This English–Kannada Dictionary Breaks New Ground

Renowned linguist Dr. D. N. Shankara Bhat’s new English-Kannada dictionary titled English-Kannada Padanerake (Kannada: ಇಂಗ್ಲಿಶ್-ಕನ್ನಡ ಪದನೆರಕೆ) was released last Sunday. It has been co-authored by Y Bharath Kumar and Vivek Shankar, both engineers by profession with interest in the field of linguistics.

While there are several English-Kannada dictionaries already available in the market, this work is quite different from the rest in three key aspects –
  • The Kannada synonyms of English words provided in the dictionary are all mostly native Kannada words, with a very minimal number having their roots in other languages
  • Along with native Kannada words in popular use, it also includes newly coined words, especially those corresponding to the fields of commerce, science, technology, and other modern fields of study 
  • It has a sizable number of words coined by commoners and enthusiasts through the Facebook group Pada Pada Kannada Padane
In all, there are about 18,000 English words listed in the dictionary, to which, about 45,000 Kannada equivalents have been provided. It also contains several detailed examples illustrating the use of words in their different shades of meaning.

A good portion of words contained in most Kannada dictionaries of today are of Sanskrit origin that are not easily comprehensible to a common Kannada speaker. This is particularly true of words used in the fields of science and technology. Such words, owing to their unfamiliarity, appear quite complex and largely fail to convey the intended meaning.

As of today, not much work has been done in building science vocabulary in Kannada. We are mostly reliant on English, which makes learning difficult for commoners. And whatever new Kannada words that have been coined, especially the terminologies used in scientific literature, are mostly constructed from Sanskrit root words. Most of these words, as said above, appear complex and not easily understandable. 

This dictionary tries to fill the gap by providing words that are easy to comprehend and use. Kannada equivalents to scientific terms provided in the new dictionary are very close to native words used in common speech. The use of native words in coining new terms also has the inherent advantage of making use of native Kannada grammatical rules. Hence, not only is it easy to comprehend a new word and the associated concept, subject matter experts and common Kannada speakers alike can coin new words all by themselves.

By coining words that are closer to people’s language, and using them in building content in science and technology, several issues concerned with learning can be effectively resolved over a period of time, serving as an enabler to students studying science in the Kannada medium. 

And these concerns are not just limited to Kannada, but pervasive across many other Indian languages. Such language communities too should consider coining words in their own languages to build their word stock, chiefly scientific lexicon, by the use of well-known and commonly used words.

Needless to say, the dictionary is just the first step in the long journey of building corpus in Kannada. It is unprecedented in that excepting a few individual attempts at coining words in native Kannada no other initiative has yet taken up the task in such an organized manner and scale.

The dictionary, released last Sunday, will be available in the market shortly. One may follow Dr. Bhat’s website for the latest updates.

Mother Tongues Vital to Achieve ‘Higher Education in India – Vision 2030’

In 2013 Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) articulated a vision for higher education in India to be realized before the year 2030. Called Higher Education in India – Vision 2030, it recommends “goals, policy imperatives and implementation roadmap to make higher education boost the growth of India to become the third-largest US$10 trillion economy of the world”.

A Summit on higher education in India by FICCI held earlier this month, brought out a report on the current status of higher education and a roadmap for the vision. The report titled State focused roadmap to India's Vision 2030 "is aimed at developing strategies to align the FICCI Vision 2030 on higher education for the Indian states”.

To achieve the vision it calls out a few imperatives –

The report identifies three categories of imperatives – social, economic and intellectual – and recognizes crucial targets to be achieved under each category. The value of such categorization and targets is fairly evident and admirable, but it is also important to understand the merits and efficacy of the use of mother tongue or people’s language in realizing the three imperatives. In the developed world mother tongue is considered the bedrock of education but in the Indian Union the notion is conspicuously absent in popular public discourse. 

Consider the social imperative of achieving gross enrollment ratio (GER) of 50% in higher education. Studies have revealed that mother tongue based education has not only helped impart effective education but also achieve higher enrollment rates. Research after research has revealed that students learn better when taught in mother-tongue, and learning results are meager when the medium of instruction is a non-native language, more so for those from socially and economically backward sections. Hence, focus on quality mother tongue based education can not only help improve enrollment but also close the disparity in enrollments.

The report’s economic imperatives aim for a skilled and job-ready work force. Skills can only be built on a strong educational foundation, to which mother tongue is key. Low employability of graduates has long been a concern in India. A national employability study conducted by Aspiring Minds shows that the employability in the IT Product and KPO sectors, for example, are as low as 4.2% and 9.5%. One of the important reasons for such low employability is the lack of fundamentals required for a job: good educational foundation, comprehension skills, communication skills, analytical reasoning, creativity, conceptual thinking etc. Quality mother tongue based education can help better address these fundamentals.

The intellectual imperatives like high-quality research output and creating a world-class research eco-system also require that students be able to continue their higher education, including research in all subjects of sciences in their mother tongues. We have argued in Karnatique earlier that the highly innovative nations are the ones with higher education systems in people’s language. 

Of course, enabling our languages to be able to express concepts of science and technology, and building world-class institutions in them, will not happen overnight. But undoubtedly this is the only way by which we can achieve success as evinced by the success stories of countries like Switzerland, Sweden, Israel, Finland, Korea etc., which top the global innovation index. In these countries students have the option to pursue education in their languages at all levels.

