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India now aims to document 6000 world languages

By FnF Correspondent | PUBLISHED: 03, Aug 2017, 20:25 pm IST | UPDATED: 06, Aug 2017, 10:53 am IST

India now aims to document 6000 world languages New Delhi: India took a major leap today in documenting and preserving its language diversity with the People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI) launching the volumes on languages spoken across 10 states in India including Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Assam, West Bengal, Bihar and Karnataka.

These volumes have been published by Orient BlackSwan publishers. The ceremony was held here today in C. D. Deshmukh Hall, India International Centre (IIC), New Delhi which saw the launch of 26 books/volumes. These were launched by former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in presence of several dignitaries, intellectuals, historians and academicians like Kapila Vatsayan, Asis Nandi, Ashok Vajpayee, Major General (Retd.) L.K. Gupta, Chairman INTACH. 

PLSI, an initiative of Bhasha Research and Publication Centre, Vadodara, will eventually bring out 60 such volumes by the end of 2018 to be published by Orient Blackswan. These volumes will be published both in Hindi and English. Some volumes will also be published in regional languages of India.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Manmohan Singh, former Prime Minister of India, stressed the fundamental importance of languages to human society, saying that, “innovative research related to languages” needs to be encouraged.

Dr. Singh appreciated Bhasha Research and Publication Centre for making efforts to preserve the Indian languages. Dr.G. N Devy, General Editor and Chairperson, PLSI said that “The central idea of this survey is to document and preserve 780 languages which are being spoken in India today. Today is the day of celebration of language diversity for the country and we will ensure that these languages survive the test of time and place.”

Dr. Ganesh Devy also announced the next big project “Global Languages Survey” under which over 6000 languages being spoken in the world will be surveyed and documented. Talking about the project Devy said, “India will be only country in the world with such a big repository of world languages. Global Language Survey Report aims to ensure that no language ever slips into oblivion. We aim to complete the entire exercise by 2022.”  

Along with this, the event also saw the launch of “Dakashinayana Indian Thought” (DIT) series which is an attempt to bring together discursive literature available in Indian languages and democratic culture. These are compiled by collective of thinkers and scholars from different parts of the country.

Dr. Ganesh Devy

Dr. Ganesh Devy is a renowned literary critic and activist and is the Founder Director of the Bhasha Research and Publication Center, Vadodara and Adivasi Academy at Tejgadh, Gujarat. He started the People's Linguistic Survey of India in 2010 under which has researched and documented 780 Living Indian Languages. He was educated at Shivaji University, Kolhapur and the University of Leeds, UK. Among his many academic assignments, he has held fellowships at Leeds University and Yale University and has been a Jawaharlal Nehru Fellow (1994–96).

He was awarded Padma Shri for recognition of his work with de-notified and nomadic tribes education and his work on dying-out languages. He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for After Amnesia, and the SAARC Writers’ Foundation Award for his work with denotified tribals.

He has also won the reputed Prince Claus Award (2003) awarded by the Prince Claus Fund for his work for the conservation of the history, languages, and views of oppressed communities in the Indian state of Gujarat.

His Marathi book Vanaprasth has received six awards including the Durga Bhagwat Memorial Award and the Maharashtra Foundation Award. Along with Laxman Gaikwad and Mahashweta Devi, he is one of the founders of The Denotified and Nomadic Tribes Rights Action Group (DNT-RAG). He won the 2011 Linguapax Prize for his work for the preservation of linguistic diversity.

Speech of Dr. Manmohan Singh on the occasion of felicitation of scholars involved in the People’s Linguistic Survey of India at India International Centre

I feel pleased in being a part of this function organized to felicitate scholars who have compiled various volumes of the People’s Linguistic survey of India.  It has been a pleasure for me to be asked to release 11 volumes of the Survey. I am glad to know that the entire PLSI series runs into 50 volumes containing a total of 92 titles in English, Hindi and various regional languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Gujarati, Oriya, Bangla, Assamiya, Nepali, Khasi and Garo.  Your collective undertaking is as impressive in its scope as it is unique in its conception. I congratulate all involved in it on their singular intellectual accomplishment.  The documentation of languages and publishing it in a series of volume effectively highlights diversity, bahutva, which is the very centre of healthy democracies.  

