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Language Genocide Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Vibek Raj Maurya, Nepal Jan 22, 2004
Culture , Languages   Opinions


Language Genocide Expression is an exclusive human attribute. No other life form has been able to express abstract concepts and thoughts as humans. Language is the foundation of every culture. People invariably depend upon it for the use and transmission of the rest the culture.

Most linguists believe there are about 6,000 languages spoken worldwide. The world’s languages are highly unevenly distributed. Four per cent of the 6,000 odd languages are spoken in Europe, about 15% in Americas, 31% in Africa and 50% in Pacific and Asia. It is amazing to learn that just two countries, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, account for 25% of all languages. A plausible calculation made by renowned linguists estimate the coming century will witness the death of 90% of all languages. There are three major causes for the disappearance of languages. A language dies if all the people who speak it are dead. It is thought that around 85 per cent of languages spoken are endemic, and shared by indigenous tribe. Secondly, most of the states have a national agenda, a centralizing imperative that scythes through multi-lingual expression. Finally the most obvious factor is globalization. Languages need isolation to develop and to maintain their distinct characteristics. When isolation ends, local languages tend to disappear along with traditional ways of life. Indigenous people and linguists are reluctant over such an invasion which puts ones culture and heritage at stake. To lose an ancestral language is to weaken the links to the ancestors themselves. As languages disappear, a wealth of culture, art, and knowledge disappears with them. Language captures these values in numerous ways, as cultural values, as oral myths and folklore.

The loss of such a valuable thing as a language is not only the indigenous people’s loss but that of entire humankind. For instance, according to New York Botanical Garden’s Institute notes, only 1,100 of the earth’s 265,000 species of plants have been thoroughly studied by western scientists but as many as 40,000 may have medicinal or undiscovered nutritional value for humans. Many are already used by tribal healers.

Efforts to limit language diversity are still common in most part of the world and Nepal as a state has not dared to stand out as an exception. Nepal is a highly diversified multi-linguist nation. The 2001 census has recorded 101 ethnic and caste groups and 92 languages. Major portion of Nepal’s population speak Nepali and Maithili, rest all others language can only make up to 8 per cent. Though 70 percent of the population is divided into more than 90 groups and none have a population of more than 7 percent, the states’ apathy on propagating Khas (Nepali) language cannot be denied. Nepal Bhasha has been epitomized as a unifying factor on such a diverse land, indigenous and ethic languages are being tangential, as no other languages are officially used in government offices and organizations. This practice has helped in creating a bleak scene in Nepal; no matter what ethnicity a person belong to it, it a compulsion to learn Nepali and communicate in Nepali, as it an only official language recognized by the state. National curriculum has not acknowledged other indigenous languages in school, instead bygone Sanskrit has been forced in curriculum. The consequences of not learning Sanskrit for most of the ethnic people are failing exams and therefore having to drop out of school. There have been a number of movements and resistance on this issue, people are still demanding that the regional languages to be used as an official language besides Nepali, which is a reasonable demand. Indigenous knowledge vanishes when the language dies; language plays a bridging role between people and the terrains they live in. Much of the cultures have been lost due the invasion of non-ethnic languages, it is a high time to that we realize much of our wisdom has already disappeared, and if acted cautiously, much of the remainder could be transferred to the generations to come.

Every individual should realize that by preserving and promoting ethnic languages they are saving unexplored human culture, wisdom and knowledge that have been thousands of years in the making. If neglected, we are loosing all and forever. Nationalization and globalization should not invade the ethnically diverse pockets. The days of ethnic languages could be numbered if the invasion proliferates in a similar pace.

Language would lose its substance and thus the culture. A folk song from Nepal goes: “This is an Aap, it is a pakeko. I am ko larke joban you are lai sacheko.”



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Vibek Raj Maurya

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