That incident was a jolt to me. It set me thinking about the crisis that Tamil as a medium of education is facing. Lot of people think of Tamils as language chauvinists, and there is a truth in that the way our leaders act. After all the Tamils were amongst the first people to fight the imposition of Hindi, way back in 1965. The Dravidian parties came to power based on that issue and have been ruling the state since then. They have taken measures to keep the language flourishing - establishing a Tamil University, making it compulsory for all government officials to sign in Tamil, getting the Central Government to declare Tamil as a classical language and so on. Some of these were constructive, most were half baked ideas and just crowd pleasers, but atleast some sort of a step towards their proclaimed aim.
But it is in the last 40 years that a change in mindset has taken place in common place Tamils. You hardly find anybody sending their children to Tamil Medium schools. Every one wants their kid to study in an English Medium school. Other than the Government schools and some of the older educational institutions, you can hardly find any new private Tamil Medium schools.
The Tamil people seem to have decided that it is better for their kids to learn English. I am not talking about the cities only, even in towns like Tuticorin or Karur or Udumalpet this is the case. The market has decided that studying in an English medium school is a better option. The cities have taken this further, Tamil is not even considered for a second language. The choice of second language is either Hindi (will help the kid when he goes across India to work) or Sanskrit/French ( you get more marks in the Board exams since even those who correct the papers don't know these languages perfectly).
If left to the market, Tamil as a written language might not live in Tamilnadu for more than three generations. Already we have a generation of Tamils who proudly declare that they can't read or write Tamil. This situation is not unique to Tamil alone. From what I read, it is true of most vernacular languages in India. The market is enamored only by two languages - Hindi and English.
The immediate provocation for this post came from this Outlook article.
So, how does a language become extinct? Besides the obvious reason of a depleting population of speakers, small languages face a subtler but more pervasive threat when its speakers are exposed to a more dominant speech form—they often find their mother tongue socially inferior and economically unrewarding. This leaves them with no choice but to switch to the majority language for better integration and economic opportunity
In such a situation should the state support the languages or should it leave to the market to decide? I don't know. The free marketer in me says that the market is the best arbiter. The Tamil in me says that Government actions are needed to keep the language flourishing. Is there an answer or is my language destined to whither away?