Language Endangerment Revitalization English Language Essay

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With the new century running on the fold, linguistics and fate of nearly 6000 languages on the planet is poised on a watershed, looking at a changing future. Here it is important to mention that the number of different languages in the world, a decade or so before was believed to be about 5000. However it has since become evident that there are about 6000 languages in the world today. Questions of new approaches and concepts involving language, language and culture, language and society, the ever increasing menace of language endangerment, disappearance and death, advances in technology which have a marked impact on language work and research, are only a few of the factors which affect language work, study and research, and linguistics in general. To begin with, the fundamental importance is on the question for the need of a study on the maintenance of languages in danger of disappearing. It also has a very important bearing on attitudes, activities and processes involved for it. Also there is a growing realization that one very important factor in the preservation and maintenance of these languages is bi- and multilingualism, especially in the case of minority languages threatened by large metropolitan languages spoken by very largely only monolingual speakers. In view of this, interest in bi- and multilingualism, also by traditionally monolingual speakers of large metropolitan dominant languages such as English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese etc. is now on the increase. The speakers of these languages are almost completely ignorant of the fact that stable bi- and multilingualism, not monolingual, is the norm of the world (Wurm, 1999).

Endangered languages may not necessarily relate to few numbers of speakers, even though minority communities are susceptible to external threats. Here the group size does not always matters, what matters is the determination and attitudes of its speakers towards their language heritage and culture, of which their minority language may be considered as the most vital component. In this regard, the intergenerational transmission to future generation i.e. by teaching children the heritage language is the most important factor of language vitality (Wolfram, 2002). For example in India, most people of different states are fluent in two or more languages and the choice of the language(s) of instruction in educational pursuits depends on which of the local languages have the largest numbers of speakers. People will have a working knowledge of that or those languages, and most of them will also be speaking the same at home. On a theoretical level, the loss of a language variety without adequate documentation deprives language scientists of an essential database for inquiry into the general knowledge of human language whereas on a social level, it deprives people of one of the most integral components of diverse cultural behaviour (Hale 1998).  Both the theoretical and humanistic issues underscore the concern for language death but our focus would be on describing and understanding the process of language death as a sociolinguistic phenomenon rather than theoretical and/or practical implications of the situation.

To assess the vitality and endangerment of the language, the criteria suggested by Moseley (2007b) & Grenoble (2006) are taken into consideration.  A four-point scale is put forward, tentatively, to indicate the possible stages of endangerment applicable to the languages:

Safe:  A language used by all generations, in all domains, with a large number of speakers, holding prestige and power, having  official recognition as a scheduled language, used as medium of education and widespread in the region  Only Santali stands as an example.

Safe to Potential Endangerment:  Large number of speakers, used by all generations, confined to certain domains, no official status, no economic power, used as medium partially at school, but vital as of now.  Mundari, Gondi and Kurux can fall under this category.

Potentially Endangered:  Comparatively less number of speakers, lack of prestige and power, used in home and rituals, under pressure from LWCs and partial shift to LWCs. Kharia, Korku, Savara, Kolami, Kui, Kuvi, Malto and Halbi may be cited as examples.

Endangered:  Limited number of speakers used in restricted domains as at home, not medium of education, prone to neither shift towards regional major languages, neither prestige nor power no economic viability and outside impact generating language loss.  Juang, Gadaba, Konda and Parji.

Furthermore most inventories for the cause of language endangerment include varying factors like economical, political, ideological, ecological and cultural. Also in any language one comes across slang's which is popularly used words but the Puritans do not approve them. Though popular authors are found of using them because many new forms of certain words emerge and gradually become common in use, even new words are coined to meet the present requirement. Since human races live and grow in a segregated manner as the races mix together so does the language. Hence no language can solely be uninfluenced by the surroundings.

The situation of languages of India is unique and precarious at the same time. In that, the number of languages ranges from 75% to 80% at the national level though the number of speakers is 8% or so. These figures indicates that a small number of the prestigious major languages dominate over a large number of indigenous speeches. The languages of the latter are unscheduled due to reasons varying from political power, administration and other domains of national life. In spite of all these disadvantages, the past indicates retention of these languages as heritage, knowledge system, cultural ethos, ritual practices and oral literature. But due to the influence of mass media like television, cinema and other communication channels, the younger generation is attracted more towards major powerful languages at the cost of sacrificing their parental home language. These variations may lead to language shift and loss of minority languages for certain smaller local groups in future. Unlike the incidence which occurred in US and Australia were the European invaders carried out genocide of the natives, the Indian past had been one of live and let live. Most of the above factors have socio psychological effects on the speakers of language paving the way to language shift, opting for a major language at the cost of mother tongues. For example bilingualism in many parts of Indian state acts as a doubled edge sword, on one hand it accelerates the retention of mother tongue along with other language on the other it leads to language shift. Thus language endangerment and retention are Indian reality. With this in mind, an attempt is made to investigate the problem of language endangerment (Kidwai, 2008).

