A gift of tonguesNepal has more than 123 languages, and it is up to us to preserve this diversity
On Thursday, a seminar was organised at the Nepal Academy Hall to mark International Mother Language Day. Various experts present at the seminar believed that owing to our increasing fascination with the English language, our own languages are under threat. And rightly so. Nepal has more than 100 languages, but most of them are now listed as endangered. Keeping this in mind, the constitution has vested exclusive powers to the provincial legislature to make laws on language provisions. While this is an appreciable step, a lot more needs to be done to safeguard and promote the large number of languages spoken in the country.
February 21 has been observed as International Mother Language Day every year globally since 2000 to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity. Recognising the threat to linguistic diversity presented by the globalisation of communication and the likely hegemonisation by a single language, UNESCO recognised the significance of instituting International Mother Language Day. The date marks the day in 1952 when students in Dhaka demonstrating for the recognition of Bengali as one of the two national languages of East Pakistan were shot dead.
It has widely been proven that instruction in one’s mother tongue augments understanding, particularly during a child’s formative years. It also facilitates communication between the teachers and students. Given this, the constitutional provision of providing instructions in mother tongue the primary level is an encouraging not only from the point of view of minority linguistic rights, but also from that of educational development. But very few schools across
the country are doing so. The fact that many schools across the country do not have adequate resources to impart education in multiple languages serves as the primary hindrance. If the state is serious about maintaining linguistic diversity, it needs to allocate more funds in this regard.
Roughly, of the 123 languages spoken in the country according to the 2011 census, UNESCO has listed some like Kusunda as being ‘critically endangered’. The census reveals that there are only 273 speakers of Kusunda left. Various reports say that Nepal has already lost 11 languages. Languages like Athpahariya, Bahing, Chintang, Dumi, Raute, Wambule and so on will become extinct soon if things continue as they have.
Language is an important carrier of a culture. When a language is lost, so are the tradition, knowledge and history of the people who used that language. Considerable number of minority communities and their languages have faced discrimination from the elite communities. The result: Many languages and cultures were forced into extinction. While we cannot undo what has happened, we surely can learn lessons from the past, and make sure we do our every bit to maintain cultural and linguistic freedom and diversity.