Mainstream languages attempt a ‘phono-cide’, linguists cry hoarse

Ahmedabad, February 21 (Agencies): Both the Bible and Hindu mythology talk of how God turned one common language of mankind into many different tongues and scattered the people around the world, thus giving birth to a variety of customs and cultures. But it seems God’s plan is going haywire as ‘mainstream languages’ threaten to unite the universal tongue once again. Linguists’ warnings about the death of languages in India have continuously fallen on deaf ears. It is believed the silent assassination by government policies, and the continuous foreign cultural barrage via media is responsible for this loss to literary culture and heritage.
There has been no survey of Indian languages post independence. Although, in the 11th five-year plan, Rs2.8 billion was sanctioned for a national survey of languages that was classified into two sections - New Linguistic Survey of India and Survey of Minor and Endangered Languages, it is yet to see the light of day. “There are some 600 tribes in India of which around 75 are found outside the Northeast and, barring a few, nearly all of them have either lost their language already or are on the verge of losing it. In most cases, they have been subsumed by the language of the majority,” said Ramnika Gupta of the Ramnika Foundation in Jharkhand in the All India Tribal Literary Forum (AITLF).
The only reliable source to find out the exact number of languages spoken in India is the 10-year old 1991 census of the languages of India. Approximately 3,200 languages which were named and rationalised as mother tongues were found to be spoken by 10,000 people or more (a pre-requisite) and account for over 99% of the population. These were classified as 114 languages and then broadly categorised into four distinct linguistic families - Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic. However, the Indian Constitution recognises only 22 major languages. Even though each of these languages has a rich oral tradition, not all make it to literacy and formal education.
Schools in India only teach 70 odd languages and not all of them are taught in full capacity but on the other hand radio networks had been broadcasting programmes in nearly 150 languages and dialects across the country not so long ago. Literary awards and recognitions are also only given out in 24 literary languages by the Sahitya Akademi while there are newspapers and periodicals that are published in 35 different Indian languages. “In the census report of 1961, a total of 1652 mother tongues were mentioned. Several hundreds of these are no longer traceable. During the first half of the twentieth century, India reportedly lost about one-fifth of its languages.
During the second half of the last century, we have lost about one-third of the remaining languages. At this rate, it is estimated that over the next 50 years, we will see the extinction of almost all of the tongues spoken by the nomadic communities and Adivasis,” said Prof GN Devy, renowned literary critic and activist.