The Role of Folktales in Language Transmission

Sajjad Hussain Tshering

Men, since their evolution on earth, have been inclined towards formation of community through different activities. They hunted together and followed shared agendas to survive in the worst prevailing conditions and to transform the worst situations into better ones for a bright future.  They preferred to live in groups or communities to fight against natural disasters and uncertain conditions. Later on the groups of men transformed into different nations carrying their individual identities and cultures. Their cultural notions worked as glue to keep them together as different nations, and language was the utmost important factor for unity among them.

Language evolves, flourishes, and dies according to the nature of treatment its community renders it. A language flourishes among its speakers and prospers when used frequently in a community for different communication purposes. For centuries man has used language to transfer his culture and history to his new generation by moulding it; sometimes in the form of lectures, discussions or stories. Man has been very much fascinated and comfortable with tales and stories to absorb inevitable changes in social concepts.

If one strolls through the pages of history one finds that storytelling was an essential part of courts in the time of kings and queens. Where Rajas were the rulers, they had the same inclination for storytelling sessions. Storytelling sessions not only attracts the young ones, rather people, irrespective of gender, age, or class, have always been fascinated with it. The culture of storytelling was a culturally and socially constructed phenomenon which commonly brought people together on a platform resulting in sharing and caring perspectives of life. Many nations have used folktales as a tool to propagate their religion and culture with maximum achievement of their objectives. It has been the easiest to access and cheapest medium for entertainment in the past. These beautiful gathering sessions passed on numerous sorts of ethical, religious and cultural beliefs to the new generations and language was one of the most important and hidden part of it.

This tradition was alive till the late 1990s in the suburbs of Skardu city of Gilgit-Baltistan, but unfortunately we are deprived of it now, and at present it seems that no one had ever been aware of it.

Before the arrival of television in Baltistan region, especially Skardu, the common favorite pastime for the natives was to sit together with a storyteller for hours. With the arrival of electronic media, this beautiful culture vanished quietly and we even could not notice its disappearance. The writer himself experienced this miraculous cultural activity in early 1990s, but suddenly everything changed and the notion of storytelling disappeared from the seasonal activities of Skardu! Commonly the young ones used to recount the tales the other day to their young friends with some additions and a bit of deletion, which promoted their creative skills. Unconsciously, the young ones were getting expertise in the use of their mother tongue, but its elimination has heralded the approach of an alarming condition where the already waning Balti language seems to be left with very little hope for its survival!

In retrospect, when the storytellers of the Skardu town were highly regarded and considered very influential in the society for their incredible skills, one could observe the propagation and promotion of Balti language.  The folktales commonly made use of vocabulary items which were not common in the society, but due to their usage in the tales the people would unconsciously make them part of their memory resulting in the promotion of the language.

At present the state is very gloomy as far as Balti lexical items are concerned, many of the youth can neither count nor name family relations in Balti which is very much alarming for a language that is slipping away with a greater pace.

Languages should be flexible and should change according to the time, but if the basic ingredients like; names for family relationships, and names for flora and fauna etc start disappearing, then it is the sign of its embarking towards elimination. One possible way to put a stop on the disappearance of Balti lexical items is to revive the culture of folktales and storytelling sessions once again. We may benefit from the electronic media for the revitalization and stability of existing Balti lexis by arranging folktale sessions. This many not revive the language fully, but it can reduce the pace of elimination!

The contributor is pursuing MS in English Linguistics and Literature at COMSATS, Islamabad. 

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