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.

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