By Chitra Ahanthem
Just the other day, a young parent on a social networking site remarked about an incident wherein during a pre-flight spell, a 7 year old local boy spouted in Hindi a commentary about the flight being ready to take off and how one should be ready with set belts et el. She was concerned that the young boy’s outburst was in cartoon speak mode and made the note that her own young daughter spoke like that. As is the norm with such sites, many have joined in the conversation pointing out how parenting is a challenge while quite a lot of parents have joined in saying how their own children were in cartoon speak mode. Considering how the TV remote often ends up being in the hands of children (in almost every household) and the fact that channel packs have 24 hour cartoon channels, it is almost a given that they would be hooked. But to go back to the friend who made the post: she went to add that the lingua franca of the young children would get corrupted.
In the wake of the outrage over the nudge to Hindi being the official language for communication in Government machineries (now being toned down to ‘where Hindi is the pre-dominant language only’), this parental anxiety lays bare a political and cultural paradox: where the world is opening up and influences have worked into the lives of the younger generation while the older generation frets over ‘roots’ and the purity of culture.
There have been many instances where various cultural vigilantes have frowned upon what they call the onslaught over ‘our culture and language’ with their varied actions centered around ensuring that non local words are not used in films and literature besides other such. But social scientists will point out that culture is not a limited entity but an ever growing process, that throws up certain aspects from time to time, some that endure and some that fade away. With language too, there is always a tendency for words to fade away and new ones to creep in, a global phenomenon that cuts across all cultures and all languages. We see this in the way the English language has swelled in terms of the range of its vocabulary strength starting from its early influence from Latin and Greek and now happily becoming a melting pot of numerous languages. Leave alone, the influence of other languages being absorbed into the English vocabulary, the trend now is for social media to throw up new words that are being added globally across any barriers of language or culture (case in point being words such as ‘selfie’) or for existing words to take on added meanings as in the case of the word ‘tweet’ which earlier used to be used to denote a bird sound but now means a 140 character limited status update on a very popular social networking site. The vocabulary range of the Manipuri language have for long absorbed many words that never existed earlier: cases in point being “tersing’ for ‘kerosene’, ‘laten’ from ‘lantern’ and many others.
With children, the interplay of what they see and hear around them in terms of everyday exposure is what shapes them. With cable TV that comes along with 24 hour cartoon channels being an integral part of their daily exposure, it is natural for them to be influenced in terms of their social interactions. In extreme cases, we have come across news reports of children imitating superheroes and in the process, sometimes falling to their deaths from heights or sustaining severe injuries (this has happened in other parts of the country). With nuclear families being the norm and career parents being busy with their work and the household and other social obligations, the TV becomes a very soft and available option for holding the attention of young children. One may well ask why is it that they are not taking up reading or other pursuits but the answer is an easy one: the peer pressure of being in the TV and by extension, the cartoon and TV advertisements of the latest toys or packed food products induces those who have started out not being into too much of TV watching.
Are cartoon shows a bad influence? The answer to this is a yes and no. It is a ‘Yes’ when it becomes addictive and a ‘No’ because with parental guidance, cartoons are just another medium of entertainment. But between the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ also lies a grey area where young children are increasingly becoming confused with what they are seeing. As an example, I would cite the popular cartoon character ‘Chotta Bheem’ who lives in the fictional kingdom of Dholakpur. My 9 year old wanted to know where the rest of the Pandavas were since he thought that Chotta Bheem was the younger version of Bheem, the second of the Pandava brothers.
Like many young children, he too speaks in cartoon lingo and intonation but I prefer to look at the bright side of things: at least, he is picking up Hindi and at a much faster pace than I was at his age. With Hindi getting into the limelight, it’s good for him and his generation if cartoons are what it takes to aid their grasp over the language. My son has also picked up a smattering of Japanese from a Japanese cartoon show and recently asked me if he could change his name to that of one of the characters therein! And the other day when he was refusing to take his bath and I was at my wit’s end, I tried a cartoon voice. It worked, because he was totally kicked that his mother knew about the ‘kid stuff’ he watched!