Objective of CFEL

Linguistic Endangerment

One still lacks clarity as to what is exactly meant by ‘Endangerment’ of languages, and what its generally recognized levels are. The best yardstick for this is the behaviour of a language in various generations of a speech community, especially that of children. If it is the case that not more than 10–30 percent of the children of a given speech community are able to speak what is supposed to be their “mothertongue” or language of their tradition and culture, the language is potentially endangered. If there are only few speakers left in a community (with very few among whom are children), and if the youngest good speakers are young adults, the language is endangered. If their youngest good speakers are largely past middle age, the language is seriously endangered. If only a handful of mostly old speakers are left who can speak the language, the rest having shifted to a neighbouring tongue, the language is moribund. And if no speakers seem to be left, the language is believed to be extinct. Thus, language endangerment is a matter of scale, rather than belonging to an all-or-none category.

The Tensions:

One must sensitize all those well-meaning scholars and activists about the kind of tensions involved in working on these areas:

First, as we engage ourselves in the documentation, protection and promotion of endangered languages and their culture, we must understand that there will always be agencies that would like to color our perception and blur our vision. This is because any advocacy in favor of diversity may cause immense harm to several agencies that may have a stake in continuance of only a few languages as the media of trade, commerce, tourism, education and entertainment. There is thus a constant tension between ‘being’ and ‘becoming.’ It can be explained how and why it is so. It is obvious that one is not only concerned with numerical strength (or weakness) of a speech group here, nor is this applicable for those societies that face some biological problem (even if it is triggered by their marital patterns and endogamous behaviour) in terms of reproductivity. But even such societies that have a long list of membership can disappear after a while if they decide to change their natural ‘being’ of bilinguality (or multi-linguality) to ‘becoming’ members of a larger linguistic entity – for various reasons, ranging from higher education, better job prospects, or more social prestige. In a multi-cultural milieu, it is natural being bilingual. But in the process of becoming a bilingual, it is, as if, a large scale religious conversion at work, reminding the members of a smaller community of the limitation of its space (physical, cultural and social) and the opportunities it offers or cannot just because of their language tag.

Secondly, the danger comes also because of the ‘perception’ of one’s language universe. The members of a smaller linguistic group will often have to negotiate with some of these questions: How do you see yourself, and how do others look at you? Which of these two evaluations do you accept and why? How deep is your commitment to your ‘own’ tags of identity – the attachment for your own land, flora and fauna, dress and food, life and living, speech and writing system, or creative and re-creative texts? There is this second type of tension in smaller linguistic groups which was pointed out long ago by Dell Hymes in his paper ‘Two Types of Linguistic Relativity’. We are told how a relatively smaller-size speech group survives the onslaught of the forces of globalization, whereas how a larger group that accepts a negative evaluation of others force their own members to ‘flee’ from their own tags.

The third type of tension is how a speech group tries to ‘include’ or ‘exclude’ other speech groups that may be genetically, genealogically, and culturally related to their own group, and whether the group in question tries to divorce from this larger identity to create a space for its own language or tries to forge an identity with the other to create a new and larger identity. ‘Split’ and ‘Merger’ are the political game societies often play, and this dynamics is often difficult for an observer from outside to understand but is nevertheless an interesting subject of speculation by the students of social and political sciences. But there again, one can only create only a speculative theory about the ‘thinking construct’ of the members of the group that play a prominent role in decision-making, and not be sure that the theory will work elsewhere, too, given another configuration of linguistic majority and minorities living and sharing a given geo-space.

However, this urge to be like the rest of ‘our’ type, or the itch to forge one’s own destiny quite often grows out of particular historical moments, or as counter-moves against a perceived move by others. It could also grow as a result of this tension of inclusion versus exclusion, and how a community decides to negotiate with it.

The aims and objectives of these Centres are as follows:

  • To undertake inter-departmental and interdisciplinary research related to endangered languages.
  • To undertake fieldwork, research, analysis, archiving and documentation of smaller indigenous/endangered languages using statof- the art speech and language technologies, in formats that are universally acceptable viz. digital textual, audio and video formats.
  • To produce and publish monographs, grammars, grammatical sketches, dictionaries and lexicon, ethno-linguistic and theoretical descriptions, collection of oral and folk literature and scholarly book on endangered languages.
  • To produce language and dialect atlases with special reference to minority and endangered languages.
  • To organize workshops and seminars aimed towards promoting advanced research related to endangered languages.
  • To train teachers and students from other departments/centres in Field Linguistics, Lexicography and in techniques for data management and documentation. Field Linguistics should constitute an indispensable part of the centre.
  • The Centre should serve the indigenous and endangered language communities by making accessible the products of the research of the Centre i.e. digital and analogue archives of linguistic data, language teaching material, and language artefacts.
  • To promote and foster various domains of endangered languages so as to ensure minority/ endangered language communities in maintaining and preserving language vitality, including the development of orthographical resources like scripts, book of letters primers.
  • To digitize data collected in the course of the research in the Centre and make it available to public by internet.
  • In the initial phases this Centre shall and may draw resources (such as manpower, labs, books, students etc.) from other centers of languages, linguistics, folklore, anthropology, and literature in the university but eventually should conceive of forming an independent centers purely devoted to the issues of endangered and indigenous languages.


Area of Work