Language Classes Bridge Sikh Generational Divide

Posted on: 05/01/2010

There’s a lasting link between the 35-character alphabet used to write Punjabi and the Sikh religion.

The Sikh scriptures and the Punjabi language of many Sikhs were written in a script known as Gurmukhi. So to be fully initiated into the religion, you must know how to read it.

That has created a problem for the Sikh community of Livingston. Their children, many of whom speak only English, aren’t able to understand the temple’s priests — let alone some of their own family members.

The problem, increasingly common in many Sikh communities, is threatening to create a cultural, linguistic and religious divide between generations, said several local Sikhs and the Sikh media. It’s also a threat to the continuance of the religion among second- and third-generation Sikh immigrants.

But since April, because of the effort of a group of Sikhs in Livingston, 50 to 60 children have been taking weekly Punjabi classes.

And recently the group was given a more permanent home at Selma Herndon Elementary School. Henry Escobar, the Livingston superintendent of schools, has provided the Punjabi classes the use of several classrooms at the school.

“The kids were losing out,” said Kirpal Singh Grewal, one of the people who helped organize the language classes. “There was no opportunity for them to attend some classes, so they didn’t really know the language.”

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