Tribal languages face extinction as “young people want to be part of the mainstream culture” – Uttarakhand

Excerpts from The Telegraph, Calcutta, Sunday , July 25 , 2010
Death of a language
Jad, a tribal language in Uttarakhand, is slowly going extinct. Hemchhaya Detravels to the tribe’s remote habitat and explains how many native languages around the world are dwindling under the onslaught of globalisation
Narayan Singh Negi, leader of the Rong Ba tribe, in the village of Bagori in
Uttarakhand, doesn’t know how to stop their native language Jad from passing into oblivion. The youngsters of the tribe are reluctant to learn or speak Jad and the village elders who use the language still are slowly dying out.
The Rong Ba are not the only people witnessing the slow death of their language. Jad, spoken by about 2,000 people, is among 196 minority languages in India that are either extinct or endangered, according to the recently released Unesco Atlas of Languages in Danger. It’s a disturbing trend, say linguists, as the passing of a language also means the death of a culture since language contains the cultural records of a community.
Early this year, linguists mourned the death of the last member of the 65,000-year-old Bo tribe in the Andamans. With the octogenarian’s demise, the tribe’s native tongue was lost forever.
Nor is India the only country where languages and dialects are slowly vanishing. Around the world, languages die at the rate of one every few weeks. And according to the Unesco’s projections, in 50 years, about half of the 6,000 languages in use around the world will die.
A language is considered endangered when children no longer learn it. Others link language death to the migratory practices of indigenous people. In fact, the Rong Ba offer a microcosmic view of the way a language dies slowly.
“Our language is now mainly spoken by the older people. The young know only a smattering of Jad words because it’s spoken only at home and not in schools,” says Negi.
Jad has no script and people who were well versed in its oral literature have died, adds Negi. “We have lost the songs that were sung at weddings and other special occasions. The only written proof that we have now of our language are the SMSes we send each other — i.e., Jad in English!”
But why are young people reluctant to learn their native language? Village elders feel that it’s because they want to be part of the mainstream culture — and not be socially segregated as members of a “tribe”. […]
Others feel that the endangerment of their language is rooted in their migratory history — the Rong Ba were apparently evicted from their native villages of Nelang and Jadun near Tibet after the 1962 Indo-China war. “These became notified areas and we were asked to move. Hence our trade stopped and we had to migrate and then settle in towns like Dunda. And in the struggle for assimilation, our language became a casualty,” says Negi.
Number of endangered languages in some states
• Arunachal Pradesh – 36
• Bihar – 5
• Himachal Pradesh – 19
• Jammu & Kashmir – 12
• Uttarakhand – 12
• Karnataka – 6
• Madhya Pradesh – 11
• Tamil Nadu – 7
• West Bengal – 10
What has got linguists worked up is the fact that Rong Ba and so many other indigenous people are helplessly watching their languages disappear. “Languages are a repository of knowledge — cultural or otherwise. Hence, we must make an effort to save them,” says Rajesh Sachdeva, director-in-charge, Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore.
Adds Christopher Moseley, editor-in-chief, Unesco Atlas, in India where “languages and scripts underpin regional identities and political power, these unofficial and unscripted languages are at a distinct disadvantage.”
Sachdeva reveals that plans are afoot to revive the near-defunct Bharat Bhasha Vikas Yojana — a scheme launched by the human resource development ministry a few years ago to develop languages that fall outside the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
However, the crucial question facing communities like the Rong Ba and others is, how can their languages be preserved if young people are loath to speak them? “They need to be mentored and made to understand that with the death of their languages, a whole knowledge system can collapse,” says Udaya Narayana Singh, director, Rabindra Bhavana and Tagore Research Chair, Visva-Bharati University, who was a consultant for the Unesco Atlas from south Asia.
But some linguists wonder if the dwindling of languages is not a natural process and whether there is a tendency to go overboard with the language-death-means-culture-death theories. […]
“At the end of the day, language death is, ironically, a symptom of people coming together. Globalisation means hitherto isolated peoples… sharing space. For them to do so and still maintain distinct languages across generations happens only amidst unusually tenacious self-isolation — such as that of the Amish…,” adds McWhorter.
No doubt, the younger members of the Rong Ba tribe would agree.

Source: The Telegraph – Calcutta (Kolkata) | 7days | Death of a language
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