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Empowering Smaller Languages and The Role of Responsible Linguistics


Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore (India) ... In R.H. Robins and E.M. Uhlenbeck, Robins (editors). Endangered Languages. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Empowering Smaller Languages and The Role of Responsible Linguistics

Empowering Smaller Languages and The Role of
Responsible Linguistics
  • Udaya Narayana Singh
  • Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore

India Workshop on Multilingual Education Keynote
Address CIIL, Mysore Oct 25, 2005
There is an old Chinese Proverb -
Better to light a candle than to curse the
And there is another -
"Tell me and I'll forget Show me and I
may remember involve me and I'll understand."
We have gathered here to make a beginning to
forge new relationships for a cause
the cause of Multilingual Education for Tribal
Speech Communities.
riHlit il-alf miil tabda bixaTwa
From small beginnings come great things India
Workshop on MLE is only a beginning
  • As we make this small beginning, let me follow a
    reverse order in the way I would touch upon the
    three key concepts.
  • I shall share with you a few thoughts on
    Education, Multilingualism Indian scenario
    in this order.

Arabic proverb
What is Education?
  • A Question that has intrigued thinkers in all
  • Observation?
  • Absorption?
  • Expansion?
  • Description?
  • Application?
  • Memorization?
  • Specialization?

That which liberates is education
  • To be educated means to be
    liberated whether in India (sa vidya ya
    vimuktaye) or in the Classical western world with
    artes liberales or Liberal Arts education.
  • Guided by thinkers like Pythagoras, Plato, and
    St. Augustine, it was divided into the artes
    sermocinales, or language studies and the artes
    reales, or physicae, i.e. the mathematico-physical

In this learning tree, there are three layers
At the lower base are language branches, the
mathematical branches in the intermediate, and
the science proper as the terminal element.
To educate What does it mean?
  • Educate as a term dating back to 1447, from L.
    educatus, pp. of educere "bring up, rear, which
    is itself derived from ex- "out"
    ducere "to lead."
  • To be educated thus meant to be ready to lead the
  • It was only after 1588 that it has been used in
    the sense of "providing schooling Online
    Etrymological Dictionary.

Out to Lead
Make Choices
  • Education also meant to be an art of making
    choices when one is at crossroads.
  • What was known as liberal arts was viewed in
    terms of crossing two threshold marks - the
    Trivium ("the three roads") and the Quadrivium
    ("the four roads").

Multilingualism in India
Plurality Square
The Strategies
  • Two points emerge clearly
  • One You cant plan for and develop any one of
    these four without considering the other.
  • Two We need to revisualise their boundaries,
    because they have an inbuilt fuzziness.

a burden or an asset?
  • Language distances in India are great in both
    structure and function, i.e. in both grammar and
  • Each family has numerous languages, and there are
    also many language types.
  • At the same time, the linguistic landscape in
    India shows remarkable similarities due to areal
  • While many lament about the lack of a single link
    language, each one of our major languages acts as
    binding force.
  • Each major language links a few other languages.
  • Thus, although India has always had a large
    number of languages, there have been no breakdown
    in communication here.

Figures on Multilingualism What do they
  • Indias national average of bilingualism in 1991
    (19.44) was significantly higher than the
    averages of 1961 (9.7).
  • 1991 trilingualism figures are 7.26.
  • Obviously, these figures are only indicative.
  • A reality check may give us a greater number of
    both active and passive bilinguals.
  • But does it mean that because of the pressures of
    societal bilingualism, individuals too are
    naturally bilingual?
  • Or, does it mean that we notice such large scale
    bilingualism because speakers of smaller
    languages are slowly shifting to other languages?
  • This last possibility is definitely alarming.