The languages of India fall into four main families, the Indo-European, the Dravidian, the Austric and the Tibeto-Chinese, in the order of their magnitude. The South Indian languages are styled Dravidian while the North Indian languages are born from Sanskrit. Sanskrit itself is of the last class and styled Aryan, Indo-Germanic, Indo-Celtic or as is most common known Indo-European language. Sanskrit is the classical language of India unlike Greek or Latin in Europe and still plays an important part in the life and expression of the people.  It is the language of culture which is still spoken in learned assemblies and continues as a medium of original literary composition.  It is one of the fourteen main languages enumerated in the Indian Constitution. Sanskrit thus belongs to a linguistic family which is not only most widely spoken today all over the world but is in all respects, the most powerful force in the world's civilization. Sanskrit belongs to the same family as English, whose present universal vogue was enjoyed in the world of learning in ancient times (Raghavan, 1961). India may rightly claim to be the original home of scientific linguistics.  It is universally accepted that the discovery of the Sanskrit language by European scholars at the end of the eighteenth century was the starting point from which developed the study of the Comparative Philology of the Indo European languages and eventually the whole science of modern linguistics.  Scholars engaged in the study of linguistics have paid high tributes to the ancient grammarians of India like 'Panini' for their keen observation and accurate description of language behaviour (Raja, 1982).

Sanskrit can also be closely compared with Hebrew. As we can see that the Modern Hebrew is quite different from Biblical Hebrew, so is Sanskrit. If Modern Hebrew is a legitimate version of Hebrew as it is widely accepted in Israel then the revitalized Sanskrit will also be a legitimate version of ancient Sanskrit in India. We can also argue strongly in favor of the legitimacy of revitalized dormant languages, based on the experience of the Myaamia (Miami) community. Amery reflects similar views for Kaurna in Australia. Not surprisingly, those who work with revitalized languages seem to feel strongly that revitalized forms of languages should be considered legitimate. As a tool of cultural communication, Sanskrit holds a unique place among the languages of the world.  Firstly, it is the only language which has come down to us from pre-historic times with an uninterrupted history.  Secondly, it is the only language which has mothered and nourished a large family of languages both national and international.  Thirdly, it is the only language which developed a scientifically phonetic alphabet and initiated the science of philology very early in its career. Sanskrit is not a window to the world of matter but it is and will ever remain a window to the soul of man and to the soul of nature. When the centuries-long economic pressures have been lifted from the life of our people by a few decades of scientific, industrial and socio-political techniques of the modern age, man in the Indian context will begin to experience, in a pervasive way, the hunger and thirst of the spiritually-seeking heart, the craving of the mature mind and soul, and will then long for the spiritual food and drink to which he has been historically conditioned. Sanskrit will not die so long as man in India experiences the hunger of the spiritual heart.  It is the window to all that is fascinating, elevating and enriching human experiences.  It is the sacred body of vak-devi, goddess of speech, which ever points out to man 'the Truth' that lays above all speech and thought, above all space and time (Renganathananda, 1987).

During the early times when vedic hims were written in classical styled Sanskrit, the spoken form of Sanskrit was also different from the literately language, these differences ultimately paved way to prakrits (not a pure form of Sanskrit). To learn Sanskrit was not an easy task and required much practice and toil. As time passed these languages become impure in nature giving rise to apbhransas, from these changes the modern Indian language evolved. This reminds us of the fact that at any given time, India had active use of different forms of speech that varies according to certain classes of the society. Sanskrit was not a literately stand alone language which was taught in schools but it had significant number of speakers in North India in the Himalayan region. This further tells us that India is a country with diverse social groups spread over the vast subcontinent. For that matter a common mode of communication was neither feasible nor linguistically relevant. For all that has been said about the historical developments of Indian languages that has been derived from Sanskrit, one fact is clear that at no time India has been a unilingual Nation. In mist of this variety of tongues and their varied forms, the functional aspects of different regions of language were lost sight off (Raghavan, 1961).

