Native language, mother tongue and my tongue

What is my mother tongue? For a long time I used to write Tamizh (Tamil). Today as I was filling in one particular job application form, the term Mother Tongue was defined as “Mother Tongue is defined as the language you were brought up speaking.” Some other forms ask for your native tongue. Some even suggest that there can only be one mother tongue or native language.

I grew up in the babble of three languages. All at once. Truth is, I don’t even think in one particular language. I think in all three. I picked up bits and pieces of other languages over the years. In school, at work and on the field. Those languages I don’t really think in. But I can take care of basic things. The interesting thing also is that in many forms, the assumption is that the Mother Tongue is the one you are so proficient in that they don’t require you to peg your skill level.

Well, I think I might just mark three of them as native languages.

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0 Responses to Native language, mother tongue and my tongue

  1. Anand says:

    For a while when I was little I thought my mother tongue was Kannada. Only because that was the language my mother spoke to her sisters and brothers in, as they all grew up in Karnataka, as my grandparents then even lived there and I was also born there. I was rather kicked about the fact (don’t ask me why) that I did not speak Kannada, but instead spoke Tamil at home. When I once asked my mom (again I presume because of some sort of form filling), I was terribly dissappointed to find out that I was actually Tamil. I wasn’t an exotic alien any more.


  2. km says:

    Truth is, I don’t even think in one particular language. I think in all three

    Heh, if you were a TRUE trilinguist, you would think in two and swear and cuss in the third.


  3. Nilu says:

    Once in a pub in Clemson, I was chatting with a reasonably drunk blonde.

    After the initial crap, she asked me “So, English is not your ‘mother tongue’. Which language do you dream in?”. I left it there because she was really inebriated. I have a sneaking suspicion neither Neha nor Anand were…;)


  4. Anand says:

    Poyglot… not linguist!… there is a big difference!
    Oh! Comeon Nilu… once in a while is OK.
    Sorry Neha, I’ve started responding to comments meant for you.


  5. Pradeep says:

    Language to me is just a tool to communicate. It’s like any material object that serves as a tool for a purpose, only that language is abstract. Language has a strong bonding effect. But it is sad to see people getting too emotional about a language. Langauage is only one aspect of a social fabric. Language doesn’t need us, it’s we who need the language. And it is cruel to tell someone don’t study a particular language, or force him to study another because that is superior to others.


  6. Nilu says:

    Do you always give out such useless pontifications or is is it a one-off affair?


  7. Anand: Exotic alien-ness robbed from you? There are quite a few cross over South Indian families though. Where the langauge you speak in is also indicative of relationship or intimacy. Like when I speak Hindi with my sister. It was the language of the outside world brought home.

    km: We simply don’t have the agility of UPites.

    Nilu: You try too hard. Get rude with people on your blog – not mine.

    Pradeep: I think the idioms of a language can often determine the way one perceives ideas as well. (Or Chomsky wouldn’t be selling so many books!) Language might be dynamic and created by users – but it remains an entity that hints towards the evolution of ideas. It’s only when you recognize that language is important that linguistic imperialism falls into a certain context.


  8. Nilu says:

    I have never really understood what ‘trying too hard’ meant. Thought it was Sunil Gavaskar’s invention. Apparently, it ain’t.

    So, tell me, what does it really mean? Is is something that is quite the opposite of euphemism? Or is it one where your system’s boundary conditions are figured out? Please enlighten.


  9. Marleny says:

    Hey! Those job application forms were created by people who didn’t have more than one language in their countries. You put down whatever you feel like putting down….they have no references to judge your decision. I have even created additional sections that apply to my situation,wich nobody thought of just because they aren’t immigrants. Good luck with your job hunting!