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The Changing State Of My Mother Tongue

When I was a kid, I wasn't up on a Saturday morning watching cartoons while eating fruit loops. Instead, like many Tamil children, I was usually half asleep trying to learn the language that I first learned to speak. I didn't hate going to Tamil school because I missed out on cartoons. I think I hated going because it was a hard language to learn.
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Suresh Canagarajah, professor of Applied Lingustics at Penn State University, conducted a study interviewing Tamils in various cities (mainly Toronto, London, as well as other cities in the United States). Through these focus groups, Canagarajah found that many Tamil families have had trouble passing the Tamil language down to their children for various reasons.

Only 42.5 per cent are proficient in both languages. In Toronto, 82.1 per cent of children mix Tamil and English to communication with their parents. In addition, Canagarajah notes how language is also a problem in elders who have failed to adopt English, leading to a further disconnect between their grandchildren.

What I use at home to speak with my parents and grandparents is a new hybrid language of English and Tamil that is called "Tanglish."

It's easy to blame the school systems, parents, grandparents or the children themselves for the lack of comprehension and fluency of children speaking Tamil. But there are so many factors that educators and parents have to work around just to establish a basic understanding of the language. Four hours every weekend speaking a language is still not enough.

Even in a classroom setting, chances are students are communicating with each other with English. Tamil homework too is most likely a last priority to school work given during the week. Children also have so many other commitments, ranging from sangeetham class to basketball practice.

What I use at home to speak with my parents and grandparents is a new hybrid language of English and Tamil that is called "Tanglish." And although I get some pushback from my elders who see the addition of English words as a lack of understanding of Tamil, for me it is the opposite. It helps me fill in the blanks to words that I haven't learned or added to my Tamil vocabulary.

At the same time, elders who don't know English well pick up on the language by speaking to their kids through this hybridity. We have all seen and heard conversations where a teenager is speaking to their parent in English while the parent responds in Tamil. It is both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time, and it reflects the changing tide that Tamils in the community will soon have to come to grips with if they haven't already.

This blog post was originally published on by Vipooshan Gangatharan -- Read here.

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