The role of the linguistics may be limited to the role of data collection in documenting languages however the members of that particular community may uphold or give up their language. It is for this particular reason, the speakers of endangered languages can as first steps opt for the maintenance and revitalization measures thereby restraining language endangerment. Linguistics and other scholars is just proper tool used to assist communalities' in such attempts. For example, by making sure language resources are available from archives, by training community members to become language workers or even linguists, and also by helping to produce language learning and teaching materials for future generations. The approach to India's linguistic diversity is tantamount to a virtual denial of cultural and social value, to the bulk of Indian languages and therefore to the speakers that speak them. This has very serious consequences in education, as the smaller a language, the more likely it is to be dismissed as "primitive", and incapable of further development so that it may come to bear the weight of modern human knowledge and intellectual discourse. Responding to this implicit classification, speakers therefore 'choose' not to access education in their mother tongue(s) because that choice will disadvantage them in the not-so-long run. This, in turn, ensures that a small language remains, at best, a small language; at worst, it shrinks by the day, as its speakers shift to more dominant languages of the region for communication with, and about, the world outside their home (language). Such an attrition of domains of use can well prove to be a precursor of language death, as the life force of languages lies in the extension of its domains of use (Silverstein & Hastings, 2004).

The status of Sanskrit is an instance of this - for close to a thousand years, this prestigious language was the chief vehicle of the (exclusionary and undemocratic) transmission of knowledge. Ancient words can be applied to everyday life in the modern times like the generation of pineapple saplings from pineapples and plantain from plantain fruits. In this way ancient ideas become relevant in the modern world similarly in the world of space research ancient astronomical ideas are pressed into service like the existence of water on the moon is an idea embedded in Sanskrit. As Sanskrit-speaking ruling classes could only capture the public domain, the centuries of its dominance had no permanently crippling effect on the less prestigious Indo-Aryan, Austro-Asiatic and Dravidian languages that flourished alongside it. In fact we can say that Sanskrit has long being used in varying degrees for common means of oral communication among the intellectual as well as the priestly classes of India but there are little evidence to support it. The normative grammar of Sanskrit by Panni, the for most grammarians and the author of Ashtadhyayi, is readily accepted as a source of correct linguistic usage since detrimental grammatical purity very often stands against the using of Sanskrit. When an idea is expressed in Sanskrit there is a conscious effort of using grammatical correct language put forward by Panini so any usage not confounding to this is considered as non pannianian and as such inferior in purity. For example, in English medium schools, we prescribe Wren & Martin grammar books as authoritative grammar so also Spence's English and Shakespeare's English have become some sort of authoritative, so any lesser English is not tolerated. People often forget that there are other grammarians who accept usage which are not accepted by Panni but Puritans are in favour of pannianian usages. Going back to English there are grammatically correct usages which are not approved by Wren & Martin but since their text books on grammar has become popular, people are frown upon usages not approved by them even though they are grammatically correct (Masica, 1991).

India before medieval era had linguistic domination of Sanskrit and this traditional Indian language was the repository of Hindu religion. The extent to which Sanskrit was a spoken language in pre-colonial India, in some social group, is a matter of debate but the resend attention of Sanskrit texts produced in medieval India, which claim to be manuals for the instruction of spoken or conversional Sanskrit, suggests the fact that in pre-colonial India there was a apparent need to revive or reform Sanskrit as a spoken language around certain closed communities like the Brahmans, who may not be directly involved in serious philosophical, literary or ritualistic practices. There seem to be lot of similarities between these historical phenomena and the current attempts to promote spoken Sanskrit. Factually Sanskrit is considered as the mother of almost all the languages of Indo-Vedic origin perhaps with the exception of Tamil. If Sanskrit has survived today, it is because of its inherent resilience. Even in this modern era, its survival is confined to academic interest only. For example, speakers would retain good command of phonology and loose productive use of some of the lexicon over the years because of non productive use of the language. The antiquated nature of Sanskrit as a classical language brings out to light some of its complicated aspects in preventing it from being a spoken language among the masses and this is evident in its vocabulary which is highly synonymic, homonymic and hermaphroditic, and moreover it's compounding nature. All these features render the language highly unsuited for communication by common man (Wolfram, 2002).

For the spread of English language among the Indians, efforts were made at the official level. Maculay, the then president of the general committee for public instructions and the law member of the executive council of governor general, advocated for English to be used not only as a medium of education but advised the government to adopt it as an official language. On the other side, in 1831, a petition was submitted to the government stating that no native should be admissible after a particular time into public office that could not read, write or speak English. This resulted in the establishment of English schools in almost every district in the province. In those days, English enjoyed dominance over the native language while the classical languages of India were altogether ignored by the pre colonial British rule in India. History reveals the fact that the Indian vernaculars were always neglected by the British Government. It was during the British regime that Sanskrit, the once spoken language of Indian masses, was forever listed as the ancient language of India manly because of the deep rooted desire of then British rule over India, to crush the Indian languages, its civilization and culture. Long-term contacts without large-scale shift are common in non colonial situations too. In other cases, in previously ruled European colonies too, the languages of former colonial powers are still used in addition to indigenous languages (Agarwal, 1992).

