UNESCO vs Indian Government on Endangered Languages (repost from LINGUIST List

David Stampe stampe at HAWAII.EDU
Wed Sep 8 16:57:54 UTC 2010

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  Message1: Indian Government Stand on Endangered Languages
From:Thangi Chhangte chhangte at gmail.com 
<mailto:chhangte at gmail.com>
LINGUIST List issue 

New Delhi, Aug 30:

Misgivings over a UNESCO report that has described 191 
Indian languages as
endangered and five as extinct have prompted the Centre to 
begin work on a
white paper on tribal languages in each state.

Sixty-four languages that the latest UNESCO World Atlas of 
Languages describes as endangered are spoken in the 
Northeast and along the
India-Nepal border. Thirty-nine are spoken in the Northeast 

'Many of the languages listed as dead or endangered are very 
much alive and
kicking. The government has decided to send fact-finding 
teams to every
state to document the tribal languages, especially those 
declared dying or
dead by UNESCO,' a tribal affairs ministry official said.

The Centre for Tribal and Endangered Languages, a division 
of the Central
Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, has been assigned the 
job. 'The CIIL
will bring out a white paper. That would be hard evidence 
which can be
presented before any international body,' the official said. 
Work is
already on with the head of the Centre for Tribal and 
Endangered Languages,
Prof. G. Devi Prasada Shastri, visiting the Northeast.

Tribal leaders had brought the matter to the government's 
notice. 'We
received representations that the widely spoken Aimol and 
Tarao had been
put on the Unesco list,' the official said.

The two languages figure on UNESCO's critically endangered 
list, which
would mean they are spoken only by the elderly and that too 
and partially. Aimol Literature Society chairman S.L. Warte 
termed the
Unesco report "unfortunate" and demanded correction.

'The population that speaks Andro, Aimol and Tarao may not 
be large, but
these languages are being spoken," said Ch. Jashobanta, a 
professor at Manipur University.'

Jashobanta, however, agreed that the languages would count 
as endangered by
international standards because less than 10,000 people 
speak them.

The CIIL says there is confusion over the definition of 
language. "Most
languages listed in UNESCO's e-atlas are not considered 
languages but
mother tongues in India. We go by the Census 2001 
definition. If there are
10,000 or more speakers, it's a language, else it's a mother 
tongue," a
CIIL researcher said.

Mother tongues are not included in the Eighth Schedule, a 
list of 22
officially recognized languages. "Only if a language is in 
the Eighth
Schedule will it be taught in schools as part of the 
formula,'' said Aravind Sachdeva, a specialist on tribal 
languages. He
pointed to an increasing tendency among tribals to speak 
Hindi or English
as the reason for their languages being labeled endangered.

But Asam Sahitya Sabha president Rongbong Terang and 
educationist Tabu Ram
Taid believe tribals can protect their languages. 'I don't 
think any tribal
language of Assam would ever become extinct. I can speak 
Assamese, English,
Hindi and many other languages. But my mother tongue is 
Karbi and I speak
Karbi with my family and friends,' Terang said, describing 
report as exaggerated. Karbi is on the list as a vulnerable 

Taid, closely associated with the preservation of his mother 
tongue Mising,
too disagrees with the UNESCO report. Mising, on UNESCO's 
endangered list,
is spoken by 517,170 people out of a population of 587,310, 
according to
the 2001 census. 'Mising today has a firm written tradition 
and has even
been introduced in primary schools,'  Taid said.

An email seeking UNESCO's response went unanswered till 
Saturday evening.

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