I have been in a very linguistics mood lately, since I am taking Spanish I at UWF. It’s fascinating comparing Spanish with the other languages I know (English, French, Gujarati and kinda-Hindi). It is really interesting.
I was reading about bilingual babies and how they are better at learning new languages today. I was telling my mom about it, and then she started telling me about what I was like when I was little. Apparently, up until I went to school, I used to speak almost entirely in Gujarati. Also, I used to be able to understand Bengali (whaa?) because my babysitter used to speak to me in it. Is that not hilarious? There was a five-year gap, between when I was three and when I was eight, during which I did not go to India at all. That basically decimated my Gujarati.
When I went back in 2001, at age 8, I basically sucked. I remember pointing to a tree and saying, in Gujarati, “This is a … jhaa — jhaa — jhaadu?” Jhaadu means “broom”. “Tree” is jhaad. I remember that because it was pretty much the low point of my Gujarati knowledge. But from then on, I got better and better, and after five years of Sunday School, and four more trips to India, I am much better at the language. :)
Sometimes, I forget how lucky I am to know Gujarati so well. It means I can understand bits of Hindi, enough not to feel completely helpless if I am alone (which was not always the case — I once got lost in an Indian water park, four years ago, perhaps; and I basically sat there, helpless without my glasses, until my uncle found me).
I meet people who can only speak Gujarati with an American accent, whereas my accent is basically ballin’ in every way.
And perhaps, knowing Gujarati helped me learn French and Spanish better.
But another reason to be happy is because Gujarati is part of my culture. It is one of the bits of my culture I have best retained. My religion, once important to me, was shed several years ago. I am a very picky eater; I find most Indian cuisine pretty distasteful. Living in podunk-Pensacola means there is not much in the way of Indian community — only within the past year or so have we gotten an Indian restaurant and an Indian food store. It is well established that I’m not very “Indian”. But I still am, even just a little.
I don’t want my kids to lose this culture. I know it’s inevitable that in ten or so years, when I have children, they will probably be very Americanized. I hope they will know Gujarati. (But what if their dad doesn’t know Gujarati?) I hope I will be able to take them to India someday; I hope it will be often.
My language is one of the few ways I can feel Indian, and it’s terrible to know that chances are slim that the next generation will feel the same way. Is this what happened to Europeans who moved here in the 1800s?
I don’t know how the hell this has anything to do with it, but it makes sense to me: think of trophic levels and the 10% rule (ugh, ecology. I know. I hate it too). Only 10% of the energy of any trophic level is passed on to the next level. In the same way, only a bit of my knowledge of India will be passed on to the next generation, in only the same way that it passed from my parents to me. I figure if I can maximize my “Indianness” then I can give my kids that much more. Well, one tenth of that much more. Here’s hoping.