17- year old does what an IIM grad couldn’t do, develops Script for a Language!Oct 24, 2018
A teenager by name Akash has developed the 25 letter alphabet with the help of a budding poet Swamini Sivanandan and a team of enthusiasts.
When poet Swamini Sivanandan, from the Dalit community Sambava, recited the poem over the phone, it sounded distinct and quite peculiar. ‘This traditional hymn has been passed down for many generations…And this must be one language you have never heard of – Sambava,” she says.
Kerala, the state which is home to numerous dialects and languages, has largely been ignorant of Sambava language, despite housing the largest group of Dalit people using the language. In earlier days, Sambava was used by members belonging to its community to communicate secretly. It is one of the few ancient vocal languages in our country, but it never had a script.
Until a 17-year-old AP Akash took the initiative to develop a script for Sambava recently. The teenager confessed that he heard it for the first time three years ago when his 85-year-old grandmother Varajini Devi and son Vijithrakumar used the secret language to communicate with each other. “I did not understand a single word [uttered by them], but I became curious. This prompted me to collect details about our traditional language,” Akash recalls.
Swamini learned from Akash – his ambition to come up with a script for the ancient language. The two came together and then began the strenuous task of forming a script for Sambava. MI Madhavan, a teacher based in Ernakulam, also contributed to their tasks. The 25 letter alphabet was then approved by Bharatiya Dalit Sahitya Akademi – which lauded the efforts of the teenager. Bharatiya Dalit Akademi Youth Icon Award was presented to Akash. He received the award last December in New Delhi.
The script was made available to the public at a function in Kothamangalam in Kerala this year. The teenager now also aims to develop linguistics for the ancient language. “Coming up with the linguistics for a language is a very complex task. We have begun the groundwork needed and it will be completed soon,” he says beamingly.
The youngster has started his journey by picking up simple words like moluntval (look), milumpi (eye), and molunthaval (look – present continuous form). Later the team along with the teenager picked up more words. What started as a small project, has now expanded to a larger effort.
“At first I [Akash] would verify it with my family members but gradually I realized I needed more help,” Akash adds. The formation of the alphabet and its script was a difficult and tedious task. He started his work in 2015 and had it completed only in 2017. He is now aiming to bring the nation to take notice of Sambava and hopes to make sure it gains the status of an ancient language.
According to Smithsonianmag’s report, by the year 2100, the human race would have lost about half of the 7,000 plus languages in use today. Every fortnight a language dies. Approximately, one-third of the world’s languages have lesser than 1,000 speakers remaining. Meanwhile, only 23 languages account for more than the world’s population.
The disappearance of languages is not an isolated occurrence in itself. For many speakers, losing their native language means losing cultural heritage and history. However, heartening thing is that, there has been a spate of success stories of reviving fading languages. Hebrew went extinct from the fourth century BC to 1800s, and Catalan had its rebirth only during a government transition in the 1970s.
While Akash’s efforts will be helpful in the language getting attention again, but people and the government have to take initiatives to carry the momentum forward and preserve the revived language to pass it to the next generation.