The linguistic diversity of India is difficult to map. Why so? The rural population of India distinguishes themselves by their own customs, folktales, and crafts. On that account, a unique language belonging to each community would be the norm. Hence, it becomes almost impossible to determine the exact number of languages spoken across India.
As rural communities migrate to urban regions, the possibility of these communities losing touch with their languages becomes a looming threat. Eventually, these spoken languages would soon be forgotten and be labelled extinct by the Indian government. As of now, there are more than 600 languages that are considered endangered. According to UNESCO, an endangered language has fewer than 10,000 speakers and does not fall under the government’s official list of languages. As such, these undocumented languages hide quaintly in rural India, making it more difficult to pin the exact number of languages spoken across the country.
How Do Languages Become Extinct?
The different languages and dialects spoken in India tend to have a certain hierarchy. In a region flooded with many dialects and languages, there ought to be one dominant language. Usually, smaller and less-spoken languages are overshadowed and dismissed by more popular languages in the region. People are motivated to speak the popular tongue as it allows for greater social cohesion and makes it easier to communicate with one another. As a result, minority languages are spoken less, and gradually disappear over decades. This has been the case for plenty of Indian languages.
What languages have gone extinct in India?
A study shows that over the last 60 years, around 250 languages have gone extinct. According to UNESCO, India holds the title for the country with the most vulnerable and endangered languages with 197 languages.
Ahom, Andro, Rangkas, Sengmai, and Tolcha have lost their battle for survival, and there is no living person that currently speaks these languages. An interesting fact about these lost languages is that they all originate from the Himalayan region.
While these languages have gone extinct, there is a large number of languages that are on the verge of extinction - one would label them as endangered or vulnerable. The list of these languages is constantly growing, but to name a few, Manipuri, Bodo and Ladakhi are three of such endangered languages.
What is Being Done to Revive These Endangered Languages?
Considerable efforts have been made by large and small organisations to preserve endangered languages. Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education (MTBMLE) is an initiative to encourage the continuous learning of tribal languages in educational institutions. The program centres around educating the young about tribal traditions and languages. Not only do the children learn their own tongues, but also pick up 10 other tribal languages in the region. The ultimate aim of this project is to bridge the gap between the child’s home culture and their educational journey.
It is critical to understand that to revive a language one must target the youth. The youths are the ones who have the power to change the fate of dying languages. The easiest way to communicate and pass the message to the youths is through media and entertainment. Sources can range from films, music, TV, or even print media. For instance, the state of Jharkhand has taken an innovative approach to reviving a dying language through entertainment. Asur Mobile Radio produces radio programmes in Asur, a language that is on the verge of extinction.
How Does the Extinction of Languages Affect Society?
The loss of a language can be tied to the death of certain traditions. As people begin to stop speaking the language, the traditions attributed to it gradually fade away and eventually cease to exist. Skills that were once special to the community would be now lost and forgotten. It’s almost as if humanity would be progressing backward. In short, losing a language can decay a vibrant society.
A Global Crisis
There have been countless languages across the world that have struggled to stay afloat and unfortunately, many of them have sunk to the bottom. Most recently, a language from Russia known as Bering Aleut was declared extinct in March this year.
Languages perishing is an alarming hint towards how globalisation and uniformity have affected individuality. If everyone spoke the same language, how would one be able to define themselves and tell themselves apart from each other? The world would become so monogamous and stale.
While efforts to revitalise languages are heading in the right direction, the effort would render meaningless without action. The youth needs to step up and take appropriate steps to conserve their heritage.
Pratha Content Writer