Learn Punjabi On Learning A Language (Learning Punjabi)


1947-2014 (Archived)
On learning a language

An Introduction to Punjabi: Grammar, Conversation and Literature
By Gurinder Singh Mann, Gurdit Singh, Ami P. Shah, Gibb Schreffler and Anne Murphy.
Publication Bureau, Punjabi University, Patiala.
Pages 354. Rs 700.
Reviewed by Tejwant Singh Gill

THIS book is a manual on teaching of Punjabi as a foreign language. Its primary author, Professor Gurinder Singh Mann, heads Chair for Sikh Studies at the University of Santa Barbara, USA. This position enjoins upon him to do research work on the history and religion of the Sikhs. His work in this field goes beyond narration and description, and is chiefly concerned with analysis and evaluation.

New concerns and renewed insights have convinced him that the Punjabi people, migrating abroad, can acquire visibility at a great risk to their historical past. This risk forces them to renounce their culture and forget their language. Such a visibility cannot enable them to claim presence without which their humanity is at stake. Holding onto the residual elements of their past can bring them no solace. The real solace can come only from emergent reorientation, for which the learning of their own language through skills forged and methods developed abroad is indeed a categorical imperative.

To feel the need of this imperative is good enough, but to realise it in concrete form is so very creditable. The author has full claim to this credit, which might have eluded him if worthy associates had not supplanted his cause. Of the four associates, two are Americans by birth and one is an Indian of Gujarati origin. Only one is a Sikh who can claim Punjabi as his native tongue. Interestingly enough, such associates, with their differing background, have been helpful in preparing this manual aimed at the teaching of Punjabi as a foreign language.

How teaching of Punjabi as a foreign language varies from the learning of it as a native language is the issue the author and his associates have faced and resolved in an ingenious way. The learning of a native language is spontaneous and it precedes its deliberate teaching. Utterance is its essential mode that is not identical with forming a sentence. A single word may stand for a sentence. Its utterance in low, medium or high tone may convey varied sense. It is not so in the teaching of a language, particularly when it is of a foreign origin, where grasping the meanings of words, using them in sentences framing a conversation are taught to those for whom being students comes before becoming learners.

Spontaneous learning can flourish the most in the milieu, the aspects and facets of which are not just denoted but more so are connoted by words inhabiting the concerned language. Such a milieu is not available in foreign countries, which are being flocked by the Punjabi people from India and Pakistan. Their visibility is increasing but it can grow into presence only if their contact with Punjabi language gets revitalised. Ironically enough, it is getting devitalised even in the Indian and Pakistani Punjab.

Well-intentioned individuals in England, Canada and the US have been trying to meet this eventuality. Manuals meant to teach Punjabi are circulating, mostly used in religious places to acquaint children of migrant families from Punjab with the script of their native language so as to enable them to speak fluently and read it correctly. However, these perfunctory manuals do not enable them to write in Punjabi effectively and veritably. This is essential for not just the competence but also the disposition to do so can replenish their communication and expression to be original in the etymological sense, beyond what it is usually taken to be different in the metaphorical sense.

It is to cultivate the second type of originality that this manual, product of a decade’s diligence, has its cherished aim. It is very comprehensive in scope and range. It begins by acquainting the student with the Gurmukhi alphabet and trudging through the dissemination of grammar, diction and syntax, and culminates in literary appreciation of poetry and prose. Coherence determines the trajectory of this plan, which does get cohesive at places only when overreaching gets the better of explication. This happens as a result of effort flatly meant to underline the specificity of a speaker. Rather than covertly suggest his/her religious faith, is overtly emphasised.

The whole manual is divided into two parts. The first part deals with the script, phonology, tenses, voices, tones and sentence-formation. They are dealt with in all their variety and diversity. There comes to mind no aspect or facet which may have been left out advertently or inadvertently. Twenty lessons exhaust the whole scheme, and at the end of each there are exercises for the student to attempt in the light of acumen gathered from grasping the lessons. This enables the student to grow into a learner. In this way, spontaneous learning changes into conscious learning through the impulse generated by deliberate teaching.

The second part, Language through Literature, comprises two sections. In the first section are poems portraying the terrain of Punjab. To begin with, it is portrayed as both beautiful and bountiful. It is an idyllic state that charms both the Hindu and the Muslim poets. Then figure poems by Mohan Singh and others who put the romantic nature of its people over the performance of rites and rituals. From the exterior, it is a probing of the interior that assumes stark proportion under the gruesome burden of Partition. Amrita Pritam’s poems voice this starkness in haunting words. Towards the end are poems by modern poets Pash, Surjit Patar and others who express the sense of quandary and dislocation that has overwhelmed the feelings and emotions of the Punjabi people, inhabiting both the Punjabs and beyond where they have migrated to experience visibility sans presence.

However, the second section, comprising Punjabi prose, pales in comparison. The great prose writers, Bhai Vir Singh, Gurbax Preetlari and Sant Singh Sekhon, who caused epistemological break in Punjabi prose, are not included. The students, turned into learners, miss being cognitive. Vernacular Literature offers interesting material but without fully portraying the contradictions and paradoxes inhering the commonsense of the Punjabi people. However, these flaws are only as dark spots on the moon. Otherwise, like the beauty of the moon, the value of the manual is unflawed.



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1947-2014 (Archived)
I was thrilled to see this book review. Finally! Based on my own academic training in psycholinguistics I have suspected for several years that the teaching of Punjabi to non-native speakers and youngsters in the diaspora contradicts research on language acquisition. It simply does not compute. I cannot wait to read this book. When I retire my plan is to make this my research agenda. So exciting.


1947-2014 (Archived)
And after last week, I hope to be alive long enough to write up my results. Thank you. japposatnamwaheguru: This is btw Gurinder Singh Mann of California US, not UK.

Gyani Jarnail Singh

Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
And after last week, I hope to be alive long enough to write up my results. Thank you. japposatnamwaheguru: This is btw Gurinder Singh Mann of California US, not UK.

Share your joy that finally "that Satt Var" has ended !! On a good note ha ha

and yes the Gurinders have 2 more differences other than the Atlantic separating them...the USA one is dastaardharee and beleives ONLy in SGGS..the Olde country one is Clean shaven and beleives very strongly in DSM Granth...surprisingly the "argument frequently given that there is no Khalsa sans dsm granth..had no effect on the uk mann.

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