Dying Languages of India

You have heard of endangered species.Have you heard of endangered languages?
There are many.As per an article in The Hindu ,300 languages have become extinct in India since Independence.

India is a multi-linguistic country with 22 officially recognized languages.India is supposed to have 415 living languages.However,there are many languages and dialogues in India,whose usage is declining at an alarming rate.UNESCO lists 197 languages as endangered languages in India.Most of the endangered languages were tribal languages whose population is very less.But there were some surprises too.Looking at the UNESCO List,I was shocked to find some common languages like Tulu, Mizo, Ladakhi, Kuruba, Kumaoni, Andamanese and Manipuri among them.


There are only lists for endangered languages.There seems to be no list like this for dialects,most of which are disappearing fast.There is no count for these.Perhaps because it is too tedious to document all the dialects spoken in India.Also,the decline in the dialects is difficult to quantify because the dialects are mostly associated with some other major language,which may or may not be in the endangered list.

Being a native speaker of a less spoken dialect,I have been thinking about this article quite some time now.Ours is a classic case of a lesser known dialect of a major language,struggling for survival.

What happens when a language becomes extinct?

Our languages are representative of our rich cultural heritage.Most of the languages have folk songs,mythical stories and proverbs particular to the region and customs of the people who speak them.With the dying of these languages,the associated culture,customs,cuisines and collective wisdom of those people also dies a slow death.Since most of the extinct languages do not have a script,there is no written material recording their culture.
A classic example is the dialect we speak at home.We speak a dialect of a Marathi,a southern version,which is not known outside the four southern states.Though the mainstream Marathi of Pune and Mumbai is considered a major language with lots of native speakers,the dialect we speak at home has a very limited population. Migration down south centuries ago has resulted in the older form of Marathi spoken by us while the mainland Marathi underwent many changes to reach its current form today.Although most of my community is educated,I see a threat to my mother tongue due to various factors.There have been some serious efforts going on to preserve the language.I can only hope the effort pays off and the language survives in the coming generations also.

What worries me is that if our language disappears,a portion of Indian history will be forgotten forever.We are the living evidence of history.The evidence that once Marathi kings migrated to Tamilnadu and patronized art and culture.Although we still maintain a lot of our native traditions at home,it is still a battle for survival for our language.

Why does a language become extinct?

There are many reasons for a language to become extinct.Political,Economic,Social and Cultural factors determine the survival of a language.

One of the reasons for languages becoming extinct is the lack of political patronage.When there is no one to support the cause of advancing a language,the language loses its prominent position and slowly begins to decline.

The other major reason is economic.When learning a language doesn't reap any economic benefit,nobody sees a need to stick on to their own mother tongue.

When people speaking a minority language have to survive in a region where the dominant language is not their mother tongue,they slowly begin to switch over to the dominant language for the reason of survival. For example,most of the people in my community have adapted to local language and culture of the state they are living in-be it Tamilnadu,Karnataka,Andhra or Kerala. 

Another reason is that the language as it is,had very less number of native speakers.In India,we have the custom of having arranged marriages within the same community. When number of people is very less,it becomes difficult to find proper matrimonial matches within the same community.This is also prompting many people to adapt to other local cultures for survival.Inter-marriage with people of other linguistic groups and declining population of the native speakers,leads to the natural death of any endangered language.

If you are the speaker of an endangered language or dialect,make sure you continue to speak the language at home.Make sure to teach it to your next generation also. This is the only way to preserve the dying languages of India.


This is written for Day 15 of  Ultimate Blogging Challenge