Environment

Language Census: Many tribal tongues now have fewer takers

There is a huge decline in the number of Monpa and Sema speakers

By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Friday 06 July 2018
Two Monpa men      Credit: Flickr
Two Monpa men      Credit: Flickr Two Monpa men Credit: Flickr

A number of small and relatively lesser-known tribal languages spoken in remote corners of India have shown a decline, as per the findings of the 2011 Language Census released by the government recently.

These include the Sema language of the Naga tribe of the same name, which showed a decadal growth increase (between 2001-2011) of -89.57, the Monpa language of Arunachal Pradesh (-75.48), Nagaland’s Phom (-55.58), Odisha’s Jatapu (-49.08), Himachal Pradesh’s Lahauli (-48.89) and Bhumij of Eastern India (-42.02).

A list of the languages is given below:

LANGUAGE

STATUS

DECADAL PERCENTAGE
INCREASE (2001-2011)

SPOKEN IN

Santali

Scheduled

13.81

Eastern India

Bodo

Scheduled

9.81

Assam

Sema

Non-Scheduled

-89.57

Nagaland

Monpa

Non-Scheduled

-75.48

Arunachal Pradesh

Phom

Non-Scheduled

-55.58

Nagaland

Jatapu

Non-Scheduled

-49.08

Odisha

Lahauli

Non-Scheduled

-48.89

Himachal Pradesh

Bhumij

Non-Scheduled

-42.02

Eastern India

Korwa

Non-Scheduled

-17.73

Chhattisgarh

Rabha

Non-Scheduled

-15.04

Assam

Maram

Non-Scheduled

-13.07

Manipur

Sangtam

Non-Scheduled

-9.82

Nagaland

Yimchungre

Non-Scheduled

-9.64

Nagaland

Lepcha

Non-Scheduled

-6.51

Sikkim

Nocte

Non-Scheduled

-6.43

Northeastern India

Tangsa

Non-Scheduled

-3.65

Arunachal Pradesh

Konyak

Non-Scheduled

-1.46

Nagaland

Ao

Non-Scheduled

-0.53

Nagaland

The census followed a certain methodology to arrive at these findings. It defined “Mother tongue” in the following words: “Mother tongue is the language spoken in childhood by the person’s mother to the person. If the mother died in infancy, the language mainly spoken in the person’s home in childhood will be the mother tongue. In the case of infants and deaf mutes, the language usually spoken by the mother should be recorded. In case of doubt, the language mainly spoken in the household may be recorded.”

In the questionnaire given to assess the mother tongues of Indians and consequently the number of speakers of each of them, respondents were made to feel free to return the name of their mother tongue and the same was recorded faithfully by the enumerator. This led to the recording of a very large number of mother-tongue names from all over India—a total of 19569. These were then subjected to thorough linguistic scrutiny, edit and rationalization. This resulted in the researchers arriving at the total number of 121 languages.

These were then divided into two parts: 22 languages that are included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution and those not included in it, which numbered 99.

Two major tribal languages that are included in the Eighth Schedule such as Bodo and Santali have also shown declines though not negative growth. The number of Bodo speakers in Assam declined to 4.53 per cent of the total population in 2011 from 4.86 per cent in 2001. It shows a total decadal percentage increase of 9.81. Santali shows a total decadal percentage increase of 13.89.

Many of the tribal languages that have shown negative growth belong to either the Tibeto-Burman or Austro-Asiatic language families and are spoken in the Himalayas, the Northeast, Central and Eastern India.

Reflecting on the findings, Ayesha Kidwai of the Centre for Linguistics, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi told Down To Earth: “Language censuses in India cannot return accurate findings because of the methodology. That is because reporting one’s mother tongue is not about actual use but a political act. At the same time, if there has been negative growth of these tribal languages as the findings show, I would not be very surprised either. It could be the phenomenon known in linguistics as “Language Shift”. Although India is not a monolingual society, there is a growing prevalence of a few regional languages. Languages in India are not just about communication, identity and culture but also about chances. Speakers of a small and not very well-known language may see economic reward and upward mobility in shifting towards a dominant tongue. Moreover, our national linguistic policy does not encourage the use of many such languages and for users to report the use.”

She added: “Tribal languages are a treasure trove of knowledge about a region’s flora, fauna and medicinal plants. Usually, this information is passed from generation to generation. However, when a language declines, that knowledge system is completely gone. With the loss of language comes the loss of everything in a culture and loss of solidarity, the loss of Man himself.” 

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  • Mostly Tamilnadu TRIBAL languages COMMUNITY are very less than 2011 population.

    Posted by: Muthiyan Sivakumar | 4 months ago | Reply