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Indigenous languages in northeast face extinction threat; many confined to traditional rituals – Times of India

GUWAHATI: Indigenous and tribal languages of the northeast are facing the risk of extinction with experts stating that of the 300 languages that are there in the region, 70-80 have already slipped into the endangered category.

The local languages also face the threat of the popular ones that dominate the market even as the New Education Policy is said to have ushered in a ray of hope for revival of numerous dying languages.

According to Dr Pangersenla Walling, linguistics expert from Nagaland University, out of the 187 endangered languages in India that are facing the threat of extinction, 64 are in the northeast. However, the overall numbers are likely to be even higher, said another language expert and Tezpur University faculty member Dr. Arup Kumar Nath.

“Many local languages in Assam and the northeast are now confined to traditional rituals. These languages are spoken only during prayers or while performing cultural practices. But in day to day lives, there is hardly any use of these,” said Nath.

He added the Tai origin languages brought by the Ahoms from the present day Myanmar side proves this confinement of languages to traditions. “Tai Turung and Tai Khamyang have reached a critical stage, even as there are lakhs of people from the Ahom community in Assam,” said Nath. His study has suggested that there are around 40 endangered languages in Arunachal Pradesh and 15-20 in Assam.

In Karbi Anglong, Khelma and in Nagaland, Yimchunger are among the languages that were facing threat of extinction at present but Nath said young people from these regions still want to keep a hold on these old languages. “NEP has ushered in a ray of hope for Khelma and Yimchunger languages that hardly has around 5,000 and 85,000 speakers respectively,” Nath said.

Dr Dilip Kumar Kalita, director of Anundoram Borooah Institute of Language, Art & Culture, Assam (ABILAC) felt that in a globalized world, linguistic intermixture is imminent. He, however, said that keeping intact the lingua franca or common language for communication with the outer world, the mother tongues can be developed without any clash.

“Many tribes want Scheduled Tribe status but do not want to keep sticking to their origin languages. As the isolation of the smaller communities in northeast has been broken, it has also changed preferences of the language spoken often. Nevertheless, the mother tongue needs to be preserved. Afterall a child thinks in their mother tongue first,” he said. Kalita said that the language of bigger communities have prevailed over the rest, as communication for trade and business always helps the bigger groups.

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