‘Our Mother Tongue Is Far More Than A Means Of Communication’

A Malaysia based Kashmiri student, Asiya Hassan, who is busy building Kashmiri Dictionary on the web tells Khalid Bashir Gura

Asiya Hassan, a Malaysia based Srinagar girl is building an on-line Kashmir dictionary

KASHMIR LIFE (KL): How can you be described and how this idea of getting mother-tongue into the digital world initiated?

ASIYA HASSAN (AS): My name is Asiya Hassan, born in Wuyan-Pampore. I have lived in Kashmir till my fifth standard of schooling. Later we moved to Malaysia, where I completed high school and graduated in Graphic Design. Currently, I am pursuing my masters in Kuala Lumpur.

The idea of setting up the page, Kashmiri Dictionary on social media came out of the lack of online resources about our language. Many years back, when I was teaching my nephew (born and raised outside Kashmir), I searched the internet to find some useful resources that could be helpful in making him understand the language better. But the information about our language on the internet is quite limited so I could not find any good complete sources.

Being a Kashmiri, a graphic designer, having a good grasp of my mother tongue, I thought that maybe I can do my bit of whatever I know and share it in a creative, fun and efficient way with people who might be facing the same problem.

KL: Now you have a website. Is it really required?

AS: The websites or networking services like Instagram, Facebook or Twitter have become an integral part of our daily lives. However, the content on social media is fleeting and highly volatile, whereas websites are there to stay. It is information-oriented and far more efficient way of providing information as compared to social media. The website also helps in reaching out to a wider audience or to those who do not use social media. Also, directing someone to a website address is easier. Recently, Kashmir dictionary has gotten an app as well. It’s an accurate, easy-to-use resource, free to download and the link to download can be found right at the bottom of the website.

KL: Did you consult an expert on language before putting it into the public domain?

AS: So far, I have not consulted any Kashmiri language expert. I started at a basic level, but yes, as I add more content to it, I may need to consult language experts.

KL: How did you create and compiled it? What is the source?

AS: Initially I used to design and print flashcards for my four-year-old nephew, who is now 14 yrs old and later, I created the Instagram page in 2017, putting up the soft-copies of those flashcards. I started it simply, you can figure that out from the Instagram page, but it is slowly improving to eventually become an interactive platform for learning and promoting our mother tongue. I use our official Kashmiri dictionaries, academic books and other resources as references.

KL: Usually we hear symbolic slogans about the preservation of art, culture and languages, but on the ground, there is no significant change? Do you really think so?

AS: I think before social media, the existence of the idea of preserving our language and culture was as good as Schrödinger’s cat. But from the past few years, social media proved to be a watershed moment. People on the internet are constantly working hard, promoting Kashmir and its culture, be it through clothes, music, language, art or photography. They are genuinely putting tremendous efforts in order to preserve our language and culture.

KL: How much is the Kashmiri language’s digital presence?

AS: You know when we come across a new English word that we don’t know the meaning of, we immediately visit the online dictionaries or even Google it and the answer is a ‘search’ away. Now let us say we want to know the meaning of a simple word in Kashmiri or how to write it, we either have to ask our parents, grandparents, or run to any Kashmiri language expert. This clearly explains the digital presence of our language.

KL: There is some sort of taboo in speaking the native language at home, in schools and in day to day conversation. Parents dissuade kids, schools to its students.  What can be the reasons?

AS: I don’t know the exact reasons, but in my opinion, they think that the native language does not help them in their curriculum and the lack of Urdu or English language skills leads to unemployment later, which is imprecise. Research has proven that the mother tongue does not only develop a child’s personal and social identity, but it also helps them develop their critical thinking and literacy skills. This results in acquiring a better understanding of the curriculum. From a linguistic point of view, all languages are equal. I believe it is wrong to judge the value of one against another.

KL: We know how to speak Kashmiri but when it comes to writing it, we face impediments. How will the website help students and aspiring learners of language?

AS: If you ask me to create a slogan for the Kashmiri dictionary, it would be ‘Kashmiri Dictionary; now a search away. Websites constitute their own genre with their own specialized requirements, for example, the emphasis they place on search functionality, which is not the case with social media pages. As I mentioned earlier that when we come across a new word that we don’t know the meaning of, we immediately visit the online dictionaries, and the answer is just a search away. This is where I am trying to make a change through the website and I hope that it will help aspiring learners.

KL: On social media how are people supporting this initiative?

AS: The responses I have got so far are encouraging and reveal that they really like the content and formats of Kashmiri Dictionary. I get numerous positive comments as well. I have also connected with people through social media, who are involved in providing guidance, advice, information, and mentoring, and their support has been particularly important while deciding the next move or to think about enriching the platform. Apart from that, I observed that lots of young people drew motivation and inspiration and created similar pages. I feel delighted about it and know that I am not alone in this anymore. Moreover, there are lots of opportunities to collaborate with these and other initiatives on social media which I have not explored yet fully.

KL: Do you think we draw our identity from our mother tongue?

AS: Yes, we do. Our mother tongue is far more than a means of communication. It is a fundamental aspect of our cultural identity. Our beliefs, values as well as our identity are embedded within it. I would like to quote Joshua Aaron Fishman, an American linguist. He asks: “What do you lose when you lose your language?” In the next part of the quote lies the reply, “its greetings, its curses, its praises, its laws, its literature, its songs, its riddles, its proverbs, its cures, its wisdom, its prayers.” In other words, it is the mother tongue that defines, preserves and conveys almost every aspect of our cultural identity. 

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