Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hundreds of Indian languages struggle to survive ...!!!

Hundreds of Indian languages struggle to survive

Classrooms at the Adivasi Academy in western India echo to the speech patterns of languages that may soon become no more than a meaningless jumble of noises.

Kukna, Panchmahali and Rathvi are just three of dozens of tribal Indian tongues taught at the academy, which was set up in 1996 in an attempt to preserve the country's indigenous cultures.

India's 1.16-billion people speak more than 6,500 languages and dialects, according to the 2001 census.

But almost 200 of them are seriously endangered, says the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO, as Hindi and English strengthen their grip in an increasingly mobile and interconnected world.

"If younger generations don't learn these languages, they will be forgotten," said academy teacher Jeetendra Vasava, 29. "Without education in the next 30 years the current speakers will get old and these languages will die."

Vasava, who believes India's rich diversity will be wrecked if local languages disappear, is a fine example of the nation's polyglot nature.

He speaks more than ten languages including his mother tongue Vasavi, which is spoken by less than 80,000 people in Gujarat and the western state of Maharashtra.

India's most endangered languages survive only in remote locations the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Himalayas, and northeastern regions bordering Bhutan and China where indigenous and nomadic groups remain strong.

But there are signs of a fightback against the effects of population decline and the rise of more prominent languages.

The Adivasi Academy trains 40 students a year to become cultural activists in native tongues such as Rathvi, which has around 118,000 speakers from the Rathva Bhils tribe in Gujarat and the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

Like many Indian languages, Rathvi did not have a written form until the academy created a script and illustrated glossary so that it could be taught in schools.

"When teachers would come to villages from outside they did not speak Rathvi, so the children could not understand them," said Sanjay Rathava, who spent two years studying at the academy in the town of Tejgadh.

He graduated in 2005 with a diploma in tribal studies and now oversees production of a Rathvi-language children's magazine called "Bol," which academy founder Ganesh Devy describes as "a humble version of Reader's Digest."



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