Threat of extinction lurks over indigenous languages of Uttarakhand

Historians, linguists and sociologists point out that loss of language is not just the language lost but the entire culture and tradition associated with the language disappears with time. 

Published: 06th October 2019 08:51 PM  |   Last Updated: 06th October 2019 08:56 PM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

DEHRADUN: With shrinking usage of indigenous languages of Uttarakhand, threat of extinction lurks over them. Major regional languages of Uttarakhand include Kumaoni, Garhwali.

According to estimates, till last century over 80% of the populace of the state used to speak these languages which has now reduced to 40-50%, mostly in remote areas among indigenous communities. 

Historians, linguists and sociologists point out that loss of language is not just the language lost but the entire culture and tradition associated with the language disappears with time. 

Sandesha Rayapa-Garbiyal, who holds a doctorate and is working as assistant professor in Jawahar Lal Nehru University, Delhi, commenting on the issue said, "The loss of a language is also the loss of a culture that it's associated with. Promotion of indigenous languages is important to save the cultures and traditions that contain the indigenous knowledge within their language systems."

For instance, the Rung community of Uttarakhand is one of the few indigenous communities of the world that still practices transhumance (migration on vertical levels). Their language Runglwo contains a vast vocabulary of indigenous knowledge of flora, fauna, Himalayan medicines and treatments etc. that might even hold a key to various diseases. The community holds a secret/key of treatment of various diseases.

She further adds,"Indigenous and regional languages are facing threat of extinction because dominating languages such as Hindi and English tend to devour the indigenous languages. Promotion of indigenous language is important to save culture and tradition which has been contributing to the world since times immemorial."

Other indigenous languages of the hill state include Tharu, Jan, Rangpo, Darmiya, Byangsi, Raji, Chaudangsi and Rawat among 17 spoken in Uttarakhand alone. 

Many of these regional languages along with Kumaoni and Garhwali have been accorded status of endangered languages by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 

The UNESCO categorizes threat to a language in four categories depending on degree of threat of extinction to those in upcoming two-thirds generations- Vulnerable, Definitely Endangered, Severely Endangered and Critically Endangered.

Shekhar Pathak, a Padam Shri awardee historian based in Nainital elaboration on the subject of indigenous languages told that in 1971 census, those languages whose speakers were less than 10,000 were not recorded.

"It was much later through establishment of 'People's Linguistic Survey of India' launched in 2010 to catalogue all languages in India. Ours is a multilingual and multicultural society in which numerous languages are spoken which carry with them precious culture and tradition. English and Hindi are important in the present age but indigenous languages should also be propagated," said Pathak. 

Pointing out solutions to the crisis and looming threat over indigenous languages of Uttarakhand, Sandesha added, "These languages should be included in curriculums of schools, colleges and universities. With language comes knowledge of way of life unique to the speakers. This knowledge can be used in battling modern-day problems including global warming and others."

Popular culture such as songs and films play major role in propagation of any language said the professor.

She cited the example of Bhojpuri and it's sister languages such as Awadhi and Bhojpuri. 

"We can see how much popularity Bhojpuri cinema gained in last 15 years. Once this language was considered the language of uneducated people but now through popular culture it's spreading fast," said Sandesha. 

The United Nations has recognized the importance and contribution of indigenous languages by UNESCO announcing 2019 as 'The Year of International Indigenous Languages'.

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