Tamil Nadu

Documenting the grammar of tribal people's languages

The Department of Linguistics of Bharathiar University has published three books, two on Eravalla and Irula dialects, and a third containing a comprehensive questionnaire to be administered during tribal studies.

Appreciating the fear that languages and traditions of some tribal people will become extinct, the Department has been working to document the descriptive grammar, and digitise the rituals and traditions of a few tribes. It has already documented the descriptive grammar and digitised the rituals and traditions of Irula and Muduva tribes in the Western Ghats, under a Special Assistance Programme (SAP) of the University Grants Commission (UGC) in 2004.

The UGC sanctioned Rs. 34.5 lakh as SAP – Phase II to the Department for another five years starting 2011 to carry out linguistic and socio-linguistic study of Malasar and Kadar languages of the tribes in Valparai and Top Slip. In addition to this study, two visiting fellows of UGC were to study two tribal languages independently.

Now the findings of the study of the Vettakkada Irula and Eravalla tribal languages has been documented and come out in print, according to C. Sivashanmugam, co-ordinator of the study.V. Gnanasundaram, former Deputy Director of Central Institute of Indian Languages,

Mysore, and R. Perialwar, former Director of Tribal Research Centre of the Tamil University, in Udhagamandalam, have done the study and authored the books.

Mr. Gnanasundaram studied the Eravalla tribal language of those settled in Amaravathi, and Mr. Perialwar studied the Vettakkada Irula language of the tribe scattered in the Coimbatore region.

The two visiting fellows of the UGC also helped the Department in preparing the questionnaire and also chaired workshops to impart the right methodologies to the research scholars who are involved in studying the Malasar and Kadar languages of the tribes. The result of this is the third book that has come out in print.

“When even major regional languages are facing a set back in the light of globalisation, the state of tribal languages is nothing to write home about.

There are only about 780 Thodas who speak the Thoda language and less than a lakh each of Irulas and Muduvas who speak their respective languages,” says Mr. Sivashanmugam.

The Department is on a mission to document as many tribal languages and cultures as possible before they become really extinct.

The above books have 500 copies each printed and are available free of cost. The book ‘A Study of Eravalla’ contains linguistic, sociolinguistic and folkloristic aspects with comparative Eravalla – Tamil vocabulary, while the one on ‘Grammar of Vettakkada Irula Dialects’ contains the phonology, noun morphology, verb morphology, morphophonemics and syntax of the Vettakkada Irula dialects.

The book that contains a detailed list of questions focuses on descriptive study of the tribal language, socio-linguistic aspects, endangerment of the language, anthropological, ethnological and cultural study of the language, and study of tribal folklore.

The questions are printed in English and Tamil. However, it would be administered in the spoken form based on the techniques characteristic of each tribal group.

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Printable version | Aug 6, 2020 7:57:46 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/documenting-the-grammar-of-tribal-peoples-languages/article5137233.ece

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