Barely four people, the oldest among them a 70-year-old tribal, speak a language which is on the brink of extinction. Spoken in a tiny village in Tripura, ‘Saimar’ has been identified as a “severely” endangered language.

The old man, Sukurthang Saimar, who was the guest of honour at the 44th Foundation Day of the Central Institute of Indian Languages here, was overjoyed when he was honoured by eminent linguists on Tuesday.

Welcoming Mr. Saimar, CIIL Deputy Director, R. Subbukrishna, said: “This small group of Saimar-speaking people has sent Sukurthang to Mysore, as CIIL wanted to collect data from him [through a translator] on the language for its archive.”

According to CIIL, the four Saimar-speaking persons belong to an isolated tribe.

Nandakumar Deb Burman, president, Kokborok Sahitya Sabha, Tripura, who brought the septuagenarian, along with his grandson, to Mysore, said Mr. Saimar is one among the 18 groups of the Halam tribe.

Mr. Burman, who is involved in Bhasha Mandakini with CIIL, said he could understand the Saimar language, but couldn’t speak it. There is little dialectical difference in the languages spoken by the 18 Halam groups.

He said Saimar is spoken only at Gantachera village. The people speaking this language are agricultural labourers and farmers. “Saimar is hard to speak because some of the words are difficult to pronounce.”

In 2009, there were approximately 25 Saimar-speaking tribals, and today only four are remaining — Mr. Sukurthang Saimar, his wife, grandson and a senior lady.

Mr. Sukurthang Saimar became emotional when he was asked to address the gathering in his language. He came to the podium and spoke in a loud voice. Though he spoke a few words, the message (translated into English by Mr. Burman) was very strong.

“My language and community are in danger. I appeal to the people of this country to help protect and preserve my language,” he said.