The endangered languages of India

Policharcha.com | Updated: February 19, 2020, 7:09 IST

Nihali language. Critically endangered.

Nihali

  • Nihali is the spoken language of the tribe Nihal, which is situated in Jalgaon Jamod Tehsil on the border of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
  • According to UNESCO, it is among the 42 critically endangered languages in India with around 2,000 speakers.
  • Nihali is considered to be a language isolate which means that it does not belong to any of the major language families, making it one of the most unique languages in the Indian subcontinent.
  • Though the people of Nihali tribe have rich folklore with their own versions of Panchatantra and songs that tell the story of Ramayana, the language does not have a script, making the preservation of the language a difficult task.
  • Due to less exposure among children, it faces threat of extinction. Moreover, Nihali speakers often mingle with and marry speakers of Korku, Marathi, and Hindi. There is a possibility that Nihali will be lost in the next two generations. 
  • The language is protected under the Protection and Preservation of Endangered Languages of India scheme as it has less than 10,000 speakers.
  • A tri-lingual dictionary with Nihali-English-Hindi translations of up to 2,000 words is being prepared by the linguistic department of Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute in Pune.

Tulu language. Vulnerable.

Tulu

  • Tulu is a Dravidian language whose speakers are concentrated in two coastal districts of Karnataka and in Kasaragod district of Kerala.
  • Kasaragod district is called ‘Sapta bhasha Samgama Bhumi (the confluence of seven languages)’, and Tulu is among the seven. The Census 2011 reports more than 1.8 million native speakers of Tulu in India.
  • The Tulu-speaking people are larger in number than speakers of Manipuri, Bodo, and Sanskrit, but still it does not find a place in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India.
  • According to UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, Tulu belongs to the vulnerable category as it is spoken by children as mother tongue but only in their homes.
  • The oldest available inscriptions in Tulu are from the period between 14th and 15th century AD.
  • There used to be some confusion regarding the script of Tulu language which closely resembles Malayalam, but according to new research it was found that Tulu language possessed its own script before Malayalam script even existed. It is now believed that Malayalam script got developed from Tulu script as the latter language predates the former one by more than a thousand years.

undefined

Jarawa

  • Jarawa is an Ongan (South Andamanese) language spoken by the Jarawa tribe of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. 
  • The language has been tagged as critically endangered by UNESCO under its Atlas of Endangered Languages.
  • About 99% percent of its speakers are ethnic and have an estimated population of not more than 400.
  • It enjoys the status of an official language in the Andaman Islands.
  • The term Jarawa means ‘stranger’. The tribal people call themselves Aong which means ‘people’.
  • The language does not have a script, and has existed orally since the ages.
  • There are no dialects or varieties, though it is closely related to its neighbouring language, Onge.
  • It is an agglutinative language. It has a system of 9 vowels and 26 consonants.
  • The syntax follows Subject-Object-Verb pattern and the noun is always placed before an adjective.
  • It doesn’t have tenses so the tribal people manage to understand it by judging the context of the conversation.

undefined

Toda

  • Toda language belongs to the Dravidian language family. Dravidian family includes 73 languages spoken by a population of 222 million spread across southern India, Sri lanka, parts of Pakistan, and Nepal.
  • Toda language is indigenous to Toda tribe, who reside in Nilgiri and Kundra Hills in Tamil Nadu. Todas are traditionally pastoralists and breed a kind of water buffalos.
  • Although the phonology of the language is the most varying among the Dravidian languages, Toda is a non-literary language, meaning that it does not have a script.
  • Toda has 14 vowels and 37 consonants which is most in the Dravidian language family.
  • The language is spoken by almost 3000 people, and comes under the critically endangered category according to UNESCO report.
  • There is a high possibility of the language becoming extinct as it faces cultural oppositions from assimilating into social environments.
  • The Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL), Mysore is engaged in the protection, preservation, and documentation of languages spoken by less than 10,000 people across the country, under the Protection and Preservation of Endangered Languages of India scheme, which includes Toda also.

undefined

Rangkas

  • Rangkas is one of the extinct languages of India that was spoken by the Rangas community of Uttarakhand. The language belonged to the family of Sino-Tibetan and West-Himalayish languages. 
  • Rangkas is one of the five languages hailing from the Himalyan belt that were declared extinct by UNESCO. The other four are Ahom, Andro, Sengmai, and Tolcha.
  • Its prominence lied in the nearby areas of Indo-Nepal border (Mahakali Valley) and in Dharchula, Munsyari, Johar Valley, and Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand. It was declared extinct in the early 20th century.
  • There are no proves of any script and dialects related to the language.
  • Some alternate names of the Rangkas are as Canpa, Johari, Saukas, Chyanam and Kyonam.
  • About 1000 people belonging to the Rangas community still live in the villages of Pithoragarh, but they no longer speak their mother tongue.
  • It is believed that the Rangas community joined the Kumaoni people, and subsequently adapted the Kumaoni language and culture.

undefined

Kolami

  • Kolami is a tribal language which belongs to the Kolami-Naiki sub family of Central Dravidian languages.
  • It is mostly spoken in the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Telangana. Census 2011 boasts a speaker base of around 1,28,500 people for this language.
  • It is spoken by Kolam tribe which is a scheduled tribe in India and listed in Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
  • According to UNESCO, children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in their homes, therefore it has been classified as a definitely endangered language.
  • It is believed to be heavily influenced from Telugu, a South-Central Dravidian language spoken in Andhra Pardesh, Telangana, and Puducherry.
  • Kolami is also known as Kolme, Kolamboli, Kulmi, and Kolamy.
  • There are notably three dialects of the Kolami language, which are Eastern Kolami, North Western Kolami, and Central Kolami.
  • Prof. Sathupati Prasanna Sree, an Indian linguist, has been working for preserving minority tribal languages within India and created a unique script for the Kolami language that consists a total of 74 characters. 
  • One can find folk songs, poems, and stories related to the tribal language on the internet.

undefined

Bonda

  • Also knows as Remo, Bonda language is spoken by the people of the Bonda tribe in Jeypore Hills, west of Machkund River in the Malkangiri district of the state of Odisha. 
  • It is a Munda language and belongs to the Austro-Asiatic language family.
  • The language does not have a script. 
  • According to linguist George Van Driem, in 2007 there were around 2,500 native speakers of Bonda.
  • According to the UNESCO report, the language is considered to be severely endangered which means that the language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves
  • Due to the absence of a script, the children of the tribe are not exposed to Bonda, instead they learn Odia in schools and as a result use it for daily communication as well.
  • As per the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the Bonda tribe is a part of particularly vulnerable tribal groups.

More to follow