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Language and Civilization

  • Category
    History & Culture
  • Published
    11th Apr, 2019
  • President’s award was presented to scholars of Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit, Arabic, Persian, Telugu, Kannada, Odia and Malayalam for their service in the preservation and development of classical languages at an event organized by the Ministry of Human Resource Development.
  • Government of India has awarded these scholars for keeping alive the traditional knowledge and acting as the intellectual bridge between the past and the present.

Issue

Context

  • President’s award was presented to scholars of Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit, Arabic, Persian, Telugu, Kannada, Odia and Malayalam for their service in the preservation and development of classical languages at an event organized by the Ministry of Human Resource Development.
  • Government of India has awarded these scholars for keeping alive the traditional knowledge and acting as the intellectual bridge between the past and the present.

About:

  • Language is a tool for intellectual and emotional expression. It acts a bridge between civilizations.
  • The civilizations for which written history is not available or is not deciphered yet, are put in pre-historic categories.
  • Indus Valley Civilization is a classic example of pre-historic society since its scripts are not deciphered yet.
  • Script and language, along with strong vocabulary and grammar provides a fertile ground for the spread of language.

Background:

India is a multilingual country where more than 19,500 languages or dialects are spoken.So much is the importance of language that the great Indian poet Acharya Dandi had said that if the light of language does not exist, we will be groping in a dark world.Since India is highly diverse, almost 97 per cent of the population speaks one of the 22 scheduled languages.

Initiatives to Conserve and Promote Languages

  1. Constitutional provisions relating to Eighth Schedule:
  • Eighth Schedule was intended to promote the progressive use of Hindi and for the enrichment and promotion of that language.
  • Related provisions occur in article 344(1) and 351 of the Constitution.
  1. List of languages in the Eighth Schedule:
  • (1) Assamese, (2) Bengali, (3) Gujarati, (4) Hindi, (5) Kannada, (6) Kashmiri, (7) Konkani, (8) Malayalam, (9) Manipuri, (10) Marathi, (11) Nepali, (12) Oriya, (13) Punjabi, (14) Sanskrit, (15) Sindhi, (16) Tamil, (17) Telugu, (18) Urdu (19) Bodo, (20) Santhali, (21) Maithili and (22) Dogri.
  • Of these languages, 14 were initially included in the Constitution.
  • Sindhi language was added in 1967.
  • Konkani, Manipuri and Nepali were included in 1992
  • Bodo, Dogri, Maithili and Santhali were added in 2004.
  1. National Mission for Manuscripts (conserving the past for the future):
  • It was established in February 2003, by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Government of India.
  • It seeks to unearth and preserve the vast manuscript wealth of India.
  • India possesses an estimate of ten million manuscripts, probably the largest collection in the world. These cover a variety of themes, textures and aesthetics, scripts, languages, calligraphies, illuminations and illustrations.
  • It is a National level comprehensive initiative which caters to the need of conserving manuscripts and disseminating knowledge contained therein.
  1. Central Institute of Indian Languages:
  • Advices and Assists Central as well as State Governments in the matters of language.
  • Contributes to the development of all Indian Languages by creating content and corpus.
  • Protects and Documents Minor, Minority and Tribal Languages.
  • Promotes Linguistic harmony by teaching 15 Indian languages to non-native learners.

Classical Languages of India

  • In 2004, Government of India declared Tamil as the Classical Language of India.
  • In 2005, Sanskrit was declared as Classical Language of India.
  • These two languages are parental sources for several languages belonging to the Indo-European family and the Dravidian family of language groups.
  • Kannada and Telugu were givenclassical language status in 2008.
  • Malayalam and Odiawere declared as classical languages in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Criteria for classical language

  • Extraordinary antiquity of its early transcripts or verified history over a period of 1500-2000 years.
  • A body of ancient literature or texts, which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers.
  • The literary tradition should be unique and not hired from another language community.
  • The classical language and literature being diverse from modern, there may also be a discontinuity among the classical language and its later forms or its sprouts.

Analysis

Importance of protecting and conserving linguistic heritage:

  • Languages are a crucial part of history, culture and evolution of a society.
  • There is a rich literary tradition in many languages, especially the ones recognized as classical languages by the Government of India.
  • Sanskrit is one of the oldest Indo-European languages, dating back to the second millennium BC.
  • Tamil literature dates back to 500 BC, Telugu to 400 BC, Kannada to 450 BC, Malayalam to 1198 AD and Odia to 800 AD.
  • Each of these languages has a rich treasure house of literature, starting from Sangam literature and Tholkappiyum in Tamil, Kavitrayam’s Andhra Mahabharatam in Telugu, Ramacharitham of Cheeraman in Malayalam, Kavirajamarga of Amoghavarsha in Kannada and Kharavela’s inscriptions in Odia.
  • For each of the populations speaking these languages, their literature is a matter of pride and distinct identity and the language is a goddess to be revered.
  • This factor assumes importance because State re- organization demand had taken a firm footing behind linguistic grounds.There are songs in praise of these languages like “Maa Telugu tallikiMallepoodanda” in Telugu.“JaiBharathaJananiyaTanujate” in Kannada and “Thamil Thai Valthu” in Tamil.

Challenges:

  • Studies by experts estimate that almost 600 languages are on the verge of extinction and that more than 250 languages have disappeared in the past 60 years.
  • When a language dies, an entire culture dies.
  • Protecting cultural heritage, including languages, is state's constitutionally-mandated duty.
  • Since studying the classical languages and literature would provide access to authentic sources of history, the National Mission for Manuscripts was set up.
  • Extant manuscripts in Sanskrit number over 30 million, one hundred times those in Greek and Latin combined.
  • This constitutes the largest cultural heritage that any civilization has produced prior to the invention of the printing press.
  • Preservation of ancient texts is only the first step. One has to encourage scholars to do research using these primary sources and unearth new nuggets of knowledge.

Way forward:

  • The resources required to develop language technology and artificial intelligence-based tools are inadequate or unavailable for many Indian languages.
  • To fill this gap, the Government of India launched the Linguistic Data Consortium for Indian Languages (LDC-IL) in 2008.
  • It has been preparing high-quality linguistic resources over the last 11 years in all the scheduled languages of India.
  • Language preservation and development needs a multi-pronged approach.It should begin at the primary school level and be continued to higher levels of education.
  • Functional literacy in at least one language should be ensured.
  • More and more people should start using their native languages at home, in the community, in meetings and in administration.
  • One must accord a sense of dignity and a sense of pride to those who speak, write and communicate in these languages.
  • Language should become a catalyst for inclusive development. Language promotion should be an integral part of good governance.

Learning Aid

Practice Question:

Language is a vehicle for the transmission of culture, scientific knowledge and a worldview across generations. However, almost 600 languages are on the verge of extinction. Critically evaluate the steps taken by the government to reverse this trend and what constructive role can the civil society play.

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