Today science has become more monoglot than ever, with English assuming near universal dominance. And yet, not very long ago, Newton wrote Principia Mathematica in Latin, Einstein communicated his first influential papers in German and a large extent of Marie Curie’s work was published in French. Communication in English is valuable, as it sets a dais for scientific interactions across the globe and more importantly, prevents varied interpretations of scientific text. However, what we must also realise is that, practising English as a representative science language is ideal in a world where it is our primary language, which is clearly not the case even in the present day.
The Bangalore Life Sciences (BLiSc) Cluster recognised the pressing need for regional Indian languages to feature more often in science communication and has, since, made conscious efforts to drive their initiatives in that direction.
Early in May, BLiSc had organised a talk by Mr. Kollegala Sharma, a scientist-turned communicator, and avid podcaster. Mr. Sharma delivered a talk about engaging people of all walks of life in emerging science discoveries through Kannada dialogue. Serendipitously, at around the same time, Principal Scientific Advisor of India, Prof. K Vijayraghavan also voiced the need to start a conversation with citizens in the language they are comfortable with.
In June, the BLiSc teamed-up with Mandram to organise, “The Jigyasa Project: Speaking Science in Mother Tongues”. Mandram (literally translating to ‘platform’ in Tamil) is the poster-child of Bengaluru-based Maragathavalli Inbamuthiah (Maggie, Director of Communities and Corporate Engagement, AnitaB.org), Ravishankar Venkatesan (Ravi, Filmmaker, Digital transformation Specialist, Infosys), and Hyderabad-based Venkataraman Ramachandran (Venky, Product Manager, iConcept Software Services) and was created to foster creative imaginations in Tamil.
At NCBS, this event included a mix of Tamil and Kannada talks and interactions. The Tamil session kicked-off with Dr. Vatsala Thirumalai speaking about “Electric impulses in the human body”, Mr. Balaji Kutty was next, speaking about, “What is Free Software?” and it ended with Maggie touching upon, “Life's secrets as hidden in atoms”. After an enriching networking break, Mr. Kollegala Sharma reprised himself in Kannada with a talk on, “Science and Language”, choosing to focus this time on how we can practise science in Kannada. Dr. Ravi Muddashetty continued this session with his lecture on “How do we learn? And why do we forget?” and finally, Mr. Anil Jagalur talked about “Intellectual property and the society”.
Talking science in her mother-tongue, Tamil, was a first for Dr. Thirumalai and she remarked how this was an important exercise to start thinking about our science and the impact it has in vernacular languages. Although Maggie is not a physicist, she exemplified how complex theories can be broken down with guidance, slight experience and the interest to go the extra mile. Similarly, Dr. Muddashetty commented on how challenging yet enjoyable it was to deliver a Kannada science talk. Mr. Kollegala Sharma highlighted the fact that science today is a language of its own and it is necessary to break the barrier it poses by using language of the commons. In his talk he revealed that the Nobel Laurate, Dr. Werner Heisenberg’s book on nuclear physics published in 1962, was entirely translated into Kannada within five years. He questioned then, what have we undertaken since this incredible accomplishment?
Needless to say, the event closed with beaming audiences. Children, adults, scientists, the “science-affiliated” parents, administrative staff, and non-scientists found much to discuss and gave resounding feedback. Jigyasa received tremendous response from news outlets such as The Hindu: Metro Plus, The New Indian Express, Bengaluru Citizen Matters, The State: South word, and Scroll.in, to name a few. Clearly, this was a step in the right direction. The BLiSc will continue to tread this path in the future, focussing on more Scicomm endeavours in Kannada, as well as other languages.