmiri language, and yet again I am led to observe and understand the phenomenon, if there be any, that leads us to teach our children “foreign tongues” rather than the imperative native one. (I am forced to use the word foreign here to add some tempo to the subject I am writing about, though the fact is that both Urdu and Hindi are not alien to us down here in Kashmir and as a matter of fact Urdu happens to be our official tongue. Besides, the thus generated mix of Urdu and Hindi is an after-effect of the television.) There has to be something which led to our turning presumptively “hostile” towards our own language, to an effect that we as Kashmiris (well, most of us) seem to have landed into the lap of a “mass linguistically-infused cultural neurosis”.

There are some certain arguments that quite justify the psychosis in Kashmiri language did not develop in the manner it was supposed to and thus grew deficit on a continental or global index. Say for example if we are teaching science to kids, Kashmiri would not be the suitable medium since it lacks on words and terms which equivocally constitute the bandwagon of “modernity”. We would be stuck. Urdu on the contrary, would be a preferred medium for such a task. But then science (or for that matter any other subject) is not the only subject we need to teach our children. There is a far more important subject we need to teach our children and that is life as it happens to be and it cannot be better taught than in one’s own tongue which is rooted into cultural imperatives and since life is culture ad continuum we are “guilty” of denying our children the right to know who they actually are. Another argument that renders our “mass linguistic neurosis” tenable is the fact that we do not much of a literary text in our native tongue and the little we have is rendered “useless” since we cannot read our own script. We have only a handful of waning poets and writers in Kashmiri. Yet another argument is that of globalization, which adds a futuristic tint to our “mass linguistically-infused cultural neurosis” – we teach our children languages that are acceptable to an expansive territorial unfolding of culture and values, and thus Urdu or Hindi are better accepted outside of Kashmir. But that in no manner implies that we grow our children “satirically immune” to our own language. We can always cap our children with additional skills for the benefits, given the scientific fact that the brain of a child is most adaptive to learn languages. So, what exactly is at work here? What is eventually responsible for our “mass linguistically-infused cultural neurosis”? I wonder?

The peculiarity of the subject discussed till this point somehow led me to relentlessly perch upon a recent scientific study into the subject of language and its relation to culture. This study suggests that that “people make systematically different judgments depending on whether they face a moral dilemma in a foreign or native language.” Moral judgment, according to this study, is driven by the interaction of two dominant forces: intuitive processes, which are prompted by the emotional content of a given dilemma; and rational processes, which are driven by a controlled, conscious evaluation of potential outcomes. The intuitive process tends to support judgments that favor the essential rights of a person, such as a right to privacy, to life, or to freedom from cruel treatment, while the rational process supports utilitarian judgments favoring the greater good, regardless of an individual’s rights. According to the study, people using a foreign language make substantially more utilitarian decisions when they’re faced with a moral dilemma. Researchers explain this in terms of the reduced emotional response: The increased psychological distance of thinking and speaking in an alien tongue reduces the impact of intuitive emotional concerns. As a result, people tend to favor rational, cost-benefit considerations.

So, by keeping teaching our children a foreign tongue rather than their native language, it may well be perceived as per the cited research study that we intend to keep them from intuitive decision making. The leads to the assumption that our children would be making only altruistic decisions based on rationality of the perceived outcomes of dilemmas. The intuitive processes, as the study well points out, include the right to privacy, to life or to freedom from cruel treatment. As per the principles of deductive logic we are keeping away our children from acclaiming or ascertaining their basic rights, while pushing them into utilitarian judgments “for the common good” and the “common good” implies yielding to common principles of “structured justice”. I use the term “structured justice” since in our case the “common good” as per the derivatives of the political hassles governing Kashmir happens to what suits our “mentors”. The “mentors” are there since we are sitting ducks on a critical fault-line which owes its origins to the very discipline of the division of British-colonized India. Therefore, we are driving our children insanely up the tree!!! Yes, by pushing them to adopt “foreign” tongues we are forcing them to turn into decisive allies of the “mentor”. I think that it is safe to preclude the genealogical, perceived demise of Kashmiri language since a third actor has entered the stage, the “mentor”. Now it is for me and you, the reader, to isolate and thereof ascertain the till-now-perfunctory and illusive conjunctions that will lead us to the unfolding of the rather obtrusive truth behind our “mass linguistically-infused cultural neurosis”. Maybe it turns out to be a “mass linguistic psychosis” than the other way around.


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