Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Linguistic minorities report

The Government of India's Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities submitted its 48th report (PDF) in July 2012. The Commissioner circulated a questionnaire on the implementation of "safeguards" for linguistic minorities. All but five states replied to the questionnaire. Another query was also sent to states and government departments asking what action had been taken on the recommendations of the previous report. Thirteen replies were received; 26 did not reply.

Chapter 37 of this report (p. 275 onwards) gives "Findings & Observations at a Glance". It takes each "safeguard" in turn and lists where it has been fully or partially implemented; where it needs to be implemented; and where "no specific information" has been provided.

The first safeguard, for instance, is "Facility for Instruction in Mother Language at Primary Stage of Education". The report tells us that it has been implemented in Andhra Pradesh, Assam and Delhi; "implemented in parts" in 13 other states; needs to be implemented in 10 more; while nine have not given any information.

While most states have returned the questionnaire, they seem to have answered only some of the questions about the safeguards that they are actually implementing. Thus, there are many gaps in information.

A previous commissioner has recommended (DOC) that the Indian census should record the names of all languages -- not just those with more than 10 000 speakers. Indeed, he recommended the abolition of the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution altogether. One result of the way the census currently counts is that under the rubric Hindi, for example, the 2001 census lists 49 "mother tongues". It then has a category called "Others" with as many as 14.8 million speakers. They all speak variants of Hindi, but each variant has less than 10 000 speakers. So their mother tongues are not mentioned.

The recommendations of this report (chapter 38) do not address the census issue. However, this report acknowledges the increasing mobility of urban populations and the increasing multilingualism of our cities. Clearly we need to know more reliably who speaks what, and design our policies accordingly.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Inari Sami reborn

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas (some of whose talks are here) sends this information on the "seriously endangered" language Aanaar Saami (which the English Wikipedia calls Inari Sami).

Suvi Kivelä, journalist and director of the Aanaar Saami archives, has made a 9-minute documentary about her mother-in-law and her two sons and the revitalization of the Aanaar Saami language (which has some 350 speakers). The documentary "Reborn" in now on YouTube with English subtitles.

Tove tells us that everyone in the documentary is speaking Aanaar Saami. The only ones who speak Finnish are the father of Suvi's children and the priest. We also learn that the project has now "produced" a Saami-speaking priest too.

Hopefully, the project will be useful for other indigenous groups as well.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Indian survey records 630 languages so far

The People's Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI) has already listed and described 630 languages in 27 states of the country. The Survey's Chairperson, Ganesh Devy, reported this at a workshop held here in Hyderabad on 31 May 2012. We have met Dr Devy and PLSI before in this blog.

In the workshop there were about 10 speakers of various indigenous (tribal) languages of Andhra Pradesh. They have been working with the state wing of the national universal elementary education program, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). Working with indigenous communities, these resource-persons and their colleagues have collected information on 16 indigenous languages, which they have rendered into Telugu. The task of the 10-or-so English-speaking Telugus in the workshop is to translate the Telugu information into English. The PLSI team will later translate into Hindi as well. Thus PLSI envisages diverse information on Indian languages in the language itself, the dominant regional language, Hindi, and English. (The PLSI website lists publishers in English, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati and Odia.)

The SSA resource-persons raised many issues regarding multilingual education (MLE). Several spoke of the apathy in the bureaucracy, once one leaves the village-level and goes upwards through the education department: unfulfilled promises to develop learning materials in the mother tongue; warehouses filled with textbooks which have not been distributed to the schools; primary schools teaching in Gondi side-by-side with schools teaching in Telugu -- but the examinations are only in Telugu!

They said that the range of official attitudes to MLE ranged from ignorance to indifference to hostility. Indeed, Dr Devy remarked that "even in the highest circles of bureaucracy in Delhi" he has heard MLE being described as "mother language education"! But Dr Devy also announced that for the first time, the Government of India has set up a committee specifically for education of indigenous peoples.

He said that the PLSI data will help policy-makers a great deal.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mother Language Day 2012

Nelson Mandela once said that "if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart". Thus, Irina Bokova, Director-General of Unesco, begins her message (links to PDFs in the official languages of the UN) for this year's International Mother Language Day (IMLD), celebrated on 21 February every year.

The theme for IMLD 2012 is "Mother tongue instruction and inclusive education". Prominent in this year's celebration is the crucial role mother-tongues play in the right to education.

Among the interesting resources on the Unesco page are an article "Nisha's right" from The Kathmandu Post; an interview with Colette Grinevald: "Speaking your mother tongue is not a disability!"; as well as the following brief podcasts from SOAS radio (a resource well worth bookmarking):
  • in English: Peter Austin on "Bangladesh, Australia and the importance of Mother Language Education"
  • in Russian: Elena Giniotyte on "Archi, an Endangered Language in the Caucasus"
  • in Mandarin: Lianhong Yo on "Language and Nation Building in Singapore"
  • in Arabic: Samah Bushra Yousef on "Bilingual Education in Burkina Faso"
  • in Portuguese: Helena De Moraes Achca on "Bilingual Education in Bolivia"

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Common Voices 7 & 8 - on Knowledge Commons

At the January 2011 conference of the International Association for the Study of Commons (IASC) held in Hyderabad, the "knowledge commons" were also discussed. The latest issues of the newsletter Common Voices bring together the deliberations.

Here are the contents of the two issues:

CV 7

Editorial: "Perspectives on Knowledge... Going Beyond Dichotomies"
A Giridhar Rao, "Linguistic Diversity in the Knowledge Commons"
Editorial: "The Loss of (Traditional) Ecological Knowledge among Communities"
Kabir Sanjay Bavikatte, "Stewarding the Commons: Rethinking Property and the Emergence of Biocultural Rights"
Editorial: "Traditional Knowledge and Intellectual Property Rights"
Editorial: "Traditional Ecological Knowledge: The Key to Effective Fisheries Management"
Shalini Bhutani and Kanchi Kohli, "Traditional Knowledge and 'Commons' Sense"
Venkatesh Hariharan, "Is IP Another Bubble about to Burst? A View from Another Civilisation"

CV 8

Shiv Visvanathan, "The Logic of Knowledge Commons"
David Bollier, "Exclusive Control or Sharing: Which Creates Greater Value on the Internet?"
Editorial: "The Socialisation of Science: India's Knowledge Swaraj"
Harro Maat, "Knowledge, Technology and the Politics of Rice"
Wiebe E. Bijker, "Experimenting for a Knowledge Commons: Public Debate on Nanotechnologies in The Netherlands"
Pankaj Sekhsaria, "Jugaad as a Conceptual and Materials Commons"
Lawrence Liang, "A Handful of Concepts to Understand Openness and to Battle Simony"
Ravi Shukla, "Uncommon Identities: Approaching the Aadhar (UID) Scheme as a Digital Commons"

Hope you find the contents interesting.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

India's crisis in learning

The ASER 2011 report and the PISA 2009+ survey -- it's been a harsh January for the Indian educational system. Rukmini Banerji's "The crisis in learning" and Lant Pritchett's "The first PISA results for India: The end of the beginning" provide depressing summaries. Ajay Shah ("Education in India at the crossroads") and Banerji suggest solutions.

Do bookmark Ajay Shah's blogpost "Education in India: A compact reading kit". Also worth watching is this overview "PISA - Measuring student success around the world".