Language is like a flowing river, reflecting its speakers’ thoughts, culture, tradition, and political temperament. There are more than 60.5 million Gujarati speakers across the globe. Gujarati language has evolved over 900 years with influences from Islamic, Jain, Marathi, European, & Hindi cultures. Gujarati community has been at the entrepreneurial forefront for centuries, establishing commercial relationships with different cultures throughout the world. These commercial and cultural exchanges have contributed to the enrichment of spoken and written Gujarati. The thesaurus of Gujarati language has gone through continuous enhancement with the words from many Indian and International languages like Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Turkish, Arabic, Portuguese and English. Varied confluence of cultures has built up Gujarati language as one of the most distinctive and unique languages globally.
Factors affecting Gujarati language in 21st Century
Communication technology has evolved rapidly in the first two decades of the 21st century. Developments in Mobile and internet technologies have globally influenced our society and culture.These technological changes, dubbed movies, have also influenced the Gujarati language. In the first decade of the century, the internet’s availability was limited mostly to computers. It opened an entirely new world of information and knowledge for the English speaking technology-savvy Gujaratis. This information percolated to the farthest corners and communities of Gujarat through mass media. The use of English words for technological terminology, Education and communication in the Gujarati language has also increased rapidly and widely compared to the previous decades.
Non-English speaking Gujaratis imbibed this technology with its limitations of unavailability of Gujarati fonts for mobile communication, by writing Gujarati SMS using English script. Transliteration and character limits in SMS affected the language. Gujarati mobile users started writing ‘che’ instead of ‘chhe’ (‘છે’), and it was well received and understood by all. Social networking Platforms like Orkut and Facebook provide an opportunity to express language and literature in digital form and share thoughts in our Gujarati local. However, technological limitations and unavailability of Gujarati fonts hampered the printing of Gujarati digital content on paper.
Influence of global factors & technology
Television brought entertainment from across the world into living rooms. So, the Gujarati words routinely used in daily errands slowly and subtly replaced by English words. Gujarati’ Diwankhand’ (‘દિવાનખંડ’) or ‘Bethak’ (‘બેઠક’) became ‘Drawing-room’. All of us, use words like ‘Friends’ more than ‘Mitro’ (‘મિત્રો’) freely and extensively. Now, when the global food brands like Domino’s, McDonalds, Pizza Hut have penetrated deep into the states and opened their outlets in Tier 2, Tier 3 cities like Porbandar, Bharuch, Jamnagar the words like Pizza (પિઝા) pasta (પાસ્તા), burger (બર્ગર), hotdog (હોટડોગ), sandwich (સેન્ડવિચ), noodles (નૂડલ્સ), French fries (ફ્રેંચ ફ્રાઇસ) are well known to a Gujarati and part of the language too.
However, more and rapid changes have been experienced in the second decade of the 21st century, i.e. between 2010 to 2019. The spread and reach of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and messaging services like WhatsApp, and web-based entertainment mediums like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video have increased due to the availability of cheap internet data packs and affordable smartphones. While the first decade of the century brought information from across the world to various Gujarati communities in a one way flow, the second decade enabled the exchange of thoughts, local expressions, dialects, and cultural nuances from the Gujarati speaking communities with the world.
Gujarati videos going viral on social media and memes created in regional Gujarati dialects have spread the meanings, references, contexts and expressions of their culture and communities to the larger audience beyond the language barriers. You might remember the viral video of “Rasode me kaun tha? Main thi? Tum thi? Rashiben thi?” Now the impact of Gujarati words like ‘Rasoda’ and ‘Ben’ on Hindi expression is clearly visible to all. In the same manner, mediums like films, web series, various national and international political, social, and cultural events have influenced Gujarati expressions too.
Challenges of lexical adulteration
Mainstream Gujarati language has been affected by the regional dialects from Saurashtra, Surat, and other regions of Gujarat due to WhatsApp communications, which contaminate the expression. E.g. the sentence “Buffalo has horns.” is written correctly in Gujarati as ‘Bhensne shingda hoy chhe.’ (‘ભેંસને શિંગડા હોય છે.’) However, due to regional influence, now it is miswritten as ‘Bhensne shingda hoi chhe.‘ Another example is a sentence for ‘We are going’, which is written correctly in Gujarat as ‘Ame jaie chhie‘ (‘અમે જઈએ છીએ.’), but now one can see ‘Ame jaie chhe.‘ (‘અમે જઈએ છે.’) Instead of ‘chhie’ (છીએ), ‘chhe’ (છે) is written, which is incorrect adulteration.
Further, the influence of news & entertainment mediums and limitations of using technology correctly also adds to such adulterations of Gujarati. E.g. It is observed in many Gujarati advertisements and public writings that the Gujarati word ‘dwara’ (‘દ્વારા’- By or via) is mistyped as ‘drara’ (‘દ્રારા’). It shows that the typist or the writer is unaware of proper use of Gujarati keyboard functions.
There has been an increase in Gujarati news, entertainment TV channels, FM Radio stations, and their audiences. However, the scriptwriters, newsreaders, TV anchors, RJs of these mediums are using English, Hindi words more often unnecessarily, because in most of the situation those English or Hindi words in their expression can easily be replaced by Gujarati words, which are widely used for communication, but they are unaware of their usages. However, expression in fusion is the current trend that entertains masses like a tasteful delicacy; such adulteration does not enrich the language but interferes with its beauty.
Education and Gujarat
One major disconnect between Gujarati children and language is that Gujarati parents’ preference for admitting their children into English medium schools for education. Gujarati becomes just a language subject for them, and they do not develop their thinking process in the Gujarati language. It is also a matter of concern that Gujarati dictionaries have not been updated for many years, and the practice of spotting the influence of foreign words on Gujarati expression is missing.
Effective use of technology for language expression
It would be unfair to blame only technology for the degradation of language. Technology also provides an option to ensure correct expression in a language. Google keyboard in android mobile phones offers voice typing in Gujarati and many more languages. This helps in correcting spelling mistakes while typing due to the correct feed from digital dictionaries.
Changing global and social phenomena also contribute naturally to the inclusion of new words in the public vocabulary. The Covid-19 pandemic is the most relevant example of present time. Words like ‘Social distancing’, ‘Quarantine’, ‘Do gaj ki doori’, ‘mask’ have already become a part of daily Gujarati communication.
Representing Gujarati culture globally through technology
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, that language is like a flowing river, reflecting an era and a culture of its speakers. We need to ensure that the flowing river does not get polluted in the name of fusion and modernity. We also need to enrich our thesaurus with words from other languages appropriately to enhance our Gujarati language. While the world is advancing towards virtual reality, artificial intelligence, we have to maintain the Gujarati language’s cultural legacy, beauty, expression of thought effectively even with these future technologies.
April 8, 2021 — magnon