At Pratham Books, we publish books in more than 11 Indian languages. But we realize that this is definitely not enough to reach the child in the last village and it is not enough to get ‘a book in every child’s hand’. As we constantly work towards crossing linguistic barriers and getting our books into the hands of children, this article on language diversity is a timely reminder.
India is celebrated for its rich linguistic diversity, but has never had an exhaustive record of its languages—till now. The ambitious People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI), a project that began in 2010 with the aim of documenting every living language in the country, has been completed. Led byGanesh Devy
, a 63-year-old linguist and 2011 Unesco Linguapax laureate, a team of over 3,000 volunteers comprising academics, farmers, authors, school teachers, linguists, nomads and activists, have mapped the linguistic contours of India. The count is a staggering 780 distinct languages. What makes PLSI unique is that it maps those languages that may have less than 10,000 speakers, and are thus not recognized by government census surveys. The 2001 Census lists 122 languages.
Apart from the cultural aspect, why is linguistic diversity desirable?
Language today has become an economic capital around the world. The future technology—computers, mobile tech—their basic material is language. Having many tongues will come to be seen, in a not so distant future, as great economic capital.
Research has shown a strong correlation between improved cognitive abilities in children when they are taught in their mother tongue in primary school…
If you don’t teach a child in the language that he or she uses at home, then what you impose on the child is called “aphasia”—the cutting of the child’s tongue. How do we teach young children in their own language? I don’t know that. But we haven’t even figured out what kind of institution, what kind of system we need to impart primary education. If we have foodgrains, but not enough godowns, are we going to throw them in the ocean? Or should we look for innovative ways and systems to save them and use them? We should not be looking at language as a developmental liability, but as an economic asset.