We all know how fundamentally important language is in the human life. Had the homo-sapiens not acquired the remarkable art of communicating through  symbolic sounds, they would have hardly moved ahead of other species in the process of evolution. The human heritage of languages extends back to aeons prior to our time. All that is of value to our thought and action has been carried forward from epoch to epoch in the form of language. It will not be far from truth to say that the world as visualized by a person is shaped by the power of the word available to that person. Such being the importance of language, it is necessary for every civilization to care for the languages that it has shaped, and the ones that have shaped the civilization itself.

In the case of India, this is even more pertinent as India has been a home to a large number of mighty languages in the past and continues to be so in the present.  We get an idea of the wealth of languages in our country when we take note of some basic facts.   Ours is one of the few countries in the world with a large diversity of languages in existence,  the diversity range being  defined between 500 languages ( UNESCO estimate) and 1150 languages  (number as verified against 1961 Census of Mother Tongues). I am told that the People’s Linguistic Survey has pegged this figure at 780 languages. We have officially recognized 22 languages in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution. Ours is perhaps the only country in the world to have pursued the Three Languages Formula at various levels of school education over nearly half a century. The continuation of the diversity is encouraged through radio programmes in over 120 languages;   Diversity is also evident in the newspapers, periodicals and little magazines circulating in over 65 languages.

In keeping with the spirit of the times, almost all university level institutions in India in the area of Information and Communication Technology have either established Departments, Centres or Specialized Units for teaching and research in some aspects of Computational Linguistics such as language data mining, scripts and search applications. However, despite this amazing language diversity and the extensive engagement in languages, we seem to have lagged behind in linguistic research. Our scholars know all about Saussure and Chomsky; but they are not able to use the theories of Panini and Bhartrihari, Anandvardhan and Abhinavagupt with equal ease. In the process, we have continued to imbibe and mime the colonial knowledge of languages and Linguistics despite having such enormous wealth of theoretical resource in our own intellectual tradition. Prof. Devy’s work shows that the amazingly diverse understanding of  numbers and classificatory devises available in the less studied Indian languages have a great potential for providing theoretical basis for innovations in Computer Sciences and Information Technology.  

A high level of employment and business opportunities can open up for the trained man-power in these fields if the latent potential of Indian linguistic diversity is tapped by Linguistics and Computational Sciences.  In order to make fresh break-through in the fields of knowledge and nurturing innovations in Sciences and technology,  research drawing upon the vast linguistic diversity will be of crucial importance. This can be achieved through productive intellectual collaborations as the People’s Linguistic Survey has done. In absence of  such close collaborative and interdisciplinary research in Indian universities, institutes of technology and  medical-sciences centres, other global players will turn their attention to exploring, documenting and processing the diversity of indigenous and non-scheduled languages in India. And the linguistic capital in India may get  appropriated by the scientifically and technologically more innovative countries for feeding into enhancement of science and technology.

It may be most timely and appropriate to the global and the national situation to encourage innovative research practices and to work the new trends in languages based Science and Technology to India’s economic advantage, as well as to become the world leader in the field of language conservation and language diversity. Towards that end, the work of Prof. Devy and his large team has made an excellent beginning. His new initiative of assessing the language viability for all languages of the world, the Global Language Status Report, is commendable.  The comprehensive survey of the living languages of India being prepared by him and his entire team fulfills a long overdue need. As the survey is primarily aimed at understanding linguistic heritage of communities, Bhasha is bringing out the entire series published through Orient Blackswan in Hindi as well.  I welcome the initiative and wish success to this wonderful collaborative work so that the languages of India continue to thrive and fulfill their destiny of being the mothers of thought for all of us. I extend my best wishes for success in protecting our cultural diversity and ensuring it a life beyond our time.

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