Languages in a City

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life – sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This photo story was sent to us by Gopal MS. Gopal is a Mumbai based advertising copywriter and blogger who documents the streets of the city. You can find more of his work here.)
How many languages can an average Mumbaikar or Bangalorean speak? A safe guess would be not less than 2 or 3. These two cities that I have lived in are melting pots of different people and the languages they use. Many of us use one language at home and that is usually the mother tongue. We often use another language at work, and a totally different one on the streets. We constantly flit between different spaces that require us to adapt and knowing different languages is a great asset that many of use or try to use. 
As children we pick up words from other languages and nuances from neighbours and friends along with the food and sweets they make at home. But out there on the streets, a city like Mumbai (or any of the metros) is a kichdi, avial, chow chow baath, broth or mixture of languages engaging with each other.
Each city is made up of pockets that preserve their own way of life and language. Language is a powerful projection of collective identity. The need for entertainment, leisure and connection to a faraway home brings in art and music from all parts of the country into the metros. Newspapers are printed and sold on the streets in languages that are used in faraway parts of the country. Different dialects of the same language mingle with each other to create their own music. We think in one language and speak or write in another. For second generation city dwellers it is the grandmother who probably teaches a child his or her mother tongue. And for many children, language is just a subject they have to study in school, their parents have sacrificed the importance of language to subjects that are considered useful later in life.
Sometimes we are at each other’s throats because of the languages we speak. But on a daily basis, it is how we live comfortably with many languages spoken in the city that makes our cities wonderful.


View Gopal’s photo story below (click play and expand for a full screen view)


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