Special Feature

Disappearing indigenous languages

21 Feb,2015


BdChronicle Special Correspondent:

Languages are recognized as the beauty of a nation. What is lost when a language suicides? Statistics says, one language dies every 15 days on the earth. By the next century nearly half of the 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will likely disappear. Bangladesh, a mere country in the world which got its freedom on the basis of Language movement, is losing around 12 indigenous languages, an Ethno-linguistic of Bangladesh says.   

No scopes to learn primary education through mother tongue, to earn livelihoods, to mobilize indigenous cultural programs, having no scripts and lack of government’s patronizations are the main reasons behind the extinction of the languages, linguistic experts stressed.

The Hill Tracts, a forested upland area in southeastern Bangladesh, is home to more than a dozen indigenous peoples who are distinct from the majority Bengali population in language, culture, and religion are bound to leave their perspective mother tongue because of lacks of regular nurturing and prestigious scopes.

According to Amnesty International, the Bangladeshi government failed to address legal rights in Chittagong Hill Tracts. Lack of education and language collapse are pernicious threats. More than half of the indigenous people of the Hill Tracts have no formal schooling; less than 8 percent complete primary education, and only 2 percent secondary and most of the children don't understand the instructions written in Bengali.   

Experts in indigenous languages in the country shared their explanations ‘how and why a language dies?’ and shared ideas about the possible initiatives to preserve the endangered languages aiming to save the diversity and to mobilize the evolution history.

Emeritus professor Dr. Anisuzzaman, Dhaka university Bangla dept, said, “We have 59 indigenous communities and almost all have their own mother tongues”.     

Seeking cooperation from litterateurs, linguists and researchers to preserve the indigenous factors he said, “As the majority group, it’s our foremost duty to preserve the minority languages and its culture aiming to uphold the country’s total beauty”.

One of the Ethno-linguistic advisors at International Mother Language Institute (IMLI),

Dr. Shourav Sikder told TBT correspondent, “Around 40 indigenous communities are here from four language families with 30 ethno-languages. According to census 1991, we had 12 lacs indigenous people, but experts predicted more.”

Dr. Sikder, also the professor of Dhaka University Linguistic Dept said, “Schools in CHT use Bengali, the official national language, whereas an entire generation is growing up without a sense of their own cultural history and identity”.

         Indigenous songs are at stake as their languages are in danger


He referred the American govt.’s initiatives to revitalize its indigenous language ‘Novojo’ through arranging special programs, launching Newspaper, even Television based on Indigenous languages.

According to UNESCO, a language is endangered when parents are no longer teaching it to their children and it is no longer being used in everyday life. And language experts say, a language is considered nearly extinct when it is spoken by less than 5 thousand.

A research fellow at Ethno-linguistic Survey of Bangladesh at IMLI under Education ministry, Nasima Poly informed, “The project (1 year duration, launched in June, 2014) is working for the reservation and mobilization of 37 languages, although the Govt. has recognized 27 as the indigenous languages in the country”.

“Only 5 of 37 languages have its own scripts including Bangla, Chakma, Marma, Mru, Maitio”, she added.

“Hodi, Banai, Dalui, Rajbongshi indigenous communalities have already started to use Bangla completely leaving the languages in the disappeared list due to the lack of social and economical recognition”, she mentioned from the research papers.

Due to lacks of scripts, Garo indigenous groups at Madhupur area in Tangail district are losing Achik language; Marmi community in Pabna is in threat of losing its language and cultures too and Kurux language (around 25000, Plane area- Rajshahi, Dinazpur, Rangpur).


Critically endangered languages: Lusai (speakers- 959, census 2011), Pangukhua (2,274, census 2011), Khiyang (3899, census 2011), Khumi (3369, census 2011), Chak (2835, census 2011), Rengmita (Speakers - 40), Patra (2033, census 1991).
An American language researcher Dr. Peterson has been working in preserving indigenous languages in Bangladesh since 1999.

In 2009 he found a language ‘Rengmitca’ from kuki-cin language family (Alikadam area in Bandarban), and the speaker’s numbers rose to 40 from 2 in the primitive period.

Recently IMLI has found two new languages, Sadri and Bagani. Munda, Shing and Pahan communities used Sadri and Bagani languages, which was created in Sylhet tea garden area by Telegu, Sawtal, Nepali and Rai communities as Lingu Franca (Communicative common language).

While talking about the effective initiatives in documenting indigenous languages, Linguistic dept chair Dr. Hakim Arif said, “The govt. can add extra paper relating indigenous matter while census period, for-example, Ethno-linguistic Survey of India had launched it long before aiming to have a clear data”.

Most of developed countries including UK, USA, China, Japan, Germany have their researchers and larger amount of funding in Bangla Language, but unfortunately Bangladeshi government lacks in that area and must take effective measures.

“Indigenous languages preservation project is a national issue, no country or NGO’s will fund in this sector, Govt. and only Govt. can only resolute”.

International Modern Language Director, Professor Iffat Ara Nasreen Majid said, “We lose knowledge and history and lose connection to a land when a language is lost”.  

“The indigenous people living in Chittagong Hill Tracks are living in underprivileged situation, far away from the main stream area.  Even they don’t mix with nearby races with the fear of losing fundamental rights”, an inhabitant in Chittagong area, also DU student Namrata Arpa commented.

IMLI deputy director, also a media personality Monjurul Haque said, “A language loses its strength when its speakers lose the interest due to not having the primary education in indigenous languages as well as the scopes of social occupations”.   

"This institute will not simply be a 12 storied building. National and international seminars and symposia on languages will be organized while information and ingredients of all languages will be preserved in database, and so possibility of being an UNESCO body aiming to preserve all the indigenous languages across the world”, he added. 


More Special Feature