Monday, November 14, 2005

Kan yu tec dhis speling?

Whole Issue: Whether to relax rules on spellings and allow spelling mistakes in answer-sheets. A similar debate is going on regarding शुध्दलेखन in मराठी.

My take on it:

Summary : A BIG NO.

A language was born when the mankind felt the need to communicate. To communicate is to exchange data, information, emotion. A language, therefore has played a phenomenal role in growth of the humankind. Without a language, I wouldn't be writing this post, or even if I would have been, the reader wouldn't have a clue what it's all about.

A language is based on rules. Depending on the age and the use of the language the complexity and weirdness of the rules vary. The rules are the characteristics of the language. The grammar, spelling or construction of a word when put in writing, the pronunciations, the proverbs and idioms form basic rules of a language. The rules have evolved over the years, been borrowed or copied from other languages, rules have been exported or imposed on other languages, and thus these rules have lived. When one starts with A-B-C on the first day at school, one starts learning the rules. Over the years, these get deeply rooted in our lives. Once the rules are solid, we start playing the game well. We even try to twist some of them and invent new ones, and if the entire community feels good about it, they are slowly absorbed in the existing set of rules. Addition of new words in the "official" dictionary has followed this trend for years now.

Oh yeah, there are these rules, but so what?

There is no rule saying that these rules need to be followed, is there?

And hence, it finally boils down to a democratic vote, for or against.

One of the important points that is put forth is that the language should reach the masses. And if the rules become too tedious to follow, this becomes difficult. The masses, apparently, are unable to cope up with so many and so difficult rules of the language. I am in complete agreement with the point that the language must reach the masses. That's the whole point of having a language after all. Yet, the second part of the argument is not acceptable to me. It's possible that the rules have become tedious over the years and there are discrepancies at many places, but again, so what? They should be followed as they are. If they are to be dropped suddenly, then each and every being in the mass should be informed. Each and every being that's being educated today, must be educated in this new ways. It's not as simple as rolling out a new version of software and "patching" the old one so that the two versions can co-exist with harmony.

As far as pronunciation is concerned, if the group at which the words are directed with certain, "peculiar" pronunciation understands the word, there is no problem. The moment the words are put down on paper, mis-spelled words will kick off confusion. Languages which have words with many different, context-based meanings will suffer. e.g. in मराठी, if we decide to let go of ऱ्हस्व-दीर्घ मात्रा-वेलांटी, then it may result into ridiculous outcomes, e.g. केशवसुत is different from केशव-सूत, पाणी is different from पाणि, and so on. If one thinks for a while, it's not difficult to come up with such entertaining examples in other languages also. In south India, circuit is pronounced as "sercute", yet when it comes to writing down this word, it is spelled correctly as circuit. Imagine what would happen if a mis-spelled words like these are communicated across oceans.

Another way out through this (as far as assessment of the answer sheets are concerned) is that the examiner should use his judgment on the mis-spelled words and conclude on the capability of the candidates. One potential problem in this is that even the same language changes every hundred kilometres. What's considered as a decent usage of word, may mean nothing to an examiner five hundred kilometres away. If such is the situation, allowing "minor" spelling mistakes and incorrect usage of grammar will worsen the matter.

In passing, I don't think we have the right to allow this as far as English as a language. English was not born here (yeah, it has grown here without doubts), and certainly we cannot take such strategic decisions about this language at least. May be with मराठी, we could, but not with english, I am convinced.

In summary, I have tried to put up my argument against this proposal.

A while back, I and Mihir had a discussion over e-mail as to have more "taggable" topics going. I guess this debate is worth a tag. Although, I am not formally tagging anyone, I strongly encourage the readers to write about it: I am eager to know your views.

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