Writing and Speaking the Mother Tongue

Question: How different are the written and spoken forms of your first language? If you want children to become familiar with their first language, which form would you look for in children's books - formal or informal? Why?

 Tamizh is my first language and so is my husbands. So no confusion there, as to what first language to impart on the poor little devils we planned to incarnate. All this tamasha and hoopla arise once the spawn appears as a squeeling ball of flesh. Till then, the couple or atleast me in this case, feigned headaches when the spouse wanted to go to the temple religiously every Sunday for the abhishekam, but no sooner the progeny appears, there is Suprabatham by our dear MSS ringing in a new day with as much regularity as a new day being born. The tamil kural and thirukaral given monumental importance like the UN discussing issues of world importance.

Being in the USA did not help. I spoke in Tamizh and my son continued to speak in English. Well, for starters my son was a late bloomer and by the time he spoke, he was 3.5 years old. So nonetheless we were just happy with him speaking at all. And then I had my neighbour’s child spouting Tamizh words inspite of just the dad being Tamizh. On further quizzing, the mom said that no special effort was laid down upon, its just that she was naturally good at it. Later I did come to know that incessantly watching Tamizh movies and listening to Kollywood songs actually do help to learn a language ;).So there are more ways than one to skin a cat, or in this case to drill a language.

I often felt the need for having formally learn Tamizh. I learnt to read it at 12 years of age, as I was desperate to read Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan. My perippa would borrow a volume from the Port Trust library with a looming deadline on it. Thus I began reading Tamizh in a hurry after my perimma had sufficiently lured me into the web of Ponniyin Selvan.. And ofcourse having lived all my 12 years in TamizhNadu definitely helped even though I had never formally learnt Tamizh in the classroom. Somewhere along the lines, I just fell in love with literature. It is so wonderful to identify what you love. I have this incredible love for literature and music with no special skill or talent in them to write home about, or well, just write about. And ofcourse as a parent, you want to set all your wrongs as your child’s right. And needless to say I want him to research tamizh ancestory, literature, the works, love the tamizh mann, tamizh makkal, and everything tamizh.

The first real serious education happened quite accidentally. When my devlish spawn started his carnatic music class, I just happened to have my very old rusty dusty copy of Panchapakesa Iyer’s geetham book in tamizh. In those days, probaby they didn’t print it in English, so much so that I was shocked when I saw all the fellow students of my son having an English copy. So my son’s first exposure to the tamizh alphabets were our very own Panchapakesa Iyer’s Sarali Varisaigal. At first he was limited to the Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni, but once he reached the geethams, by force, coercion, sternness and with very less amount of nicety, he just began to read tamizh and yet it wasn’t tamizh. It was Sankrit or Telugu he was reading in Tamizh.

 So broadminded was my son’s school headmaster that he insisted all the children know their mother tongue and he would urge me to get tamizh books for the USA library. It is wonderful to come across Tulika books and we will definitely be buying some books for my children.

My three children, or for that matter, most children are exposed to the colloquial language of their mother tongue and that would be the best form of language to be written in the children’s beginner book series. First get them engaged with what they already know and then we can slowly introduce the rest of the intricacies, beauty and formality of our language.

the above post was for Tulika's blogathon.

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