The ecology of language

Published: Monday 09 September 2013


Linguistic survey helps some tribes rediscover their language; 55 languages spoken in the state
Author: Anupam Chakravartty
Till recently, tea tribes in Assam did not know what grammar was. Most of them went to Assamese-medium schools, and were expected to forget their own mother tongue, till Peoples Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI) linguist and researcher, Ambeshwar Gogoi, started visiting these tribes near Doom Dooma and other tea towns in Upper Assam in 2011. The linguistic survey was carried out across India and the survey report was released in Delhi last week in 50 volumes.
Peoples Linguistic Survey of India, released on Thursday, has traced near extinct languages like Majhi, a language spoken by boatmen in Sikkim and Nepal, by involving community volunteers
Author: Anupam Chakravartty
For the speakers of Majhi, a language mostly spoken in Nepal with just one living speaker in Sikkim in India, there are 15 different names for river. After roads were built in Sikkim following its annexation by India in 1975, Majhi speakers who earlier used the Teesta to ferry people from the upper reaches of the hilly state towards the plains of Siliguri in their boats lost synonyms of river one after another. Eventually, the whole language was overtaken by Nepali language and Lepcha, one of the official languages of Sikkim.
A survey says India has lost a fifth of its languages in the past five decades. With the death of these languages we have also lost the keys to access the knowledge and cultural history of the people who spoke them
Author: Kaushik Das Gupta
Almost every few months we get reports announcing the death of the last speaker of some language or the other. According to one estimate, 6 per cent of the world's languages today are spoken by 95 per cent of the world's population. Now a survey points out that India has lost a fifth of its languages in the past five decades. The two year-long survey by the Vadodara-based Bhasha Research and Publication Centre revealed “that the country had 1,100 languages in 1961, but nearly 220 of them have disappeared.”
Eighty-Five years after George A Grierson, a British administrator, conducted the first survey of languages in India, another such exercise has been has carried out by Ganesh Devy, a linguist based in Vadodara city of Gujarat. The results of the survey, which started in 2010 and was conducted with the help of 3,000 volunteers from across all of the country, was released this week in 50 volumes. Devy tells Anupam Chakravartty how Peoples Linguistic Survey of India is unlike any other survey that happened in India and why it is important for the nation. Excerpts
Author: Anupam Chakravartty
Is it a coincidence that areas of linguistic plurality are also areas of biodiversity?
“When metaphors die, ideas pass away and a way of thinking is buried,” says Sakar Khan. He is not a linguist. He is a musician. He plays the khamaicha – a four–string instrument. Somewhere in his eighties, he is the most revered musician of his tribe – the langas of Rajasthan.
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