[lg policy] Endangered languages in Tamil Nadu (India)

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Sun Nov 3 18:04:34 UTC 2013


  Seventeen languages spoken in pockets of Tamil Nadu are in danger of
extinction, according to the People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI),
which will be released in August. Thirteen of these tribal languages are
spoken by less than 10,000 people.
    “This is the beginning of endangerment. The second stage of
endangerment is when the language loses its domain of use, meaning there is
no literature, cinema or education in
the language,” said PLSI chairperson G N Devy. The Bettakurumba tribal
language of the Nilgris is an example; while it has music, it has no cinema
or literature.
    Tamil Nadu also has the least diversity in terms of ratio of population
to language. Only 20 languages are listed as belonging to Tamil Nadu. West
Bengal and Maharashtra are the most diverse with 38 languages each. “In
Tamil Nadu, Tamil and Hindi are the main languages spoken. As a result,
other languages are not spoken,” said Devy.
    PLSI is a country-wide, community-driven documentation of Indian
languages conducted by Vadodara-based Bhasha Research and Publication
Centre for four years. Researchers identified 780 languages, some of which
were earlier categorised as dialects, and 66 scripts across the country.
    The increased migration of tribals to cities has resulted in the
decline of tribal languages. “The tribal population of Tamil Nadu is less
than 10% of what it was in 1952,” said Devy.
    For instance, Eravalla, a tribal language spoken in the Anamalai region
of the Western Ghats, is no longer used by younger members of the tribe.
Linguistics professor V Gnana Sundaram, who studied the language and
published his report in 2012, said, “Only older women speak the language. I
prepared a grammar for it but the younger generation doesn’t want to learn
it. They are more interested in Tamil and English and finding jobs in the
city.” Sundaram worked on the TN section of PLSI.
    Linguistics professor K Rangan, who also worked on the survey, said
some of the endangered languages have interesting characteristics. “The
Toda language of the Nilgiris has fascinated anthropologists and linguists
since the 1930s because of its use of centralised vowels (where the central
part of the tongue is used), not usually done in the other Dravidian
languages,” he said. “Vagriboli, a language spoken by a nomadic TN tribe of
the same name, has links to Gujarati,” he said.
    Tamil Nadu has 36 tribal languages, but the survey documents only 20.
“The survey only documents the languages that have been studied,” said
Sundaram, who works at Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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