Speech Variation Nothing New
  • The final picture in respect of the linguistic
    landscape of India will emerge only after a great
    deal of linguistic research yet to be been
  • At this point of time, we could only be tentative
    about the extent of linguistic plurality here,
    because there are a large number of smaller and
    unclassified languages waiting to be described.
  • Different accounts give between 114 to a total of
    216 to 401 languages, and none of these is based
    on a kind of survey done by Grierson.
  • Census as we know talks about Rationalization of
    language labels, but it has neither been based
    on dialect surveys nor on solid work in
    historical-comparative linguistics.
  • However, it is a huge linguistic net that is at
    work with trends and influences running across
    language families and speech areas.

Challenging would be a one-word summary
  • At the turn of 20th cent, LSI reported 179
    languages and 544 dialects.
  • In 1951, besides the 14 Eighth Schedule
    languages, we find 23 major tribal languages and
    24 other minority languages, each with over
    100,000 plus speakers, as well as 722 smaller
  • 1961/1971 Census 193 classified languages out of
    a total of 1,652 mother tongue labels.

The Range of Multilingual Situation
  • 1,576 rationalized mother-tongues
  • 1,796 other mother-tongues
  • 96 speak only 20-odd IA Dravidian languages
    included in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.
  • Speakers of 20 Austric languages and 98
    Sino-Tibetan languages together make up about
    another 2.
  • 14 major writing systems in use.

Data Source 1991 Census of India
The Written Languages Scene
  • Written Languages Padmanabha, Mahapatra, Verma
    and McConnel (1989) survey covered 96 out of our
    114 populous languages (with 10k plus speakers)
    listed in Census 1981.
  • About 50 were found to have written modes of
  • We are all aware that the highest literary prizes
    are given in 22 languages

Plurality index functionality
  • Languages in School We teach about 58 to 69
    languages either as subject or as media of
    instruction, although only 33 are used as media
    of instruction as of 2004.
  • Languages of Mass Media There are 3954
    newspapers and periodicals in 35 languages with
    varying degrees of regularity and readership.
  • 146 speech varieties 24 major languagesused
    in radio network

India Problems and Prognosis
  • There are sociolinguists who looked at the
    Indian situation as a deviant phenomenon as if
    mono-lingualism is the norm and multilingualism
    an aberration.
  • In the initial stages, the literature on Language
    Planning was packed with ideas that linked
    multilingualism with economic backwardness.
  • However, as UNESCOs studies documents have
    shown again and again, multilingualism is not a
    minus point for speech communities, and that
    mother-tongue education remains the best
  • The prognosis of the colonial rulers was that
    divergence of traditions in India will lead to
    conflicts and clashes between civilisations,
    once India gained independence.
  • This kind of opinion was expressed in spite of
    the well-attested fact that cultural and
    religious traditions in South Asia has always
    been plural.
  • It was a general prediction that with population
    on the rise, their fundamental differences will
    become more pronounced.

1. The Task Ahead
  • Speakers of a large number of Indian languages
    seem to be like this bird in a cage longing for
    freedom available only to their more fortunate
    fellow Indians whose languages are represented in
    the Indian Constitution.

What can we, as stake-holders of language and
education, do about them?
How has Language been viewed in India?
Peelable Layered Cyclic
  • On the other hand, languages have always been
    viewed like a peelable entity First, the
    Grammatical layer then the cultural layer, and
    then the moral layer.
  • Even within grammar there are outer and inner
    layers. Such was the conceptualization in our
    linguistic tradition.
  • More you peel off, the deeper you go, and it gets
    darker and darker, and we know less and less
    about the inner elements.
  • The situation becomes often more complex here
    with different languages occupying different
  • Furthermore, since different languages in the
    same speech communities perform different
    functions, theres another kind of layering that
    defines the Indias landscape.

Moral for Sociolinguists
  • Each speech community has a number of languages
    in its repertoire used for different functions.
  • The base language(s) would be in the inner fringe
    and so are the basic elements of grammar.
  • What is acquired through acculturation
    socialization are in the relatively outer
  • Therefore, while planning for elementary school
    education, we need to focus on the base languages
    or mother-tongues initially.

