With the Government's imminent nod to the Bharat Bhasha Vikas Yojana, the Central Institute of Indian Languages is working to help preserve our endangered languages

We have 22 languages recognised by the Constitution, rather a sizeable figure by the world standards. Yet, we have so many craving for State attention, some on the verge of extinction now, some already lost due to deficiency of organised support. Looks like there is a ray of hope now.

Bharat Bhasha Vikas Yojana, the ambitious project of the Central Institute of Indian Languages — the nodal agency of the Union Government which works for the development of our languages — to help save our minor and endangered languages (it runs up to 198), is finally all set to be taken out of the cold storage and implemented. “I was in Delhi last week, the Government (Ministry of Human Resources) has agreed on the Yojana in principle. We are waiting for the formal nod,” says G. Devi Prasad Sastry, the head of CIIL's Centre for Tribal and Endangered Languages. Submitted to the Government in 2006, it was to get approval in April 2010.

Nevertheless, a buoyant Sastry and his team are now putting their minds together to formulate a master plan to help States preserve the languages on the verge of extinction. “The first thing to do is to work out a policy, what should be the criteria, how we should go about it. We plan to go phase-wise, year-wise. Since education is a State subject, it is the States which will have to finally do the job under our supervision,” he says. The States will identify the languages to be preserved but Sastry is clear that the priority will be to preserve the most endangered ones first.

“We will work from the bottom to top. The world of languages is also like the animal world. The small fish is eaten up by the big fish and the big fish by the bigger fish. For example, take Andhra Pradesh. A tribal language speaker will learn Telugu but a Telugu speaker will learn English, not the tribal language. At the end you see that that particular tribal language is the most affected one.” Since the minor languages are not taught in schools and colleges, there are hardly any job openings for those learning them. “There has to be some impetus. When a possible language learner sees that he/she is not getting anything out of it, it diminishes their interest in the language,” he points out.

This is where the Yojana will try and make a difference. It will help create trained manpower within the communities at different levels with State machinery that could sustain development programmes by owning up CIIL's joint work with them. “It is the most critical component,” states Udaya Narayan Singh, former director of CIIL during whose tenure the proposal was submitted to the Government. In future, with constant nurturing, these non-scheduled languages can come up to be a part of the second language options in schools, etc. thereby generating job opportunities too. “Several of these languages have produced literary work of great merit. But many of them have been facing threat of extinction mainly due to the absence of educational institutions employing these languages,” says Singh.

The proposal quite efficiently builds a case for the endangered languages highlighting the fact that “only 22 languages receive Central and State patronage. But there are 100-odd languages with at least 10,000 speakers which wait for their turn to receive the fruits of development.” Sahitya Akademi, the National Book Trust, the Central and State universities, the language academies, it underlines, promote only the scheduled and classical languages, “and not more than that.”

“Even within the scheduled languages there are so many variations but they do not attract attention. For instance, in Hindi, there are 53 mother tongues but only the mother language gets Government patronage,” points out Sastry, who took over the centre at CIIl two years ago.

Though happy to note that the Yojana will finally begin, Singh points out yet another crucial issue which he had earlier mentioned in the proposal too. “Over the years, the manpower at CIIL has reduced drastically. From over 150 faculty, CIIL has now become an institution with less than a dozen faculty members. You need people to make a project successful.”

About reaping results from the Yojana, Sastry is unwilling to put a deadline. “Language promotion is a continuous process, it can't have a deadline.”