Friday, February 20, 2009

Dying Languages

Though this Guardian story does not list all the 2500 languages that are likely to become extinct soon, I would not be surprised if it contained quite a few from the Indian sub-continent. The author does point out that India is at high risk of having its languages lost :

Perhaps unsurprisingly, two of the countries where the risk is greatest are India and Brazil, which are undergoing rapid economic transformations. "[These trends] often bring about the loss of traditional ways of life and a strong pressure to speak a dominant language that is - or is perceived to be - necessary for full civic participation and economic advancement," said Unesco.

It is just not the words or the manner of speech that is lost but a entire way of thinking and organizing one's thoughts is gone along with it too. If the state of contemporary Bengali literature is any indicator of how a language fades out, it would begin with a decline in the readership of books and journals. Then comes the point when writers switch to a different language to say what they have to say or worse stop writing. Communication of thoughts cease in that language.

There is then a period of stultification where the few readers that are left have to be satisfied with the diminished quality of contemporary writing or seek refuge in older, higher quality works. Beyond that generation is either a void or lapse in continuity of literary tradition. There will be a few outliers that continue to read, write and teach the language but by now it has entered the museum to be preserved for posterity instead of being the vibrant and dynamic language of everyday use it once was.

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