'Lack of govt initiatives threaten indigenous languages'
Kamrul Hasan

Bangladesh is yet to recognise languages of the indigenous communities in the country.

Several government frameworks to protect them are moving slowly. Indigenous language researchers say in many cases, no project was undertaken to protect the languages.

International Mother Language Institute's Director General Prof Jinnat Imtiaz Ali said they were conducting research on ethnic languages and hoped the results would clear confusions within six months.

Researchers said they were waiting for the report as they felt it would clarify what the government would do to protect the languages. They said the significance of International Mother Language Day is not to let any language go extinct.

But indigenous languages in Bangladesh are facing threat due to government negligence and existing government frameworks were limited to starting multilingual education only, they alleged.

It is estimated that people speak about 6,000 tongues at present. In Bangladesh, there are about 40 languages. According to a report by Save the Children UK, Bangladesh Programme, a joint publication of Khagrachhari Hill District Council, Zabarang Kalyan Samity, and Save the Children, identified Tripura, Chakma, Marma, Achik (garo), Sadri (Oraon), Santal language as endangered language. They have their own alphabets.

Dhaka University's linguistic department faculty member Sourav Sikder said at least 14 languages including Pangkho, Khumi, Sura, Chak, Malto were on the verge of extinction. “But to protect them, the government must introduce multilingual education system and facilitate ethnic and indigenous people to practice their culture in their own language.”

Language Movement researcher Badruddin Umar told the Dhaka Tribune: “Government activities make it clear that it is not trying to preserve the languages. The Santal language, largely spoken in Indian provinces near Bangladesh, is endangered in our country, although it has its own alphabet.”

Indigenous language researcher Sanjeeb Drong said Dalu, Rai, Koch, Sen, Borman, Kurukh, Mushohor, among others, were extinct. “Munda is endangered and so are Khasia, Achik (Garo), Hajong. Many, whose mother tongue is Koch, are speaking Garo,” he added.

Researchers said government frameworks to protect indigenous languages encountered several problems including infrastructure. "Beside, the whole project was implemented very slowly,” they said.

Mathura Bikash Tripura said the government did nothing except initiating multilingual eduction system. “Textbooks in indigenous languages are yet to reach students. Indigenous communities arrange cultural programs to promote and protect their languages. But even the International Mother Language Institutions has failed to take any effective project.”

He lauded the institution's project to survey languages. “The government will confirm its action plan after the survey. I hope it will prioritise little spoken languages as they are endangered,” he added.

DU linguistics Prof Imtiaz Ali said the Ethnic Language Survey would identify indigenous languages and help understand their origins. Data collection is complete and the typoligical work will start soon.

“The survey is divided in 10 parts. The first volume will be done in June. Five volumes will focus on languages and others on ethnic groups,” he said. “The scientific documentation will end all controversy around languages spoken in Bangladesh.” 

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