For most of us the preservation of languages is not the main reason to be interested in MLE. Still we do see the value of language in relation to culture. The January Issue of the Indian version of the magazine GEO has a cover story on "Unspoken tongues'. Some relevant quotes:
Few actually realise that languages are more than just a means of communication. They are emblematic of the way a people perceive the world and, thereby. offer a unique insight into the people who speak them and the cultures they represent. In the case of Bo and other Great Andamanese languages, they hold up a mirror to a tribal people whose culture dates back thousands of years.
Kanji Patel, a writer in Panchmahali Bhili, one of Gujarat's many endangered languages, says there are three fundamentals required to protect a language: "Teaching the language, publishing its literature, and spreading awareness of its existence among other language groups:'
The official neglect of many tribal languages in India has also pushed the Maoists to embrace them, in order to win over disaffected tribals. Gondi, a language spoken by over 2 million people but considered a 'non-scheduled' language, has been the medium of instruction for schools in regions under the control of Maoists in central India. Left far behind in this game of linguistic one-upmanship, the government of Chhattisgarh-where most Gondi speakers live and which has, until now, no textbook either for or in Gondi- produced this year, for the first time, textbooks to teach Gondi, Chhattisgarhi, Korku, Halbi and Surgujia languages in grades III, IV and V. Subhash Mishra, GM at the Chhattisgarh Textbook Corporation, hopes this will send a "positive message" to the tribals.[KvR: Does anybody have details on this?]
Fortunately, there are groups in India whose zeal is focused solely on protecting minor languages, the people who speak them and the cultures they represent. Bhasha, which had set up the Adivasi Academy in Tejgadh (Gujarat) in 2000, has been hard at work protecting minority groups, combined with health- related and educational interventions in tribal communities. It runs the Budhan Theatre Group, which promotes the cultures of "denotified erstwhile criminal tribes;" Himlok, an institute for Himalayan studies; and the successful Purva Prakash Publications Unit, which produces books and magazines in many marginalised languages. Earlier this year, Bhasha launched an ambitious People's Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI), which, when completed in about 5 years' time, hopes to create a better "linguistic democracy:'The article is not yet on the internet but I think the magazine is still available at the book stores. A OCR scan is uploaded here.
Elsewhere in Jharkhand, in the face of government apathy, the Jharkhandi Bhasha Sahitya Sanskriti Akhra OBSSA) has emerged as the guardian of marginal languages spoken in the region. Since 2003, the JBSSA has helped writers and cultural activists of endangered languages like Mundari, Ho, Asur, Kharia and Kurux coalesce into a group that has become their best hope of survival yet. So far, it has published 25 books in 10 tribal languages-all of which are at risk, with the exception of Santhali-and publishes lahar Disum Khabar, a fortnightly newspaper, to keep the languages afloat.
Karsten van Riezen
Education Consultant, SIL Int.
SIL, South Asia Group
Recommended website: http://www.nmrc-jnu.org/
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-- Education Consultant; SIL Intl, Mobile: 09868891282