LANGUAGE AND OUR LANGUAGE
language is quite familiar to us, at any rate it is closer to us than
computer language, so that’s where one should begin.
What precisely is language?
A variety of things pass through the human
mind these may be more or less exact observations of reality (it’s
raining, drizzling, pouring). Or observations on reality ranging from
delighted to sour ones (ah, rain or rain, oh no). Or hopes and wish
(when the corn is ripe positively no rain, I wish I knew if rain is
going wash the match our tomorrow).
Or plain demands (rain rain go to Spain, let me know how many
millimeters of rain there was yesterday). It is in order to convey
these contents of the mind to one Another, to keep up a social give
and take, so runs conventional wisdom, that man invented and perfected
language as a means of communication. But that is not quite the case.
At best this is but a half-truth.
half goes something like this: langue is not just a means but a medium
as well It does not merely convey mental contents, it arranges them,
indeed even shapes them. Small children enter into language simply
as listeners to begin with. Speaking
comes some-what later. In the interval they don’t merely come to recognize
sounds and sound sequences.
Even as they listen, these sound sequences, words that is,
come to be associated with contexts, and, what is more, the observations,
responses, hopes and wishes, demands big and small arising in their
minds come in for impressions and reshapings. Of course the ordering
of mental contents goes on even otherwise, but the language medium
certainly gives it a fillip. The contents being the same, their form
may differ according to the language. In Hindi a child has its nānājī
and dādājī; in Marathi, however, the child comes into
this world with two ajobās (grandfathers). In Marathi a dream
language-imparted forms are the same, at least fairly similar from
language to langue. After all, this is just what makes translation
(even if only a working translation) possible between languages. To
take a contrary case, such is simply not the case between language
and music, which begins where language ends. Another aspect that needs
to be taken into account is the speed and case with which a child
acquires language. Most of the time the child just jumps to conclusions
with only bits and pieces by way of cues. For example, if the child
goes by the rule: words placed together hang together in sense and
words hanging together in sense get placed together, it’s not As if
the child is making a wild guess.
(Compare āyā nahīn, gayā with āyā gayā
nahīn,). The striking inter translatability of languages and
the ready entry of a child into language are two considerations that
lead us to the conclusion that language as a medium is more than man-made
it is substantially nature-made too.
Our language is all too familiar to us. And yet that does not ensure by any means that
we understand what it is. The very first step to understanding what
language is to become aware of this dual nature of it---
Language is both a man-made and a nature made medium.
As a means it communicates the contents of the human mind, as a medium
it orders them.
As it effects communication language helps the people to know one
another: as it brings about ordering it helps people to know the world
they live in.
is time we get to know the language of the computer. To tell the truth,
a computer has no language, at best it has a quasi-language. What
then are the characteristics of this quasi-language?
This quasi-language is wholly man-made.
It doesn’t handle the contents
of the human mind. Rather it handles information, data useful to man.
It is this usefulness to man that remotely connects the quasi-language
to the contents of the human mind.
The computer both orders this data and communicates it. The quasi-language
serves as a medium of ordering and as a means of communication.
So we have to get to know step by step the computer
no less than computer language.
Even if computer language
is a quasi-language, the computer
is not a quasi-human. (It people on familiar terms with it call it
a ‘She’ the way car-lovers call cars, that‘s neither here nor there.
The computer handles data, not mental contents, by means of the quasi-language.
But the data can be connected with various kinds of contents.
That’s what makes a factotum out of a computer.
The porter bearing loads
has no interest in knowing whether the box being carried has in it
bolts of cloth or precious stones or a corpse. As we do arithmetic
in school we make an interesting discovery the sums we do are the
same no matter whether they have to do with rupees and pounds, work,
time, and speed, or whatever. It is just the same way with the computer
The computer effects storage, retrieval, and processing of the data.
No matter what it does, it has to be supplied with a programme. It
is a dumb complier. The computer
is no Jeeves.
Storage, retrieval, and processing are kinds of ordering of data that
are recognized by man as distinct for his own convenience. They make No difference to the technical hardware
that carries them out computing is only an elementary kind of ordering.
computer does far more than compute. No wonder the French call it
The computer does not merely order the data but it also quasi-communicates it-to man, to another computer, even to other
man-made machines. Actually, this is no communication on data at all
but merely transfer of data.
input of data from man comes through channels such as punch-cards
or Keyboards, while the output of data to man goes through channels
such as the printer, the screen, the speaker, to the imager. You must
have heard about the mini-computer fitted into a photographic camera.
