‘It’s challenging to document endangered languages’

Under the Scheme for Protection and Preservation of Endangered Languages, Mysuru-based Central Institute of Indian Languages has taken up the task

Updated - May 17, 2023 08:25 pm IST

Published - May 17, 2023 06:52 pm IST - MYSURU

Anvita Abbi, former professor of Linguistics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, inaugurating ae training programme on language documentation at the Central Institute of Indian Languages in Mysuru on Wednesday. CIIL Director Shailendra Mohan, Deputy Director Usharani Pappuswamy and Programme Coordinator Sujoy Sarkar are seen.

Anvita Abbi, former professor of Linguistics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, inaugurating ae training programme on language documentation at the Central Institute of Indian Languages in Mysuru on Wednesday. CIIL Director Shailendra Mohan, Deputy Director Usharani Pappuswamy and Programme Coordinator Sujoy Sarkar are seen. | Photo Credit: M.A. Sriram

The Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL) in Mysuru has taken up the challenging task of documenting languages that are considered endangered to sustain them and as well as to make it possible for their revival,. Anvita Abbi, former Professor of Linguistics, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, has said.

The team of Scheme for Protection and Preservation of Endangered Languages (SPPEL) at the CIIL wants to involve the youth of this country in the task.

Inaugurating the training programme on Language Documentation organised by the SPPEL at CIIL here, she said documentary linguistics is a new and challenging field. It is challenging because the whole purpose of documentation is to inform society how a speech community uses its language in myriad fields and occasions.

In her inaugural address at the event, Prof. Abbi said, “Once a language becomes a sleeping beauty or on the verge of vanishing from the logosphere, correct and appropriate documentation has the possibility of its revival, provided the community is willing to do so. Thus, a big and significant purpose of documentation is to revive the endangered language/s.”

She said not many in the country have the know-how of how to document languages. This is one field that uses knowledge of all the branches of linguistics - Phonetics, Phonology, Morphology, Syntax, Semantics, Semiotics, Sociolinguistics, Sociology of Language, Historical and Comparative Linguistics, Stylistics and their myriad branches. Not only this, but it is also multidisciplinary and draws your ability to connect to Biodiversity, Ecology, Anthropology, History, Geography (Logosphere), Culture, Art, Ethnography, Musicology, Population Genetics, Computer Science and Literature, she explained in her speech.

A data scientist collaborates closely with language documenters. This is not surprising as language lives and thrives touching all these fields. The multi-disciplinary approach gives opportunity to various kinds of scholars to collaborate in the documentation, she stated.

Language documentation is to record the language in its diverse uses in the community. Can you think of a domain in day-to-day life where language is not used? From language of love to language of hate, from personal anecdotes to speech made on a stage, from taboo words to lullabies, from language used in performing arts to language used in teaching such an art, from narrative style to mantras chanted in religious places, from polite overtures to being rude - the areas are innumerable.

“One must be aware of and be a willing listener to document a language. One must be prepared to work in the most trying and difficult situations and thus documentary linguistics demand the documenter to be made of tough material. You may have to live in a remote area of the town to elicit data, or in a jungle or by the seashore in a cottage, wherever the community lives. One has to immerse oneself in the society without losing an objective view of a linguist,” she explained.

Shailendra Mohan, Director, CIIL, presided. CIIL Deputy Director Umarani Pappuswamy and Sujoy Sarkar, Officer-in-charge, SPPEL, CIIL, Mysuru were present.

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