Languages in India are facing dire endangerment – What is the solution?
Languages in India are facing dire endangerment – What is the solution?

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Languages in India are facing dire endangerment – What is the solution?

Aug 06, 2018

A language is more than just a way of communication between human beings. It is an attribute to a culture that is distinct to people who speak a particular language. Research shows that the characteristics and features of a language even affect the way people think and the way they look at things around them. Much of the advancements in human civilizations can be attributed to rich language and effective communication between people and even between generations of people torn apart by time. Language plays an important part in ensuring that knowledge is passed down without loss and in that sense, it has to be credited for continuing scientific and artistic progress in society.

India is a country that has always been home to a large number of languages and dialects. Our diversity is proof of our rich cultural and linguistic background and our evolving spirit. 

There are many ancient languages as well as relatively new languages that co-exist in India. This co-existence of different languages in India is both a boon and a challenge. Though there are 22 national languages of India that are awarded an official status, the rest of the languages that are spoken by a lesser number of people face the dangers of extinction if not preserved.

The importance of regional languages in India cannot be stressed enough as it is these languages that form a large part of the region’s identity. However, the disturbing fact remains that the number of people speaking and learning these regional languages is getting lower and lower every day. From 1971, the Census has only included languages with more than 10,000 speakers in its list and as per this list, thousands of languages end up not making it to the list each decade. As we lose more and more languages, we are also losing the knowledge and the valuable inputs of hundreds of years of that particular group of people.

A list prepared by UNESCO has listed 42 Indian languages as heading towards extinction. Even though it is the state’s responsibility to protect the people’s right for their language, very little can be done when the people themselves abandon their language for better opportunities. 

There are many reasons for people giving up their native language ranging from lack of awareness to external influences.

Most of these endangered languages belong to tribal communities and they often require support from external groups to help them in protecting their identities. The most endangered languages according to UNESCO’s list are:

  • Great Andamanese, Jarawa, Lamongse, Luro, Muot, Onge, Pu, Sanenyo, Sentilese, Shompen and Takahanyilang (Andaman and Nicobar Islands)
  • Aimol, Aka, Koiren, Lamgang, Langrong, Purum and Tarao (Manipur)
  • Baghati, Handuri, Pangvali and Sirmaudi (Himachal Pradesh)
  • Manda, Parji and Pengo (Odisha)
  • Koraga and Kuruba (Karnataka)
  • Gadaba and Naiki (AP)
  • Kota and Toda (Tamil Nadu)
  • Mra and Na (Arunachal Pradesh)
  • Tai Nora and Tai Rong (Assam)
  • Bangani (Uttarakhand)
  • Birhor (Jharkhand)
  • Nihali (Maharashtra)
  • Ruga (Meghalaya)
  • Toto (West Bengal).

When tribes face issues even for basic survival, it is very difficult for them to think of conserving their languages and culture. It is important to form support groups that make note of problems faced by these groups of people and make it easier for them to reach out to the concerned officials. Public support can also be gathered to pool in funds to dedicate for crucial issues. Also, documenting their languages properly is important if we want future generations to take up those languages. Children of these communities must be educated by nongovernmental organizations and they should get the opportunity to put the language to use.

A separate body that looks into ways of conserving endangered languages must be formed specifically for each region and they must look into possible solutions as each region faces a different set of challenges. To keep our rich heritage intact, it is imperative to preserve what is left of our languages and our culture before it is too late.