When scientists of the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI) set out to conduct a study on language of the primitive Toto tribe, whose population has dwindled to 1,536, they did not realise that the language is more endangered than the tribe itself.
During their study they recorded the vocabulary, folklore, and even some songs in Toto language, and realised that the language has no script.
For centuries, the language that belongs to the Tibeto-Burman group of Indian languages, has survived in the small community completely orally without much research, Asok Kumar Mukhopadhyay, research associate, Linguistics (AnSI), one of the prominent members of the research team, who visited the hamlet of Toto tribe, told The Hindu .
“Being a small community, we found that the Totos communicate among themselves in their own language, but the moment they leave their hamlet of Totopara in Madarihaat block of Alipurduar district, they prefer to not communicate in the language even among themselves,” Mr. Mukhopadhyay said.Under threat
Researchers and even the members of Toto community admit that the language is under threat and influence of others languages, particularly Nepali and Bengali, is increasing day by day.
Interestingly, despite the language lacking a script, members of the community, whose literacy rate as per a sample survey carried out in 2003 was just 33.64 per cent, have penned books and poems in their language albeit in the Bengali script.
Dhaniram Toto, one of the members of the community, has written two books in Toto language over the past two years.
Mr. Toto claims his book, Lokeswar, is about the folk culture of Totos and his other book Uttar Banga Lokpath is about folk tales of the community.
“Since our language does not have a script, I have to take help of the Bengali script,” he says, adding that there is an urgent need to develop a script for the language.
Mr. Toto, who is employed in West Bengal’s Backward Class Welfare Department, says there are others in the community such as Satyajit Toto, who write in the language taking the help of scripts of other languages.Keep it alive
Their aim is just to keep the language alive. “We carried out this study to keep record of the language. It may happen in a few decades that the language may get extinct. The study of the Toto language is essential to understand the overall cultural ambit of the primitive tribe,” said Kakali Chakraborty, head of office, Eastern Regional Centre of (AnSI).Day labourers
Totos, one of the primitive Himalayan tribes in the country, usually work as day labourers and porters carrying oranges from Bhutan to the local market in north Bengal.
Despite the geographical isolation of Totopara, the members have started laying emphasis on education, resulting in about half a dozen of graduates, which includes girls. But the elders point out that despite a number of schools being present in the locality, there is no one to teach the children in their own language, and as a result, the children are losing touch with their culture.