The document clearly calls out the fact that most of higher education is under the control of the states and hence any real change or transformation can be brought about only by actions at the level of the states. 99% of an estimated 46,430 institutions of higher education in India are under the ambit of the state governments. 97% of the 21.8 million enrolments are under the control of the states. Also, 67% of public expenditure on higher education (INR 384.6 billion) is contributed by the states. 

In a union of states, as diverse and as heterogeneous as India, every issue should be comprehended and dealt with at the level of individual states. So, the report rightly understands the heterogeneous nature of the issue and recommends the shift of focus of execution from the national level to the state level to be able achieve any real transformation.

Since each state is different and the level of development in higher education is different, the report rightly recommends different action plans for different states. But one of key things for the states in the process of implementation is to consider the language aspect. This aspect can help address several issues with respect to 'access, equity and quality' that the report emphasizes.

However, the value of peoples’ languages in education has hardly been understood and appreciated in public discourse in the Indian Union, let alone being effectively harnessed. Hence the states need a long term vision and commitment towards the use of mother tongues in education, and to be able to realize Vision 2030 it is absolutely essential that they invest on the languages of their peoples.

Below Replacement-Level TFR of Non-Hindi States – Why the Union Government Must Act Now

Krishna Gopal, joint secretary of the RSS, in a briefing to the media has expressed concerns over impending 'demographic imbalance' in India. Hence, he has urged the Union Government to reformulate the National Population Policy. Here is an excerpt from the press report in DNA that had covered this in more detail:
The policy, he said, aimed at achieving a stable but healthy population by 2045 by optimising the fertility rate to the ideal figure of 2.1 total fertility rate (TFR) and it was expected that it would be applied uniformly to all sections of the society as this aim was in accordance with the national resources and expected future requirements.

However, the National Fertility & Health Survey (NFHS) of 2005-06 and the 0-6 age group population percentage data of religion in Census 2011, both indicate that the TFR and child ratio "is uneven across the religions", he said. 

Krishna Gopal is right in saying that the fertility rates should be uniform across all sections of the society, and uneven TFRs may lead to serious demographic imbalances. If India aims to achieve the ideal fertility rate of 2.1, it is necessary that all sections of the society uniformly achieve fertility rates of 2.1.

While the RSS’s concern for uneven TFR and the resulting demographic imbalance is based on religious parameters, it is equally important to consider regional and linguistic parameters in the population equation. For, the Union of India is not only diverse in terms of religions but also linguistically and culturally diverse, and such consideration is important. So, let us consider the past TFRs (2007), TFR goals for the eleventh five year plan (2007-12), and the latest available TFR data of some of the states of the Indian Union.

Fertility Rate 2007
Eleventh Five Year Plan Target (2012)
Fertility Rate 2013
West Bengal
Tamil Nadu
Andhra Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh
As can be seen from the above table, many states were given TFR goals well below 2.1 for the eleventh five-year plan. On what basis did the Planning Commission set TFR targets below 2.1, to states like West Bengal, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka etc.? Was not the Planning Commission aware that such targets are unscientific and can lead to large demographic imbalances when it set them? Didn’t the planning commission know that TFR below 2.1 is suicidal to any community? Or was it deliberate?

Incompetence or deliberation, such an act by a ‘national’ institute of such repute will be interpreted as an unethical one and will lead to mistrust in India’s federal setup.

It seems, the twelfth five year plan (2012-2017) too has not considered the state-wise uneven TFRs, especially those falling below the replacement levels. In reviewing the goals accomplished in the eleventh five year plan, the twelfth plan makes an interesting observation –
Replacement level TFR, namely 2.1, has been attained by nine states. High fertility remains a problem in seven States…
In reality, those nine states namely, West Bengal, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Jammu and Kashmir, have not just achieved a replacement level TFR of 2.1, but they are actually dangerously slipping below that level. And this is all by plan.

The twelfth plan does not alarm these states of their dropping TFR levels, but has set an overall target for India at 2.1, which it aims to achieve by 2017. On the reduction of India’s TFR to 2.1 the planning commission says:
 India is on track for the achievement of a TFR target of 2.1 by 2017, which is necessary to achieve net replacement level of unity, and realise the long cherished goal of the National Health Policy, 1983 and National Population Policy of 2000

How will this be achieved? As is evident, it will not be achieved by maintaining a healthy TFR of 2.1 across all member states and demography of the Union. It will be achieved by further slumping the TFRs of the Kannadigas, the Tamils, the Marathis, the Bengalis and the Punjabis, whose fertility rates are already well below replacement levels. Whereas the population of states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh will continue to grow.

Just last week, China announced a shift from its decades-old one-child policy to a two-child policy in the wake of decreasing TFR and ageing population. If RSS is sincerely concerned about all the peoples of India, represented by diverse languages and cultures, it should also consider uneven and falling TFR levels of the above mentioned regions seriously. It is its political associate, the BJP, which currently holds the reins of power at New Delhi. So, the RSS should to take up the issue with the Government of India. At the same time, the NDA government should earnestly work towards getting the fertility rate of these non-Hindi states upwards to 2.1.