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Ampersand: An International Journal of General and Applied Linguistics

Edited By R. Cann, H. Pichler, K. Van De Poel, D. van Olmen, and K. Watson

Academic Paper

Title: (M)Other Tongue Syndrome: From Breast to Bottle
Paper URL:
Author: Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay
Email: click here to access email
Institution: Indian Statistical Institute
Linguistic Field: Discourse Analysis; Language Acquisition; Philosophy of Language; Psycholinguistics; Sociolinguistics
Abstract: This paper explores, from the perspectives of different inter-disciplines, the genesis of the historical a priori, "Mother Tongue" (MT) instigated by a sexist question, "Why is it not Father Tongue?" It at a time relates psychology of mother-child relation in specific social milieu and its implications in Psycholinguistics and History of the concept in relation to the birth of nation-state. In India, the word "mother" has been deployed in the realm of land and language and subsequently proliferated in every sphere of discourses. Is it only due to the social proximity of mother-child that gives birth to such notions? When "the name of the Father" is dominating the social sphere, and the Father’s tongue is child’s tongue, why the name of the dominated mother is nominated and affiliated to the objects like "land" and "language?" This discussion on the MT inaugurates four distinct issues: (a) The mother to other or breast-to-bottle switch-over [in case of language death]; (b) The proliferation of (M)other-tongue Industry aided by professionals; (c) Mother-children dyad in relation to language acquisition; (d) the artificial means for detaching the dyad by the introduction of feeding bottle Industry. Author did not agree with Kakkar (1981:55) that the "controversy between breast and bottle feeding" is "false." I think, the switch over from breast to bottle has a larger implication in understanding gestalt of "mothering" in its psycho-physiological connotations or in its metaphoric senses as revealed in "mother land" and "MT." The metaphor of "breast to bottle" switch over stimulates us to look into the history of Industrialization in which the "nature" is defeated by the manufacturing of technological "culture". Author’s imaginative effort to feminize the "tongue "ends in vein as the author admitted that the term "MT," since the term was first used, had never meant the vernacular, but rather its contrary. The term was used by Catholic monks to designate a particular language they used, instead of Latin, when they are "speaking from the pulpit" (Illich in Patttanayak, 1981:24). That is, the "holy mother of the Church" introduced this term and it was inherited it from the Christianity, thanks to the effort made by foreign missionaries in the colonial period in India. Illich (ibid) aptly pointed out that the word "MT was introduced into Sanskrit in the eighteenth century as a translation from English." It is not only a derivative technical term, born out of translation, but it was also altered as the Indian mother-cult had also an impact on this translation. The total endeavor to relate mother-child with the language-acquisition process is nothing but a fantasy as the biological mother has nothing to do with the language-object per se in a given all pervading patriarchal culture except to introduce substantial inputs to the child like "other" associates of the child. The author concluded that the "MT" as a metaphor is a politico-theosophical construct that, later on, has become a technical term in the discursive formation of administration and academics. Culture supplies us notion; we then try to make their notations and we neutralize that symbol by deploying different "scientific" and "cultural" methods. However, the symbolic order retains its symbolism. The whole discursive formation circling around MT is endowed here with the metaphoric illness and thus termed as "(M)OTHER TONGUE SYNDROME."/L/Keywords: Symbolic Order, Mother Tongue, Linguistic Human Right
Type: Individual Paper
Status: Completed
Publication Info: Studies in Sociolinguistics and Applied Linguistics, pp. 87-106, R. Kumar, ed., Booklinks, 2001

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