Sunday, November 1, 2015

Losing our Language

I am extremely grateful for my mother who not only taught me Punjabi, but also invited other kids to our house so they could learn too. She taught me how to read and write so that I would be able to read paath (prayers) in the original form. She continues to speak to me in Punjabi so I would not forget. It would be easy enough for her to convert all of our family conversations to English but she doesn't do that. I am grateful for the mother who made sure I understood the value of our language.

I am saddened that my generation of Sikhs are losing their language. I have friends who have lost their Punjabi entirely by not using it, never learned it in the first place, or only have a basic working knowledge. Even less have bothered to learn Gurmukhi. By losing this knowledge we are losing a part of our identity. I understand that much of our everyday usage in Canada will be in English when we go out into the community, but at the same time we are losing our ability to communicate with members of our Sikh community. We are losing our ability to speak to our elders and to hear, first-hand, about our history. More importantly, we lose our ability to read and understand the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, and therefore the wealth of knowledge that guides us on how to live our lives.

If someone else had come along and tried to force us to lose our language, then we would fight for our right to keep our language. We would stand up and say- that’s wrong. We deserve the right to be able to express ourselves in our language. We deserve the right not to lose our culture. But Canada is a multicultural country and we are so lucky that no one is forcing us. We are lucky that our cultures are respected and embraced. We have let ourselves lose. We have willingly give up our language by not teaching our children, by not learning it ourselves, by not taking an interest. There are so many opportunities today that didn't exist before. Punjabi courses, books, online resources that did not exist before at all. Yet when I was teaching Punjabi classes to children at the Gurdwara it seemed that no one took an interest. Their parents didn’t care to help them practice in the weekdays and the kids didn’t have the initiative to do it themselves. It simply wasn’t a priority. They would be stuck on the same letters of the alphabet every week. They would read off their shabads in English. I have a lot of friends learning second languages out of interest, and yet it seems we can't even make the effort to learn our own mother tongue. It's up to us to show these kids that it's important and lead by example.

Even my own knowledge of Punjabi is limited to basic literature and is not extensive enough to read the books that my parents read. The ones that have the depths of knowledge about our history. I am actively working to make sure that I am able to keep up with my knowledge so that I don’t lose it, and to expand my vocabulary. I want to be able to discuss my medical issues with my patients. I want to be able to pass on my language to my children. I want them to be able to read the original Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and not just the translations. Let us all make an effort to teach ourselves, to teach our children, to make sure that we don't lose our language.


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