[lg policy] Torrent of tongues

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Wed Nov 28 11:14:02 EST 2018

 Torrent of tongues

Mysuru hosts the Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL), set up in
1969 to help in evolving and implementing the language policy of Government
of India, essentially based on research covering language analysis,
language pedagogy and language use in society. Its Regional Language
Centres conduct teacher-training programmes for secondary school teachers
deputed by States and Union Territories in languages other than their
mother tongue. Despite the laudable work of the institute in the vast area
of languages, particularly the multitude of tongues in which the land’s
people communicate among themselves across its length and breadth,
currently estimated at 135 crore, the number of languages that have their
exclusive script in current use is a mere fraction of the  total number of
the country’s languages, including those without script. Nearer home,
Kodava, Tulu and Konkani serve as examples that are yet to have their
exclusive script. The three-language formula based on Hindi, English and
another regional language such as Kannada, Tamil and Telugu, adopted in
official circles and also for display of information about public utilities
such as roads is a classic example of addressing language-related matters.

Learning to first understand and then to communicate in more languages than
that learnt in childhood can be a fascinating experience that brings a
sense of boundless delight as fluency marks the dialogue. Speaking in the
language of persons from another region, to borrow a line from Shakespeare,
delights him that speaks and him that hears.

Shedding the frog-in-the-well attitude in the matter of knowledge relating
to languages of India, numbering more than 1,500, happens when one journeys
even short distances across different territories. A long journey by the
nation’s Railways is the best way of dispelling ignorance of the richness
of India’s tongues in their variety and more importantly the feature of
words in one language almost the same in another language. Although the 36
States and Union Territories were decided upon in the 1950s on the basis of
languages spoken in respective territories, in addition to inter-regional
diversity of languages across the country, its every region hosts people
speaking the same language in many different ways, both vocabulary-wise and


 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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