All of this is not to say that the purposes of Sanskrit as a spoken language must inevitably be entangled in the imperatives of power or of rivalry. For example, Modern politics believe in destroying the individual's urges and convictions deliberately within view to popularize their ideology which may not be always the result of sound judgment. For instance certain political powers call their enemies as 'varga sharthu' (a class of enemy) simply because they do not tolerate the political views. Everybody knows that no sane man will demand wages for doing nothing but now it has become a practice to claim labour charge without doing service. The principles of Sanskrit make people aware of such wrong practices. The basic idea contained in Sanskrit are favorable to discover your immense potentiality as a supreme power is not acceptable to the politicians who wish to create a smoke screen and mislead the individuals not to think in saner lines of Sanskrit and the culture it incorporates helps to develop such a personality so that one is conscious of one's self and confident. And yet, all of our present experience of the rapidly globalizing world brings to light that if we are to do well at making our way with one another in the present, an understanding of the histories of the world's societies, in all their intellectual and cultural depth, has never been more important, the study of Sanskrit remains a necessary part of gaining that understanding (Kidwai, 2008).

Here too, however, the current situation may in fact be unstable: urbanization and industrialization of India seem to be causing a swing toward language shift from earlier spoken languages to other majority languages such as English in spite of the populations continuing loyalty towards the former. The modern India has hindered ways of formal education of Sanskrit which has resulted in a steep decline since the Independence. Neither the official authorities nor the state governments should bear the blame exclusively for this state of affairs. The attitude of the speakers of the minority languages is also responsible for this condition. The Inferiority complex in using the local or regional language make the speakers of the minority languages switch to more dominant languages such as English. Since English is considered as a medium of opportunities to well placed career in jobs and since it provides a sense of feel towards joining the mainstream of country's progress, speakers are more prone towards adopting them. The secularist Indian state was concerned primarily with the development and modernizing of Indian educational system so as to "catch up" with the west. This does not necessarily mean that speakers of the minority language has completely ignored the Indian classical language but it appears that they have come to a conclusion in maintaining their ethnic identity by showing an "emotional" bond to their cultural heritage by trying not to speak the more prestigious language - except with non-minority peers, as their minority language is associated with stereotypes such as backwardness or social inferiority (Srivastava, 1984)

As we have discussed some of the common cases for language disappearance, in certain tragic cases it happens when all its speakers shift to another language. The other possibility is that the language disappears because all its speakers die, when they are massacred by (say) hostile invaders or when they succumb to natural disasters or to foreign diseases imported by less directly lethal intruders. Out of all these a vital component is that how rapidly a process of group shift is completed such as speaker attitudes being shifted, the loss of vocabulary and like mentioned before difficulty in learning a language such as Sanskrit. The most common result of language contact is change in some or all of the languages. Typically, though not always, at least one of the languages will exert some influence on the other languages. And the most common specific type of influence is the borrowing of words. For instance, it is found that a distinction established in overall system of standard Hindi and Urdu is loan words borrowed from Sanskrit. We can also state that given the right mix of linguistic circumstances certain or all aspects of language structure are known to transfer from one language to another causing a gradual shift from the minority to the widely used language or a major language, thus resulting in lack of maintenance of the latter and gradual death of the language (Kidwai, 2008).

Language revitalization efforts are much more common than language revival efforts. For one thing, there are distressingly large number of languages which still have a modest number of proficient elderly speakers like the case of Sanskrit but far lower middle-aged speakers, and perhaps none among young people. Introducing a community minority language and to maintain them from its death, it is better to keep it among minority fluent speakers rather than introducing it to potential new speakers. The "revival "of spoken Sanskrit can be differentiated into two different classes, the first being the full classical Sanskrit - used as a means for scholarly communication among pundits and secondly the simplified version which is now being promoted through educations in schools. In any convincing way, a language which exists in recorded texts or in books but not in ordinary use by any living person or a language which is predominantly on the defensive, as in the case of Sanskrit which should aim higher to ensure its own separateness from the dominant languages, would feature in ethnic language revival and revitalization efforts (Dorian, 1994). But still we are standing at a threshold, the threshold of to be or not to be. Should we be competing with the rest of the world and try to educate our masses and in turn face the inevitable death of linguistic diversity? The people of India who enjoyed the diversity and multiplicity of languages or dialects never faced the dilemma of choosing only one, two or three languages for escalating the social ladder (Srivastava, 1984).

There is been continuous decline in the number people who speak Sanskrit in India year by year so is the case of people who have active commend over this language. These trends are epically noticeable in the last two decades as it rightly indicates the current state of Sanskrit educational system.