The declining power of Babel

MUMBAI, June 29, 2016
This articles refers to Ganesh Devy and Anvita Abbi, both members of the Linguapax Advisory Board

It is a desperate race to record languages that are going extinct in India

Nearly 300 languages have gone extinct in the country since the time of independence.

Close to 800 languages and dialects exist across India, according to the People’s Linguistic Survey of India, an independent study conducted by Bhasha Research Centre, an NGO, under the leadership of Sahitya Akademi award-winning writer Dr. G.N. Devy. Reviewing the findings of the four-year survey that began in 2010, involving 3,000 scholars, researchers and historians, Dr. Devy suggests support for ‘linguistic cities’, just as for Smart Cities.

Bhasha’s language count includes all those in currency, irrespective of the number of users. What makes the PLSI findings unique is that Census of India surveys found close to 1,600 languages in use in 1961, 108 in 1971 and 122 in 2011. Those spoken by less than 10,000 people were excluded after 1961.

The UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation has been counting too, and found there are 197 endangered languages in India, with 42 classified as Critically Endangered. Included in the list is Nihali, traced to the pre-Aryan and pre-Munda period