Endangered languages of India and their preservation

India is the best example of Cultural Diversity and the rich treasure of its indigenous languages is a huge part of the country's multilingual diversity.

In fact, UNESCO has recognized India as one of the most linguistically diverse countries, having 22 scheduled languages, hundreds of local languages and dialects.

As per the 2011 Census report on Languages and Mother Tongue, India has 121 recorded languages and 19,569 raw mother tongues. The linguistic plurality of the nation is a marker of multiple ethnic identities, cross-cultural communication, and social integration.

This emphasis on mother tongue points towards a crisis that needs to be addressed today – the endangered languages.

There are 42 Indian languages as ‘critically’ endangered according to UNESCO. Language endangerment is followed by language extinction, In India the perilous situation of languages spoken by lesser-known tribal communities is alarming. Once a language goes extinct, the world view and the traditional knowledge system which are embedded in the language of the community also perishes.

The People’s Linguistic Survey of India recorded 780 languages in the country. The survey claims that 220 languages were lost in India in the previous five decades while 197 are currently endangered. Ahom, Andro, Rangkas, Sengmai and Tolcha are some of the extinct Indian languages.

In order to preserve the many endangered languages in India, the Ministry of Human Resource Development created the Scheme for Protection and Preservation of Endangered Languages (SPPEL) in the year 2013.

Under this scheme the government documents and enlists the languages which are spoken by less than 10,000 speakers or languages that are not linguistically studied earlier.

So far, 117 languages have been listed for the documentation such as AIMOL in NorthEast Zone, ARANADAN in Southern Zone, BARADI in West Central Zone, BATERI in Northern Zone, BIRHOR in East Central Zone, etc.

Documentation is done in the form of grammar, dictionary and ethnolinguistic profiles. About 500 lesser-known languages are estimated to be accomplished in the coming years.

The theme for this year’s International Mother Language Day celebration is “Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society." The day is celebrated globally to recognise and promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

The inclusion of mother languages into the education systems is more important than ever before.

The National Education Policy 2020 of India last year, had ‘emphasised’ the use of mother tongue or local language as the medium of instruction till Class 5 while, recommending its continuance till Class 8 and beyond.

In order to bridge any gaps that exist between the language spoken by the child and the medium of teaching, the inclusion of the mother tongue in the academic curriculum not only ensures multilingual education from early childhood but also preserves the said languages which are closer to individual ethnic diversities.


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