Languages less spoken

LEXICON: Compiled by Anvita Abbi   | Photo Credit: de03 periscope chitrakshi

The role of language is generally reduced to the assistance it provides in communication, but it is also cultural institution which is an inseparable part of the social and intellectual life of the speaker. What follows is that the death of a language has wider and more dangerous connotations than people would like to believe. The UNESCO Atlas of world’s endangered languages includes 196 languages from the country. We have been reminded time and again that linguistic diversity is disappearing at an alarming rate, even faster than biodiversity. But it was the death of the last speaker of the Bo tribe in 2010 from the Andaman Islands that made the Human Resource Development Ministry initiate steps for preservation of minority dying languages. Anvita Abbi, president, Linguistic Society of India, professor, Centre for Linguistics, Jawaharlal Nehru University and also the person who reported the death of the last Bo speaker says that languages have been lost since the beginning of human civilization but the speed at which the languages are becoming extinct is alarming.

The Ministry has instructed the central universities to create a Centre for Endangered Languages. The instructions were issued and communicated to the universities by the HRD Ministry in 2011, during Kapil Sibal’s tenure as the union minister for HRD. With him being assigned a different portfolio, the implementation phase maybe in jeopardy.

There are various structures which are used to maintain and reproduce unequal power relationships like race, caste etc, language it seems is a form not easily identifiable. There are 22 languages which have been granted recognition in the VIII schedule of the constitution, and these are also the languages which are employed as medium of instruction in education despite the official subscription in Article 350 A to ensure the right to be educated in one’s mother tongue. It is not unusual to find gaps between theory and practice of a said policy, why should language be any different.

Prof Anvita Abbi indicates that the education system is clearly biased towards Hindi and English, in which case the speakers of dominated languages develop disdain towards their mother tongues and start viewing their language as a handicap for it lacks the quality of being translated into material resources. The consequence is that the speakers of such tongues migrate to mainstream languages. English is outsmarting Hindi in terms of preference for learning a common language. Prof GJV Prasad, Professor, Centre for English Studies JNU, feels that one has to acknowledge that proficiency in English grants them (dominated language speakers) social and economic mobility , this unique trait is absent in their respective mother tongues. They no more believe that poverty is their natural state of being. Knowledge of the English language will help them move out of that state, English is seen as an equalizer.

So among the factors discouraging the dominated language speakers to exercise their linguistic human rights are the inexorable fears that their languages do not come with material benefits and that holding on to their mother tongues will retard their economic growth. This is why Anvita Abbi feels that institutionalising support through the centres will be helpful, for it would also initiate employment of teachers from the lower rung of languages, thereby generating income. The centres are expected to aim for speedy documentation of languages on the brink of extinction, which will aid the revitalizing process.

But can the languages survive the onslaught of globalisation, Prof Prasad has a simple answer, a living language is the language in which you earn your living. If the educational and employment structures make this impossible, it automatically impedes the process of revitalization.

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 9:41:24 PM |

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