Language And Times

Kashmiri language has evolved in recent times by accepting words and phrases that had nothing to do with the native spoken Kashmiri. It has borrowed and nativized words to preserve the recent turbulent socio-political experience in the region. Dr Musavir explains.

Language is a remarkably wonderful aspect of human existence. It carries a reflection of what man fundamentally is. Language shares an intimate relationship with the basic precepts upon which the foundation of human life is laid. It represents man in respect of how he lives, how he thinks and how he behaves. It is one of the vital systems that ensure the survival of socio-cultural man.

Language is the representative of the culture. It not only represents culture but is the most significant tool for its expression. Be it the enculturation of younger members of a social group, the cultural norms of behaviour and social control, the status of individual members in a cultural setting, the realization of cultural institutions and above everything, the dynamic process of cultural change, the participation of language is inevitably decisive.

In the ever-changing dynamics of socio-cultural groups, languages ensure their survival by means of their inherent property of being flexible. To be flexible means to be receptive to change. Languages change in the face of the changes in the broader socio-cultural, socio-political and socio-economic changes.

It is not only because of the pressures of the globalization that languages across the globe are changing in an extraordinary manner. But diachronic studies of languages are witness to the fact that this process has been at work throughout the course of evolution of Human civilization. Just as cultures across the world have drunk from the great fountainheads of civilization like Greek, Roman, and Persian etc, individual languages have imbibed too much from the languages representing these civilizations.

The all-pervasive twenty-first century English language is the best example in point. A look at any etymological dictionary of English reveals the sources of its ever-growing lexicon. Besides Greek, Roman, Latin and Persian, English has assimilated Lexical constructions and words from Arabic, French, German, Russian, and Hebrew and so on.

In the science of Linguistics, the use of words, lexical items and other lexical constructions in a language, originally belonging to another is called borrowing. Borrowing is a technical term implying the movement of words etc, from a source language into a recipient language. It also implies the Nativization of the borrowed elements.

Nativization refers to the process whereby the borrowed words and lexical items are reconstructed on the Linguistic principles of the recipient language which includes the Phonetics and Phonology (principles of sound production and sound structure), Morphology (Principles of Word Structure) and Semantics (principles of Meaning). Human societies differ from each other over the perspectives of their worldview as well as the perception of reality. Since the meaning of words in a language symbolizes the perspective of its speakers, Borrowing of words do at times necessitate changes in the meaning of words and lexical items.

Kashmir has been at the crossroads of civilizations and so has been its language. In the Hindu period that lasted until the rise of Shahmiri dynasty, the Kashmiri language borrowed heavily from Sanskrit. Who knows that the Kashmiri word yezman is originally the Sanskrit work yaggimaan (and Hindi jajmaan) and Kuur is Kumari. During the Muslim rule, Kashmiri borrowed tremendously from Persian and through Persian from Arabic, Uzbek and Turkish etc. The Kashmiri kulchi is actually the Turkish Kulcha and the Kashmiri pheranin is, in reality, the Persian paerahan and the Arabic tawwaqqul is Kashmiri tokal.

In the past over two decades, the socio-political changes in J&K have led to the influx of hundreds of words, hitherto unknown to the monolingual native, into Kashmiri Language. The words depicting meanings related to warfare, arms and ammunition, army and police action, intelligence activities, politics etc have trickled down into the linguistic knowledge of rustic Kashmiris, otherwise confined to the remote corners of the Valley.

Who would have thought that the English word grenade (garniath) would one day be used metaphorically by Kashmiri natives to provide the physical description of an individual? Another similar process triggered by the onset of militancy is the surprising extension of meanings in some Native Kashmiri words. The use of words like soeyat, tishh, laaltiin etc. in a semantic domain, poles apart from its original meaning surprises and fascinates a social scientist.

Turbulent times in Kashmir may be over, sooner or later, however, the language has preserved the trauma and pain the commoners went through. It will tell the saga of the ordeal to all the generations to come, like the miseries of hapless Kashmiris, it divulged to generations of our times.

(Dr Musavir is an Assitant  Professor, Linguistics at the University of Kashmir.)


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