The status and spread of Santali in different regions of India: A flourishing language hardly in need of being “revived”

Santali is not a dead language in the first place so it does not need to be “revived”! I have grown up in Santal Parganas where people speak Santali in their homes, in the marketplace, attend church service in Santali (in the Lutheran churches) and sing hymns in Santali. […]

Finally, the Santals of Santal Parganas speak the purest form of Santali. Other varieties have emerged in other regions but our region has retained most of the language’s original pronunciation and vocabulary.


The People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI), completed recently by GN Devy’ s team has identified many languages as endangered but Santali is not among them. Orient Blackswan has published 50 volumes on the PLSI and their findings are being debated by eminent linguists of India and abroad. I attended a seminar recently on linguistic diversity in South Asia at India International Centre, Delhi, where a speaker from Bangladesh mentioned Santali as one of the languages being taught there.

In India, Santali (Santhali) is one of the two tribal languages that have been recognized as official languages (the other is Boro). But by linking Santali to a particular script (ol chiki), official recognition has also done a great disservice to the larger Santal community. Most of the literary and educational works in Santali prior to this had existed in the Roman script. Skrefsrud’s Horkoren Mare Hapram ko Reak’ Katha (Traditions and Institutions of the Santals), PO Bodding’s A Santal Dictionary: 5 volumes, Santal Folk Tales: 3 Volumes, etc still remain the most valuable works in Santali literature and language. By imposing a little – known script on Santali learners in govt school, this corpus of knowledge is being denied to them.


[I]n India where about 2000 languages are spoken (about 600 of them being oral/tribal languages). Learning the mainstream lingua franca (English/ Hindi/ Bangla/ Assamese) of that region makes for marketable skills and later raises the learner’s economic and social status. And the issue of political identity is then pushed into place to claim special privileges for the speakers of the marginalized language (Santal/Boro/Oraon etc).

Teaching the marginal language at school will not work long – term if the learner later finds himself unable to compete in today’s highly competitive workplace.

This experiment was tried long ago in two Lutheran mission schools of Santal Parganas (Maharo Girls School and Kaerabani Boys School). My father was from Kaerabani (where he learnt Hindi, English and Santali in the classroom) – but while doing the MBBS course at CMC Vellore, Tamil Nadu, he had to work very hard to keep up with his classmates. As a result, he refused to send us to the same schools and chose English – medium boarding schools run by the Roman Catholics (which was frowned upon by the Lutheran missionaries who had sponsored him earlier).

Source: personal messages in response to “Santals revive the Santali language and tell their own story: A success story to reckon with – West Bengal” by Dr. Ivy Imogene Hansdak dated 21 & 22 January 2017

Dr. Ivy Imogene Hansdak is Assistant Professor, Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia University New Delhi

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