Revitalising a language

The cover of Bakkhuhi , a magazine printed in Kurukh.  

Kurukh, an endangered tribal language of the Dravidian family, is set to get a new lease of life in West Bengal. It is spoken by the Oraon tribal community.

“We are taking steps for the recognition of the Kurukh language of the Oraon community who live in Dooars [in north Bengal]… We are proud of our languages. We love and respect all languages,” West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said. The language was given official status in the State last month.

Experts say that while most of the tribal languages in the State have their origins in the Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Barman families, Kurukh is an exception.

“The only example of a tribal language having its origin from the Dravidian family is Malto, which is not spoken in West Bengal, but in the Rajmahal hills of Jharkhand,” Shyam Sundar Bhattacharya, former head of the linguist division of the Office of Registrar-General of India in Kolkata, told The Hindu. He said the Santhali, Munda and Hoe languages belong to the Austro-Asiastic family, while the languages spoken by the Lepcha, Tamang and Bhutia tribes of the Darjeeling hills were of the Tibeto-Burman group.

Jharkhand has recognised Kurukh as a language, and students can write their school final examination in its script. “The decision to allow students to write their school final examination in Kurukh was taken by the Jharkhand government in February 2016. In 2003, the State officially recognised the language and its script,” said Narayan Oraon, one of the leading exponents of the language.

Dr. Oraon, a paediatrician by training, said the Kurukh script reflected the socio-cultural aspects of the tribal community.

“The script is called Tolong Siki. It resembles that of any Dravidian language. We started working on it in 1989. By 1999, the script was ready. In at least two private schools of Jharkhand, students now write the examination in the Kurukh script,” Dr. Oraon said.

According to the 2001 census report (the latest official data on language-speakers), the language is spoken by about 17 lakh persons.

Mr. Bhattacharya said that since the Oraons were in different States, many members of the community picked up languages like Hindi and Bengali.

“To develop and popularise an endangered language like Kurukh, we need a standard script and grammar, a standard dictionary and textbooks,” he said.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 11:34:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/revitalising-a-language/article17395995.ece

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