Ashok R . Kelkar





Our 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.


The other 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---



(1)               Language is both a man-made and a nature made medium.

(2)               As a means it communicates the contents of the human mind, as a medium it orders them.

(3)               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.


Computer Language


            It 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?


(1)                This quasi-language is wholly man-made.

(2)                 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.

(3)                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.



(1)     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.

(2)     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 turned factorum.


(3)     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.

(4)     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.


            The computer does far more than compute. No wonder the French call it an ordinateur.


(5)     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.


The 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 the printer.


(6)     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 letters.


            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 complex.


            In 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.


            What do we do to ensure that we are on friendly terms with the computer and that the inferiority complex that brings about the distancing gets eradicated?


            Our human 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.


            Otherwise, 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 programmes.


            Again, otherwise 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 debility.


            Bringing 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.





            The occasion for the essay was the seminar cum exhibition entitled  ‘Sanganakā 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).