By Sheshu Babu*
‘To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country,to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from western nomenclature , and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population ‘
— Thomas B. Macaulay (“Country, class dialect”)
With the increase in dogmatism and religion indoctrination the need to spread scientific education has become more significant to the common people. This need was very much recognised by the architects of constitution and specifically dealt in Article 51 A which promotes scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform. Jawaharlal Nehru coined the term ‘scientific temper’ in his book ‘Discovery of India’ (Pushpa M. Bhargava , January 17, 2015, thehindu.com). But, the present scientists show vey little concern for science and its role in life.
Science and people
The awareness of science and knowledge of science to common people is essential not only to come out of blind beliefs and ancient customs but also to think logically and try to react with reason to major events affecting them. Last year, in Bengaluru, an event organized by Breakthrough Science Society saw gathering of scientists, academicians, students and even common citizens joining to promote science (yes to scientific temper, no to superstition … Monolisa Das, August 10, 2017,the newsminute.com) . The March for Science discussed increase in funding to science sector and enacting policies on the basis of evidence – based science.
Terminology in local languages
To teach people of local languages, science should be made easy to understand. There are many terms which must be translated into other languages so that the subject could be explained in vernacular language along with the terminology used in science and technology. As an effort to ‘ democratize science’ , scientists have joined hands to expand vocabulary of science in Kannada and Tamil (Shreya Roy Chowdhury, June 18, 2018, scroll.in). Mandram, an organization formed last September to facilitate’ sharing of great ideas’ in local languages, mainly Tamil, has collaborated with Bangalore Life Sciences Cluster, a set of three institutions of research that share a campus to organise a series of lectures on science in Tamil and Kannada languages.
The speakers gave their accounts of difficulty in learning science in Local languages and switching over to English after schooling. They also spoke of the need to spread the zeal for learning science in rural areas. The Jigyasa project has taken steps to popularize vernacular vocabulary so that common men and women can develop interest in studying science and engineering in local medium without difficulty .
As most scientific terms are English or have roots in Greek or Latin, they cannot be easily translated into local languages. Some of the words may not exactly match their English counterparts as the vocabulary of scientific terminology is limited. Thus, a lot of study is needed to coin words which give exact and appropriate meaning in local languages. Even teachers should be trained to teach all the scientific content in local language with ease and accuracy.
But, there are numerous benefits. By coining new words, the local languages will become richer and science can reach ordinary folk in remote areas. Since the medium of study and expression is in mothertongue, a child faces little difficulty and even in higher education, he or she can grasp any complex subject without much trouble. Translation of terms into vernacular language can assist even an ordinary person who does not have sufficient English proficiency a great scientist with equal reputation. Science in native speech can have tremendous impact on the social and cultural life of society.
The vast majority of people in India cannot afford English education in scientific studies as most institutes are controlled by rich elite corporates. They cater to upper rich and middle class and caste. Rural folk, slum dwellers and urban poor need cheap education in their native language. Science must be accessible to all.
The ease of giving scientific information in Hindi to villagers has been explained in an article by Ram Mishra (“Science in vernacular language: a boon or bane “, posted September 2012, indiabioscience.org) . He could easily communicate with villagers near Banares due to his knowledge in Hindi background which made him explain his scientific work and make them understand all the terms. He also translated many English scientific paper into Hindi. Therefore, language is not a barrier to learn science.
Projects of translating scientific vocabulary from English to indigenous languages must continue to strive for developing scientific material accessible to common people. This is crucial for building scientific society and rationalism. The obscure dogmatic religious bigotry can be eliminated only through the teaching of science to common people in both urban and rural areas.
*Writer from anywhere and every where, whenever he ponders on the question ‘who am I?’, he gets some response in Assamese lyric singer Bhupen Hazarika number ‘Ami ek jajabor’