More the merrier
  • Apart from all other arguments given in the
    UNESCOs position paper on MLE (2001) or in
    UNESCOs 1953 or 1978 documents, this seems to be
    a very strong argument for emphasis on
    mother-tongue and bridge courses between the base
    and other languages in his/her contexts the
    regional and the national languages.

It is needless to mention here that in a global
economy, none will give up the advantages of
retaining an International language in the
education system.
India The Spread of the problem
  • One cannot, however, deny that there exists a
    problem which is a huge educational management
  • The Scheduled Tribes account for 67.76 millions
    representing 8.08 of our population (1991
    Census) The number is expected to be 88.8
    million in Census 2001 report.
  • Out of them, 1.32 million (1.95) are classified
    as PTGs and they deserve our special attention.

We not only need special provisions for their
protection from social injustices, we also need
concrete plans for development with safeguards
Hence, a workshop of this magnitude. We at CIIL
strongly believe that 'to develop language is to
develop society, and that 'the destiny of the
people is inextricably linked to the destiny of
their languages
What could we do in India?
  • Many have a general feeling that we do not have a
    mechanism in place to protect and promote minor
    and endangered languages.
  • The trouble is that they often point to small
    countries where Constitutional provisions and in
    Universal Education documents are specifically
  • In case of India, the sheer size of the country
    and complexity of the administration are such
    that it cannot be compared with others.

  • 5th 6th Sch, Article 224 Under Home Ministry
  • Special representation for STs in Lok Sabha and
    Assemblies (Arts, 330, 332 and 334)
  • Separate State-level and National Commission
    (Art 164 and 338) under the Ministry of Tribal
  • Commission for Linguistic Minorities (Allahabad)
    under the Ministry of Social Justice
  • Dept of Elementary Education as well as Language
    Bureau are under the Ministry of HRD
  • Then there are -
  • Grant-in-Aid scheme under Article 275(1)
  • Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955
  • The SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989

A lot more needs to be done
  • Planning Commissions landmark step during 2nd
    Plan 43 Special Multi-purpose Tribal Blocks
  • Under 4th Plan, six major projects in Andhra
    Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa to
    focus on the tribals.
  • The Fifth Five Year Plan accommodated a Tribal
    Sub Plan (TSP) for direct benefit
  • In 1987, the TRIFED was set up
  • One could go on and on.

Points to ponder over
  • We need to move for greater affirmative action so
    that we could arrest the endangered and heritage
    languages from disappearing.
  • Many would raise the bogey of Cost-effectiveness
    the enorrmous sums required on printing,
    publishing, propagating and teaching smaller
  • But could we not think of making the
    documentation, learning and propagation easier
    and inexpensive, by promoting heritage language
    computing in a big way?

What happens if we dont care?
... this vastly reduced reservoir of linguistic
diversity … constitutes one of the great
treasures of humanity, an enormous store-house of
expressive power and profound understandings of
the universe. The loss of the hundreds of
languages that have already passed into history
is an intellectual catastrophe in every way
comparable in magnitude to the ecological
catastrophe we face today… Each language still
spoken is fundamental to the personal, social and
- a key term in the discourse of indigenous
peoples - spiritual identity of its speakers.
They know that without these languages they would
be less than they are, and they are engaged in
the most urgent struggles to protect their
linguistic heritage. (Zepeda and Hill, 1991)  
Zepeda, O. and J.H. Hill, 1991. The Condition of
Native American Languages in the United States.
In R.H. Robins and E.M. Uhlenbeck, Robins
(editors). Endangered Languages. Oxford Berg
CIIL In Favour of Social and Linguistic Justice
  • CIIL joins in all moves that support linguistic
    diversity the idea is to build up pressure for
    equality and justice to all speech communities
  • Language rights ensure other rights and benefits.
  • Linguistic Pluralism and Multilingual Education
    go hand in hand.
  • A commitment like this engages us in dealing with
    both policy planners and groups that implement
    them the agents of change.
  • What we need for that is greater networking a
    concept ingrained in our tradition already.

Thank You
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