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Language extinction threat haunts speakers

By our Staff Reporter

GUWAHATI, January 2: The extinction threat to a number of ethnic languages in Assam continues to haunt their speakers in the backdrop of feeble protective measures from the state government for their survival. A number of languages of Assam, according to experts, are moribund and they are very much in the UNESCO’s list of endangered languages.

An endangered language is a language that is at risk of falling out of use as its speakers die out or shift to speaking another language. Language loss occurs when the language has no more tive speakers, and becomes a ‘dead language’.

The 28th Guwahati Book Fair today witnessed a brainstorming session on ‘The Languages and Cultures of Indigenous People of Assam: Crisis and Challenges’. The discussion was moderated by Dr Basanta Doley, a thinker and writer.

Taking part in the discussion, Indigo Deuri said: “There has been a hue and cry over the fear of many ethic languages of Assam being extinct. Such a threat perception emates from the extinction of many languages in the world every now and then. However, I don’t think any languages of Assam will face such a situation. When it is carefully studied about the extinct languages in the world, they are found to be of primitive tribes. Assam has no such primitive tribes. The tribes of Assam are much developed. They are very conscious about their language and culture. I don’t think one day they will have to face the extinction of their languages and cultures. The effect of globalization thought to be one of the main reasons behind language cannibalism has no strong basis in Assam.”

Deuri further said: “Once the Bodo language was thought to be an endangered language. However, now the  language is an 8th Scheduled language. It’s quite safe. Speakers of as many as 38 languages, including Khasi, have applied for their inclusion in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.”

Sushil Kumar Suri, a Tea Tribe writer, said: “Tea Tribes have as many as 108 dialects that are quite different from one another. All these dialects in Assam are endangered. The poor and illiterate Tea Tribes remain busy in making their ends meet. They’re not at all conscious to preserve their language and culture. They came to Assam long back as ‘Kulis’, and still now they are treated as ‘Kulis’ much to their annoyance. Such tribes never fought for the recognition of their languages that are moribund.”

On Assamese language and culture, Suri said: “Due to lack of dignity and consciousness about history, Assamese language and culture are at stake. The present trend of SMS is also going to deal a blow to our languages. Such a trend has to be done away with.”

Ratneswar Basumatary said: “In order to include Bodo as the medium of instruction, the Bodos had to struggle a lot. The result is that the Bodo language is quite safe now after its inclusion in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution. Without the fighting spirit nothing can be gained. I appeal to leaders of the ethnic communities of the state to fight to get their demands fulfilled.”

Biswath Rabhatara blamed it on the state government for its negligence on the development of the ethnic languages in Assam. He said: “The development of ethnic languages is very slow in the state due to the neglect of Dispur in recognizing them as media of instruction in their respective areas.”

Moderator Basanta Doley said: “A writer sitting tight in Guwahati and writing books can never reflect the mind of a tribal living in a far–flung rural area. The new trend of SMS will cost dearly. In the West linguists, with assistance from their respective governments, have been taking measures to preserve and protect the languages that are moribund. If the current trend in Assam is allowed to continue for long, a number of ethnic languages of the state are sure to face extinction. The current treatment to such languages has to be changed if such languages are to be kept alive.”

Meanwhile, at a function moderated by poet Nilim Kumar today in the book fair, over 30 poets of Assam recited their self–composed poems. The programme had a number of audience, mainly literati.  

About the author

Ankur Kalita

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