Bhubaneswar: India is known to speak 780-odd languages with another 100 suspected to exist! The phenomenon of evolution that is the bedrock of diversity, sometimes gives rise to new lingo, while some perish in the race to remain relevant. In India, 220 languages have died in the last 50 years.
A linguistics professor of University of Hyderabad (UoH) has discovered two endangered languages. Panchanan Mohanty of Odisha, who is currently the coordinator of the Centre for Endangered Languages and Mother Tongue Studies of UoH, came across the languages, Walmiki and Malhar when he conducted some activities for the Centre. On the basis of data collected and preliminary analysis, he also published a paper on the same at the XXth Annual Conference of Foundation of Endangered Languages, U.K.
Walmiki is spoken in Koraput district of Odisha and the nearby bordering districts of Andhra Pradesh by a community that claims to be the scion of sage port Valmiki, hence the etymology of the tongue. Malhar is spoken by a community of daily labourers and forest gatherers in a remote hamlet, located 165 km away from the Odisha capital. A mere 75 people including children, speak this particular dialect fluently because of their isolation from mainstream Odia-speaking populace. Prof. Mohanty’s team is seeking out other Malhar-speaking people and simultaneously documenting these two languages before they become extinct.
While Walmiki is an isolate language that does not belong to any particular family of languages, Malhar belongs to the North Dravidian sub-group of Dravidian family of languages, just like other North Dravidian tongues, Malto and Kurux spoken in regions of Jharkhand, West Bengal and Bihar.
Though the government is attempting to catalogue endangered tribal and minor languages, it is high time we pinpoint other languages unknown to the country and the world and file them before it is too late, said Prof. Mohanty, who is also the former dean of UoH’s School of Humanities and President of Linguistic Society of India.