CIIL to infuse fresh life into endangered languages

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Mysore, Nov 12: The Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL) here, the premier language research institute of the country, will coordinate a nationwide exercise under the 11th five-year plan, commencing from April 2007, to safeguard the country's ''endangered'' languages.

Alarmed at the extinction of numerous languages in developed countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, the Union Government had decided to embark on this massive programme to prevent repetition of the same in India.

CIIL Director Prof Udya Narayana Singh told UNI that the programme would help to protect, promote and develop endangered languages in the country. The CIIL, through the HRD Ministry, had submitted a 400-page report to the Planning Commission on the project, costing Rs 50 crore.

The objectives of the project include visual documentation of life pattern, rituals, dress and other cultural and social habits and audio documentation of performances, folklore and folktales.

Besides, regular study of grammar, preparation of dictionary and textbooks for basic languages training and a bridge text course to enable easy migration to other languages would also be taken up.

Prof Singh said the massive exercise would involve nearly 50 institutions of national repute across the country, including the Directorate of Census, Anthropological Survey of India, tribal academies, language academies and departments of Linguistics and Language Studies of various universities.

He said Toto, Onge, Great Andamanese, Jarwa and Jenu Kuruba were among the large number of small languages in the country that stand to benefit from the project. Great Andamanese was being spoken only by nine people in Andaman and Nicobar islands and 1,200 people speak Toto, a language used in the northern parts of West Bengal. Among the other languages that would come under focus were Tinnai, Karashi, Chinali, Gehri of Himchal Pradesh and Kurmali spoken in parts of Bihar, Orissa and Jharkhand, he added.

The 1991 census revealed the existence of 1,576 'mother tongues' with separate grammatical structures and 1,796 languages classified as 'other mother tongues'.

Prof Singh explained that a combination of factors such as marriage patterns, endogamous relationships leading to reduction in population density, geographical space and ''unscientific'' imposition of other languages on these linguistic minorities have resulted in the decline of usage of these languages in India. Bio-mathematician Pagel and linguistic scholar David Crystal have predicted that during the next five decades, 90 per cent of over 6,000 world languages would disappear if no action was initiated.

The Eastern countries had lost many languages during the last 200 years. In the US alone, the number of languages spoken had dwindled from 211 in 1960 to anywhere between 20 and 30 now.

Prof Singh said similarly, Australia, which used 300 languages in 1800 AD, today had only 55 surviving, of which many were in the endangered category. A study in Canada had revealed that the use of indigenous language by its population had come down from 87.4 per cent in 1951 to 26 per cent in 1996. The situation in India too was alarming, necessitating immediate action and taking up of the project on a priority basis, he added.

He said the number of endangered language as per census records would be given once the project commenced, as these figures had been kept confidential.

Stating that some States faced more problems regarding decline of languages, which might not be mentioned in census, Prof Singh said these languages offer rich insights into the culture and social habitat of the respective regions. Many of these languages were rich in folklore, music and other cultural aspects, but these aspects did not find a mention in the census.

The CIIL, the nodal agency for the implemenatation of the project, had documented 118 languages that were on the decline and researched 80 tribal languages in the country. It would come out with 30 documentaries in TV channels shortly.

He exuded confidence that many youths having smaller languages as their mother tongue would be trained in the institute in their respective languages to ensure the survival of the languages.


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