Use of dignified language in media It's the problem of media, not language
21 Oct, 2019
Every civilisation is identified with the use of language. History of human society has witnessed that the power determines the language for the society or the language of the rulers prevails. Nepali language not only has style, accent and taste, it also has the hierarchy. Recently, a debate has been erupted following Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli's comment, for the second time, that the media should use the dignified and formal language in their writings. In his comment this week, he said the journalists do not use respectful language even for their father. In this backdrop, senior journalists and linguists deliberated on the issue at the 'Gorkhapatra Sambad' – a weekly dialogue. Journalists Dhruba Hari Adhikary and Govinda Adhikari, and Linguist Sharat Chandra Wasti said that the media industry should set its standards for itself and the recent debate is a problem more of the media than the language. Excerpts:
Journalism must lead the society: Sharat Chandra Wasti
I want to thank Prime Minister K.P Sharma Oli for his concerns regarding (Nepali) language used by the media. His concerns on distorting the language by the media are praiseworthy. So, I am always in the line of Prime Minister Oli that media have to use ‘tapain’, a respectful form of address in Nepali in news. The media should represent the society. So, at a time when the society is using ‘tapain’ to a respected persons, only the media have been using ‘timi’ which has no connection with respect of the person. That is against the expectation of the society. By using ‘tapain’ no media will recognise as respecting autocrats. Likewise, no media will become inferior by using the respectful address. Journalism must lead the society, but it does not mean that it must do a revolution. So, the use of ‘timi’ by the media is a revolution done by them, but it is not acceptable for the society. The media people think that society accepts the term ‘ timi’ because the people never raise voice against the term used by the media. This is the illusion of the media people. So, the media must be broader and pave a wider way for the society to move forward. The media think only the issues they raised and said are true and everyone has to accept it. But I think it is only the insensitivity towards language. It is miserable that we could not save richness of our language. We have a mind-set that something spoken in English is good. Due to that the media have been using the term ‘timi’, influenced by the ‘you’ used in English. Journalists are using the same term to address all people because they are unable to identify what term should be used to respect the people according to their personality. It is like a change of the form of the dictionary word by one who cannot understand the term properly. But in my opinion, journalists must not communicate by using unsuitable address. I am surprised to see some journalists address a person in face to face conversation with ‘tapain’ and the same journalist addresses the same person with ‘timi’ while writing news. There are many words that can be used as the second person pronoun by only using ‘timi’, but is the paucity of our language. Not only in Nepal, people across the globe, respect their own language. So, the media persons must know that the language’s richness is our property and it is our responsibility to protect it. And if we feel the use of ‘timi’ and ‘tapai’ shows varying hierarchy in society, we can set a standard on ‘tapain’. Addressing people with respectful word does show weakness of the media. I think, it is not a problem of language itself, but it is the problem the journalists who use it in such a manner. Some media people think that the government body like Press Council Nepal should issue a guideline regarding the use of word to address a person. But I am totally against this idea. The media must change themselves before such order is issued.
Media industry can set standards for itself: Govinda Adhikari
The Prime Minister has his own style of rhetoric, so it is not necessary to make a prolonged debate on the topic. But I am still confused whether the PM had targeted the social media as well. Nepali media is using both styles of language while addressing the political leaders and other people since the Panchayat day. Earlier, Shailaja Acharya, Shahana Pradhan were addressed with less-respectful language while their junior male leaders were addressed in a more dignified way. There was also a debate whether the king and royal members should be addressed with the same terms as the common people. Most of the old languages around the globe have the hierarchy in language. But most of them have started using common language for all classes. It's been two decades since 'Timi' (you) was used in Nepali media. Most of the media channels use it now. High government representatives did not complain about the language in the past. This is the first instance. This raises a question, where are we heading? The society has revived the use of 'Timi' in family even to the parents. It has just begun to reject the regal words being in use for the last couple of decades. And we have rulers that demand to address them in a more dignified way. I don't know whether it is a wish of the rulers to show themselves different or special than others or above the general society. This raises another question, what are we for – equitable society or hierarchical society? I don't think we need to move to the so called 'dignified' use of language in media. The media has a type of standards for the language, and it's not difficult to use 'Tapain' instead of 'Timi' but the people who are seeking 'Tapain' now may demand 'Hajur' (highly respectful address) later. Nepal Academy, some years ago, had suggested issuing directives for the use of language. Talking about the extremes, the state can control the use of language or words even in the social media. Posts with certain words can be restricted from publication. I don't think we should stick to certain tradition and cultures as I was trained in progressive politics during the Panchayat regime. I may sound odd in this regard. It is difficult to set a common standard for such a diverse society like Nepal. However, the entire media industry or house can set standards for themselves, it would be more appropriate. The media should find a better way itself and it’s the matter of the society whether to accept it or not. The last judge of the media content is the audience so journalists must try to satisfy them.
Media is the trendsetter in language use: Dhruba Hari Adhikary
It is a valid demand by the Prime Minister for the use of dignified language in the media. Mass media is an effective tool of socialisation but as the former editor of Gorkhapatra said once, even though the media has the fundamental duty of educating the masses, it's a guide not the teacher. We are trendsetter in the society in terms of using language. I think the media should recognise the level of intellectuality, education and awareness of the people whom it serves. Apart from Nepali, Maithili, Bhojpuri, Tamang, Urdu and much other language has words to show higher respect to people of higher rank in the government and society. However, in principle or practice, the everyday language should be used in the media writing. Nepali is a prosperous language and offers much opportunity in the use of language in different contexts, and we should take a pride in the richness of it instead of feeling inferior against any other international language. The mode of address also denotes the intimacy, friendliness and other relations in the society. We use the terms that are considered less respectful to the juniors and minors out of affection not because we want to humiliate them. Poets have used the term 'Tan', the least respectful word in Nepali that is equivalent to English word 'thou', even for the God, and they say it doesn't show disrespect to the almighty but expresses affection. We must be open to the alternatives of the language and must not force the language to shrink. When we talk about the media, it is not only the newspapers but also the electronic media channels including the internet. When we talk about electronic media, they are divided over the use of dignified words to address someone. I have seen some paradox as well - some television channels have the tendency to use dignified language for foreign head of states and governments but not for the Nepali counterparts. It is not that we don't have any standards of language for Nepali media. I appreciate the Gorkhapatra for its untiring efforts to set standards for the industry in the country. Therefore, it must not forget its role to guide the industry. There are many people who have learnt the language and writing from the Gorkhapatra. It has created a standard for the people and other media. Language is an element of identity of any country or society. When an individual is elected with the majority vote of people aged above 18 years of age and becomes a minister, he must be respected in every address. This is the trend across the globe. But such language must not be imposed by any entity or authority. Honorific like Mr. is used in the western media as well. The media across the globe try to maintain decency. The media should develop a capacity to persuade people and institutions in terms of the use of language and other areas of interest. It must change and update its style book on a periodical basis.