Need for Preservation of Languages with special reference to the Hmar Dialect: By- Dr. Mary Lalhrilmoi Hrangchal

{Pu (L) VL Ringa Hrangchal le Lalneihnem Hrangchal hai nau Nk. Mary Lalhrilmoi Hrangchal hin Assam University, Silchar - Department of History hnuoiah March 23rd 2016 khan Ph.D a zo a. A thesis chu “Bonded Labour in Lushai Hills during Colonial Period” ti a nih. Tuhin Panchayat and rural Development, Govt. of Assam hnuoiah Gram Sevaki sin thawin, Narsingpur, Silchar, Cachar-a um mek a nih. - Editor}

 Hi Research Paper hi H.S.A. Silchar Br. Silver Jubilee Souvenir-a insuo a ni a. Souvenir contents vawngthat ei nuom leia sie a nih.
Introduction: According to facts published in the “Atlas of languages in Danger of Disappearing,” the United Nation’s Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) estimated that there are 6000 languages spoken worldwide today. Of these, half of the world’s population speaks the most common languages like English, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Indonesian, Arabic, Swahili, and Hindi. More than 3000 languages are reportedly spoken by fewer than 10,000 people each. Some linguists estimate that about 80% of the world’s languages may vanish within the next century. In India alone, there are 1652 languages according to the Census of 1961. Among these, only around 150 languages have a sizeable speaking population. Others make up regional vernaculars which are, in some cases, spoken by just a handful, remotely situated citizens who themselves are facing threat of being incorporated or absorbed by a much larger similar language groups or an entirely different one according to political and topographic necessities. 

A reference work Ethnologue, published by SIL International estimated 417 languages on the verge of extinction. India also records a list of about 191 languages which are placed under categories such as “vulnerable, critically endangered, severely endangered, definitely endangered and extinct” among which the Hmar dialect is entered in the “vulnerable” category. One big factor for such an occurrence is that the Hmar tribe in its entirety are quick learners adaptable to any dialect anywhere with proper accent and perfect pronunciation. 
This innate talent may be largely due to their various settlements and necessities born from it. As such, they seem to have no problem in adjusting anywhere. This may, to a large extent, help in their settlements but at the same time, is also a danger to the language, culture and history. This vulnerable status can progress very rapidly with the current “status quo” of the present and “would be” speakers. It is in this context that this essay finds the significance of encouraging, learning, speaking, enriching and preserving the vernacular in discussion to uphold the culture of the particular group and for the benefit of posterity.

Language is the ability to acquire and use complex systems of communication particularly the human ability to do so, and a language is any specific example of such a system. It is an interactive being. It must be spoken and interpreted by another. It consists of an attempt to make oneself clear/understood and an attempt to correctly decipher what is/was being said. The scientific study of language is called linguistics. Language reverberates in our hearts and allows us to connect to our ancestors, gives us a sense of community with people we don’t know but may have similar life experiences with. To lose a language is to lose a piece of oneself. It is a blessing to be a connoisseur of languages and be versatile in it for reasons such as political, social, economic or academic. 

Nelson Mandela, the first black President of South Africa has summed up the significance of being polyglots thus, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” This is a blatant truth which can never be debated upon. But in the process of gaining over some hearts, we tend to lose our own to those whom we converse with in their language. This has, in many cases, proved a tragedy than a blessing.

Why languages disappear: A number of reasons account for the gradual disappearance of languages/dialects. Linguists have typically given the impression that speakers give up their heritage language at will. The economist Abram de Swaan even dramatizes the process by speaking of some populations as “stampeding from their language” for an alternative with a higher value as if speakers consulted with each other and decided collectively to shift suddenly to another language. While arguing that speakers treat their language as “common good,” he also gives the impression that speakers actually assess which particular language is spoken by more people as if they all had a sense of demographic statistics associated with different languages. Many people think that it is not necessary to learn or speak one’s native dialect. They find that speaking the language that offers them most options is beneficial to them in the globalized world. In their struggle to live in the metropolitans, some are content or even eager to learn, speak and maintain the culture and dialect of their newly acquired citizenship. 

