India Trying To Save 192 Dying Languages

India, one of nine most multilingual countries in the world, plans to save its 192 dying languages.
Although Hindi and English are the (unofficial) national languages of India and a majority of Indians have knowledge of both, each Indian province has its own official language(s). The regional languages, which differ from Hindi, are commonly used in the local media and on the street.
A majority of educated Indians are at least trilingual. Apart from having fluency in their mother tongues, Indians can speak (read and write) Hindi and English. That is why there is no ‘national language’ as declared by the Indian Constitution. Indian provinces have the liberty and powers to specify their own official language(s) through legislation and there are 22 officially recognised languages in the country.
Hindi and English are used for official purposes in India, but the number of native Hindi speakers ranges between 14.5% and 24.5% in total Indian population. On the reverse side of an Indian currency note, there is a language panel that displays the denomination of the note in 15 of the 22 official languages. The languages are displayed in alphabetical order: Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.
As per the 1991 census, around 96% of Indian people speak only the 22 scheduled languages. The scenario has made it difficult for the concerned authorities to locate and identify tribal people, who speak a large number of tongues. After considering the situation, the Indian government has decided to identify those communities who have been forced to adopt new languages. The government is worried because members of these communities are unable to hand down their mother tongues to the next generation in the changing socio-economic landscape. So, the government has listed 192 languages as endangered and undertaken a project to preserve them.
The Narendra Modi government in New Delhi has asked Mysore-based Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL) to preserve the dying languages through documentation under the Scheme for Protection and Preservation of Endangered Languages (SPPEL). SPPEL Co-ordinator Sujoy Sarkar said that they had started the actual documentation work in 2014. He informed the media that 41 researchers from different Indian universities were documenting cultural and ethno-linguistic aspects of 117 languages. “Indigenous knowledge systems are being video-graphed. Creating digital maps with pronunciation of words, dictionaries, pictorial glossaries and a grammar sketch is part of the scheme,” stressed the SPPEL co-ordinator.
The senior SPPEL official revealed that they were asked to create a museum for languages spoken by less than 10,000 people. As the Indian government stopped listing languages spoken by less than 10,000 people in the census in 1971, it wants to ensure people continue to speak them, Sarkar said. “Once we create enough material, the onus on how to keep these languages in use will depend on each provincial government,” he told reporters.
People face various problems in multilingual countries and India is no exception. On January 1, 2010, Switzerland passed a law in order to preserve the multilingual culture of the country. The Act calls for the encouragement of the minority languages among the four official languages: French, German, Italian and Romansh. Former Soviet Union, too, was a multilingual state, with over 120 languages spoken natively. Although discrimination on the basis of language was illegal under the Soviet Constitution, the de facto status of languages, other than Russian, differed. Many believe that language discrimination was one of the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russian was the only language allowed spoken in the Soviet Union to help create equality among all the people and the decision backfired. India has not made this mistake. Like Switzerland, the South Asian nation tries to preserve its multilingual culture.



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