India:Linguistic and cultural diversity
On April 4th 2005, Lydia and I were invited as guest speakers to Dr. D’s class to speak about cultural and linguistic diversity found in our individual countries. Lydia is from Puereto-Rico and she talked at length about how Puerto Rico was not unlike the 53rd state in the Union. She spoke about her experiences growing up bilingual and struggling, at least initially, to comprehend English; but how she eventually got to know both her ‘Spanish and English’ sides.
I spoke about the linguistic diversity in India; how, when people travel from one state to another in India, they have to pick up a new language; and how age does not really matter in picking up and communicating in a new language. Indian states are like individual nation states, each state has its own language, culture and traditions and people moving to a new state have to learn its norms.
India follows a three-language policy, the official, the national and the state language. In many states, particularly those in the southern and eastern extremities of the country, do not acknowledge the national language. So, the medium of communication is very often the official language -- English. But in rural India the communication is largely in the local language. So, India is truly a melting pot of different languages.
What amazed me was the fact that very few in the education class knew about this type of linguistic diversity. Some of the students wanted to know if scripts (of the state languages) were different across states. Well, since most languages use distinctive scripts, the students were astounded that Indians learned a new language each time they moved across state lines. To most Americans this would seem truly mind-boggling.