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Report and images courtesy: S Davidson Sargunam, Nagercoil (by email)
Global phenomenons such as climate change and urbanization are drawing the indigenous Kaani tribe living in the Western Ghats of Kanyakumari district away from their cultural roots, posing a threat to their unique dialect rich with its direct connect with the forest ecology. Forced to change their habitats, jobs and lifestyle the members of the indigenous tribe are moving away from their traditional way of life and it is showing in the way they communicate with each other. Their orally passed on dialect is on the verge of extinction. | Read the full report: Kaani dialect on the verge of extinction | Madurai News – Times of India 26 February 2019 >>
International Mother Language Day was celebrated on February 21, with tribal children of Government Tribal Residential Middle School, Alamparai, Kanyakumari, located in the forest areas of the Western Ghats.
Addressing the indigenous children, environmental educator S Davidson Sargunam appreciated the fact that their own language – Kaani Pasha spoken across the Kanyakumari forests – is rich in references to ethno-botany and ethno-biology. It has countless references to forest ecology and forest environment, to live in consonance with nature. The words related to all fields of life as housing, hunting, food culture, agriculture, magic, rituals, and material culture, expressive culture should be documented to revitalize the vanishing dialect. Or humanity will lose one of the eco-rich cultural words from one of the eco-regions of the world.
The speaker explained why many of India’s regional languages and dialects are threatened with extinction today. As a case in point, Kaani Pasha has decreasing numbers of speakers. This is not only caused by the use of two dominant languages, Tamil and Malayalam. With the increase of human versus animal conflict many tribal people are driven to work as unskilled workers on construction sites and agricultural operations in forest fringes or nearby villages and towns.
Another grave problem is the intrusion of married non-tribesmen, many keeping tribal women illegally as paramours with the aim of securing the rich forest lands of the tribal people. This development dilutes their dialect with languages of the non-tribal people.
Further damage to local dialects is due to cultural change induced by globalization, free trade and communication revolution.
An appeal to the teaching community to implement multi-lingual education as recommended
Teaching in mother tongue in the primary school is recommended by the Kothari Commission in India and various linguistic experts. After that level the students could get multi-lingual education for better understanding.
On International Mother Language Day 2019, celebrated every year on 21 February, UNESCO reiterates its commitment to linguistic diversity and invites its Member States to celebrate the day in as many languages as possible as a reminder that linguistic diversity and multilingualism are essential for sustainable development.
UNESCO has been celebrating International Mother Language Day for nearly 20 years with the aim of preserving linguistic diversity and promoting mother tongue-based multilingual education.
Linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened as more and more languages disappear. One language disappears on average every two weeks, taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage.
Nevertheless, progress is being made in mother tongue-based multilingual education with growing understanding of its importance, particularly in early schooling, and more commitment to its development in public life.
UNESCO in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its bold statement that ‘no discrimination can be made on the basis of language’, and celebrates its translation into more than 500 languages.
The SDGs depend on linguistic diversity and multilingualism as a vital contribution to global citizenship education as they promote intercultural connections and better ways of living together.
S Davidson Sargunam
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