Nearly 10 per cent of the world’s 4,000 languages facing a threat of ‘extinction’ in next 50 years, said linguist Ganesh N Devy at the release of 11 volumes of the People's Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI), claimed to be the world's largest linguistic surveys. He is also the founder director of the Bhasha Research and Publication Center.
He emphasized that English does not pose any threat to major Indian languages like Hindi, Bangla, Marathi, and Telugu. Ganesh studied the total 780 languages of 27 states. He analyzed that some tribal languages have also shown growth in recent years.
Ganesh studied the total 780 languages of 27 states. He analyzed that some tribal languages have also shown growth in recent years. According to him most of the languages which are on the brink of extinctions are from coastal areas.
Out of 6,000 languages in the world, nearly 4,000 are facing a potential, not real, the danger of extinction in the next 50 years. Of these 4,000 languages, about 400 are in India. That means about 10 per cent potentially endangered languages are in India, which has 780 languages in total," he said.
"The notion that English might destroy big languages like Hindi, Bangla, Telugu, Marathi, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati and Punjabi is not well-founded because these languages are among the first 30 languages in the world. These top 30 languages are those which are at least a thousand years old, have over two crore speakers with a strong support from the film industry, good music tradition, educational availability and thriving media," he said.
The reason is that livelihood in coastal areas is no longer safe. The corporate world is doing deep sea fishing. Traditional fishing communities, on the other hand, have moved inwards...away from the coast, thus giving up their languages," he told PTI in an interview.
"I conceived the idea of the survey in 2003 and began the field work in 2010 with a team of 3,000 people. The data collection was completed in 2013 and since then, the publication process was started," he said.
The literary expert said while the danger of extinction looms large over some languages, many other languages have been thriving."For example, Samtali, Gondi (spoken in Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra), Bheli (Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat), Mizo (Mizoram), Garo and Khasi (Meghalaya) and Kotbarak (Tripura) are showing an upward trend because educated people in these communities have started using these languages for writing.
"They publish poems, write plays and perform them. In some of the languages, even films are being made. For instance, they have started making films in Gondi. The Bhojpuri film industry is prospering...the language itself is growing, probably the fastest in the country," he said. Devy said the survey also sheds light on ways to conserve our languages.
Sahitya Akademi award winner also sought to refute the notion that English posed a threat to many Indian languages."And to lose these languages means losing huge human capital, cultural capital and even real capital because languages can be economically productive if they are used imaginatively for developing technology," he argued.
Devy said people needed to look at this situation more carefully because languages, unlike air or water, are man-made.
"Language is man-made and comes out of great human labor. Thousands of years are spent before a language is born. If we lose our languages, we are doing a grave injustice to our predecessors and ancestors," he added.
Having completed the largest survey on Indian languages, Devy and his team are gearing up to document the world's existing languages under the project 'Global Language Status Report' (GLSR). "I have been building a team since 2008 which has members from places like Africa and Australia and it is my dream to complete this global survey," he told PTI.
Asked about any similar initiative elsewhere, the PLSI chief said Peter K Austin from England has worked on endangered languages but the scale of the project was "not as huge as that of the PLSI. "The GLSR will survey all the 6,000 languages in the world," he added.