It has always been my conviction that Indian parents who train their children to think and talk in English from their infancy betray their children and their country. They deprive them of the spiritual and social heritage of the nation, and render them to that extent unfit for the service of the country. – Gandhi, The Story of My Experiments with Truth.
I recently discovered the blog Baby Loves Books (from which I borrowed the above epigraph), in which a Tamil-and-Hindi-and-English-speaking mother writes about multilingualism and books for the youngest readers. I became particularly interested when she mentioned that Tamil also has a high “literary” form as well as a colloquial, and that she has come down on the side of a formal or semi-formal literature for children.
In the post, “Children’s Books in Mother Tongue – Formal Vs Informal,” she says (and I think you could substitute “Arabic” for “Tamil” in most cases):
I guess, it may not matter initially, as long as children are reading something – anything – in their mother tongue or at least making an effort to. …. But, when it comes to a language like Tamil, where the spoken and written forms differ so vastly, and which has several dozens, if not hundreds of dialects and countless colloquialisms characterizing each geographical location, community or generation…it’s sure to be very challenging to find a common written format that will appeal to all.
Also, we know that this kind of ‘informal’ Tamil is easy for kids to pick up anyway, since that’s what they use on a day to day basis at home and are exposed to in movies, on TV and through various outlets of pop culture. …
However, you can’t say the same about ‘formal’ or pure Tamil. If we don’t consciously make an attempt to expose kids to pure Tamil( as pure as it gets these days, anyway), there’s not much chance they’re going to learn it. And only the child’s parents can determine how important or insignificant that exposure is.
She has decided, in the end, to read to her daughter in a “semi-formal” Tamil, something I assume is similar to a simplified (fun) MSA. And she reports some success with her daughter:
I’d say the language in most of these is semi formal, but not so stiff that kids won’t enjoy it. At first, my daughter found words like ‘Muzhangiyathu’ and ‘Magizhchi’ amusing. Now, she’s got used to the sounds and words and likes using them. She’s figured out that that’s probably not the way we speak but that it’s the way Tamil is written. Given the fact that my daughter may never learn formal Tamil literature, syntax or texts in the traditional sense, the only way for me to introduce her to ‘literary Tamil’ at least to a small degree is by means of such books.
I believe the above also neatly responds to the argument that “they already know Arabic,” and thus it’s more important to learn English (or French, or Mandarin Chinese). While one’s children might “already know” spoken Arabic, that doesn’t mean they can read literary Arabic. And what are they losing out on if they can’t?