• Tuesday, Apr 07, 2020
  • Last Update : 07:52 pm

IMLI survey publication uncertain

  • Published at 12:16 am February 21st, 2020
Indigenous Languages
File photo: Indigenous children feel extremely excited after receiving free textbooks written in their mother languages Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Languages with at least 3,000 active speakers included in survey

The International Mother Language Institute (IMLI) is at a standstill in terms of publishing the demographical survey of languages in the country.

The progress remains where it was in 2018 although the UN made a push in 2019 to generate momentum in such initiatives by governments throughout the world.

Last year, a high official of the institute told Dhaka Tribune that IMLI have already printed one of the ten volumes of the survey and two were in progress. The official added that those two volumes would be published in 2019 but it never came to reality.

The research took place in 2015 with a 40-member committee comprising of anthropologists and linguists. The team of anthropologists identified the indigenous groups and the linguists the languages.

The committee submitted a report in 2016 and in 2018, of which IMLI printed the first survey report that was made available for the public in 2019. Since then, no viable progress was seen in this regard.

The researchers and language heroes spoke about the importance of the completion of the task as soon as possible as it would facilitate further action to preserve the diversity of languages in the country.

Languages with at least 3,000 active speakers included in survey

IMLI Director General Prof Jinnat Imtiaz Ali said only the languages having at least 3,000 active speakers were taken into consideration.

“For instance, we have found a language named ‘Rang Mitcha’ that have only 25 active speakers and the following generation do not even utter a word in that language,” he added.

2019: International Year of Indigenous Languages

UN declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages, (that Bangladesh authorities termed ethnic languages in the survey), to raise awareness of the critical situation of indigenous languages and to mobilize stakeholders and resources for coordinated action around the world to preserve, revitalize, and promote them.

In Bangladesh, the survey identified 41 languages including majority-spoken language Bangla while the indigenous leaders said the survey did not include many languages that are on the verge of extinction.

Bangladeshi languages that are endangered, on the verge of extinction

According to a report by Save the Children UK, Bangladesh Program – a joint publication of Khagrachhari Hill District Council, Zabarang Kalyan Samity, and Save the Children – the Tripura, Chakma, Marma, Achik (Garo), Sadri (Oraon), and the Santal still have their own languages, and they are listed as endangered.

At least 14 languages, including Pangkhwa, Khumi, Sura, Sak, Malto are on the verge of extinction, according to Prof Sourav Sikder of the Dhaka University's linguistics department.

Bangladesh Adivasi Forum General Secretary, Sanjeeb Drong mentioned  Dalu, Rai, Koch, Sen, Borman, Kurukh, and Mushohor, among others, were borderline extinct although they are listed as endangered languages without defining the level of the danger. Besides, many languages were not featured in the list as well.

He said the reason for indigenous languages disappearing is the declining numbers of indigenous peoples who speak the languages, and the lack of government patronage and more to keep the languages alive.

Ahmad Rafiq, a veteran language hero, told the Dhaka Tribune that although it was heard several times that the government is taking measures to preserve the indigenous language, no viable progress was seen.

“It is a matter of concern that the government and the concerned institute are not fulfilling their responsibility in a proper way that should be done following the spirit of the nation during 1952 and during the Liberation War onwards,” said Ahmad.

It would hamper the progress in preserving the languages, he said.

When contacted IMLI DG Prof Ali denied the allegation that the delay would hamper the progress of preserving these languages. The publication was delayed as IMLI wanted to make it more accurate in terms of its written form, pronunciation and spelling.

The director general added that IMLI was checking and rechecking over and over with the help of experts and experts from ethnic groups which are a time-consuming effort.

43% global languages endangered

According to UN, at least 43% of the estimated 6,000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.

Besides, a language disappears every two weeks, taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage.

Meanwhile, according to Unesco’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, published in 2010, there are currently 3,000 languages at risk of disappearance.