It gets input on the light available from one part of the camera and
sends decision outputs to another part of the camera. Data transfer
then is of two kinds – for recognition and for control.
That’s exactly how the computer deals with the keyboard or
Data ordering, data transfer, recognition, and control are kinds of
computer functions that are recognized as distinct by man for his
own convenience. Hey make no difference to the
mathematics of these operation.
Such then is this factotum and dumb complier
of a computer and its quasi-language. A little thought should bring
it home to us that, if man is to use the computer with ease and confidence,
the quasi-language should mesh well with our living language on the
one hand and with the technical hardware devices on the other hand.
The computer scientist worries about the former meshing and the computer
engineer about the latter. Thanks
to the imaginative effects of computer engineers we can grandly speak
of computer generations. That can be accomplished laboriously or not
at all for one generation of computers may be child’s play for a later
generation. misconception Computer scientists need to be constantly posted on
these technical developments.
Marrying the two languages
The important thing to keep in mind
is the need for a close tie between human language and the quasi-language
of the computer. In the absence of such a close tie either of two
things will happen.
Either too much will be expected from the computer or too little.
On the one hand, the computer will be mistaken
for a magic box that permits one to take leave of one’s capacity to
think, and the naďve client will lose sight of the fact that the computer
sight of the fact that the computer is but a dumb complier. On the
other hand, the client, forgetting that the computer is a factotum,
will be content with such meager tasks as calculations or typing of
Whichever the direction of the error, there will be a distancing
between us on the one hand and the computer and computer people on
the other. The distancing is attributable to the misconception about
the computer and the misconception is attributable to our inferiority
the 1980 Marathi Literacy Conference at Barsi I said that the naīve
penchant for English and the blind hatred for it that Marathi speakers
variously exhibit are equally expressions of a deep-seated inferiority
complex. Something similar could be said about the childish craze
for buying a computer and the old-mannish loss of enthusiasm in evidence
after the purchase.
we do to ensure that we are on friendly terms with the computer and
that the inferiority complex that brings about the distancing gets
language has the contents of the human mind for its working capital.
Its versatility lies in its immense flexibility. In ordinary transactions
language depends a good deal on the good sense of the interlocutors.
Bu, if need, be, language can lean towards a certain rigidity, and
decide to leave no room for any misunderstanding rendering everything
with clarity and precision—even if this shift in policy confines language
to a delimited field and robs it of its normal free run of the world.
In short, we temporarily take leave of the ordinary use of
language and resort to the technical, neat and tidy use of language.
It is evident that for t he dissemination and free growth of
science and technology in any society the technical use of language
should gain currency. Any free and easy relationship with the computer
calls for a ready facility to move back and forth between the ordinary
language –use. Then alone a close tie will be established between
the quasi-language of the computer and our own
human language. How do we accomplish this?
“ Tye marthīchiye nagatī ”
ī This means we mustn’t hesitate to make
use of our own language, Marathi, in the computer field. Then alone
we shall find our way to adapting imported programmes to our own special
needs and if need be to setting then aside in favor of new programmes
of our own making.
between us helpless clients and the computer the computer people will
stand like obdurate temple priest rather than user friendly helpful
guides. They would rather dump into our laps imported programmes unsuited
to our needs rather than take the trouble of fashioning innovative
we the clients will be found wanting in an ability to present our needs with precision and clarity to the
intermediaries between us and the computer. Indeed our inability in
this regard may be a want of application on our part. We shall remain
in articulate in ordering and communicating the contents of our minds. The Marathi language and the Marathi speakers will suffer from a
the computer and the Marathi language together is our pressing need
today. To adapt the seven-hundred-year-old words of the great Dnyaneshvar,
in this city of Marathi let computer-lore abound and flourish. If
we fail, then in computer city we shall remain mere onlookers and
porters, dump compliers, at best factotums, but not entrepreneurs,
controllers, or inventors. The call for Marathi is not a call for swadeshi.
Rather the call for Marathi is a call for swaraj, for autonomy.
for the essay was the seminar cum exhibition entitled ‘Sanganakānī Marathi under the auspices of the Marathi Abhyas Parishad at Purne
on 23-24 June 1990. The earlier version appears in Marathi and is included in the author’s collection Madyama pune
: Mehta 1996 . The English version remarks unpublished).