‘10% of world’s endangered languages spoken in India’

Press Trust of India New Delhi | Updated on January 09, 2018


The most threatened are the coastal languages, says People’s Linguistic Survey of India chief Ganesh N Devy

Nearly 10 per cent of the world’s 4,000 languages facing ‘extinction’ threat in the next 50 years is spoken in India, says linguist Ganesh N Devy.

He felt that English posed no real threat to major Indian languages.

Devy, chairman, People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI), said the most threatened are the coastal languages of the country.

Coastal languages

“Many languages are on the verge of disappearance and most of them are the coastal languages. The reason is that livelihood in coastal areas is no longer safe. The corporate world is doing deepsea 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. He, however, said some tribal languages have also shown growth in recent years.

Devy was in the national capital for the release of 11 volumes of the PLSI, claimed to be the world’s largest linguistic surveys.

The country’s total 780 languages were surveyed by a team of 3,000 people in 27 states under the study.

Devy said the study will cover the remaining states of Sikkim, Goa and Andaman and Nicobar islands by December.

“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 others have been thriving.

Upward trend

“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.

No threat from English

The 67-year-old Sahitya Akademi award winner also sought to debunk the notion that English posed a threat to many Indian languages.

“The notion that English might destroy big languages like Hindi, Bangla, Telugu, Marathi, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati and Punjabi is not well-founded because eight of these major languages are among the first 30 languages, which are thousands of years older.

Over 2 crore people speak these languages with a strong support from the film industry, good music tradition and thriving media,” he said.

Extinction threat

Devy said 4,000 of the world’s 6,000 languages face a potential threat of extinction, out of which 10 per cent is spoken in India. In other words, 400 Indian languages out of our total 780 languages may get extinct, he said. “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 labour. Thousands of years are spent before a language is born. If we lose our languages, we are doing grave injustice to our predecessors and ancestors,” he said.

Having completed one of the largest surveys 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).

“The GLSR will survey all the 6,000 languages in the world,” he added.

Published on August 04, 2017

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