Walmiki and Malhar: Two endangered languages discovered
A linguist Prof Panchanan Mohanty from the University of Hyderabad (UoH) has discovered two languages recently called Walmiki and Malhar, which were “lying hidden from linguists”.
Prof. Mohanty has collected the data, did a preliminary analysis and published a paper in the Annual Conference of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, UK.
He is also trying to explore if there are other speakers of the language in the neighbourhood or states.
The languages are categorised `endangered’ as it is spoken by a very small number of people.
The Malhar is spoken by just 75 including children from a particular community. These people live in a remote and isolated hamlet about 165 kms from Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha.
These people live completely isolated from the Odia speaking neighbours. They survive on daily labour and collections from the nearby forest.
As per the analysis by prof. Mahanty, tongue belongs to the North Dravidian subgroup of the Dravidian family of languages.
The Walmiki is spoken in the district of Koraput and in the bordering districts of Andhra Pradesh.
The origin of the name Walmiki is also interesting. It points out that the people speaking the language have descent from the Indian saint-poet Valmiki, the writer of epic Ramayana.
North Dravidian languages
Malhar has close affinities with other North Dravidian languages like Malto and Kurux spoken in Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal.
Mohanty, the President of Linguistic Society of India and team are trying to explore if there are other speakers of the language in the neighbourhood or states.
The Union Government has been making efforts to document the endangered tribal and minor languages. There are several languages unknown to the world and waiting to be discovered and documented. India is also considered a linguists Paradise and termed a sociolinguistic giant, the University said in a press release.
The Government of India has initiated a Scheme known as “Protection and Preservation of Endangered Languages of India”.
Under this Scheme, the Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL), Mysore works on protection, preservation and documentation of all the mother tongues/languages of India spoken by less than 10,000 speakers keeping in mind the degree of endangerment and reduction in the domains of usage.
The UNESCO has categorized languages on basis of endangerment as follows:-
2. Definitely Endangered
3. Severely Endangered
4. Critically Endangered
According to the criteria adopted by the UNESCO, a language becomes extinct when nobody speaks or remembers the language.