While the process of learning and perfecting the new dialect occupies all the talent and abilities of the learner; the “process of forgetting” plays a rapid role in the loss of one’s knowledge of his/her mother tongue, sped up by non-availability of persons from the same language group to converse with. In the process, many native dialects slowly disappear in the present time.

Communal language shift also occurs gradually and most often insidiously, being noticed only after the process is quite advanced or complete. All speakers may not be engaged in the process at the same time, although communal shift is the convergence of similar behaviours by the “would be” speakers of the relevant language. Also, for every individual speaker involved in the process, permanent shift occurs when they do not get to speak the particular language facing extinction. In such a case, atrophy i.e., the loss of competence in the language due to lack of practice occur. When the process is experienced by all the speakers of a language and this can’t be learnt by their children, it can be characterised as dying or dead.
Parents who migrate to some other places sometimes advise their children to speak English or the dialect of the new place. They want their children to have a smooth daily life in the new surroundings. 

In some cases, children of immigrant parents refuse to speak their native tongue for fear of being mocked at school or in the new place. Sometimes parents just don’t pass down the language for reasons known only to them. 
If a group of people are under the subjugation of a much powerful group, the stronger may impose its culture, religion and dialect on the subjugated. Also, government orders and impositions cannot be helped. In such cases, one is likely to be forced to learn or speak the language imposed on him/her. However, a conscientious speaker would encourage his/her native dialect in the family. 

One other factor responsible for degeneration of a language, although slight in itself, is the institution of marriage. For instance, a Hmar damsel married into the family of another language group cannot help adopting the language of her husband because patriarchal ideology demands that a woman belongs to a man. The same however, does not apply to a man who marries a woman belonging to another language group. But sad to say, this has become quite the trend of the day. More than once, it is a common occurrence for men especially the youth to learn and speak the language of their betrothed. Perhaps they do this to win the heart of the loved one, or for fear of rejection. This is carried on far into the marriage where children have no control over what vernacular they speak in the family. Most of the time, such a practise spells the death of a language.

Linguists claim that a language normally dies when its last speaker is dead, reality tells us that the process of death itself starts long before the dead of the last speaker, i.e., when the population of its speakers lose their critical mass and often also when its structures are seriously eroded by those of the prevailing language. Some linguists opine that the more popular languages force the death of other languages. 

But, languages do not kill each other; their “would be speakers” kill them by shifting away from them to others that they find more advantageous. Sometimes, people learn and maintain some other language for better political, economic, educational, social and religious necessities. This is not something wrong but when a person adopts that language as his/her family’s vernacular, it becomes wrong. When man, endowed with the strongest will-power, willingly don’t bother even to learn or speak the language of his family/community, it is not only a social detriment, but also a cultural irresponsibility that hasten the process of language death.

Languages cannot be issued birth or death certificates like an organism or a human being. They are like viral species in biology. They compete with each other only to the extent that they are weighted differently by their speakers. They spread or contract because more or fewer speakers use them, just like their structures change because their speakers modify them or prefer some variants over others while these changes spread within the population. The shift becomes complete when there are no situations in which it is possible to communicate in the then disadvantageous language.

Significance of preservation: 

A renowned columnist Kevin Scott Cuevas wrote, “The history, passion and soul of your culture lives in each word you speak in your native tongue.” Language is the soul of a community. It is more than a way to communicate with others. Customs, traditions and passions of a certain culture are imbued with language. Histories and cultural legacy of a group of people are passed down in degrees through language. The identity and soul of a group of people resides in the syncopated and unique vocalizations of their native tongue. However, it is sad to say that not many people feel that way now.

Language is an important part of a society. It enables people to communicate and express themselves. When a language dies out, future generations lose a vital part of the culture that is necessary to completely understand it. This makes language a vulnerable aspect of cultural heritage and becomes especially important to preserve it. 

The loss of a language has more consequences than just losing a vocabulary. Even if it is archived, a dead language may have missing tone, accent, grammar, syntax and context. These verbal traits are often used to reflect a speaker’s way of thinking as much as the actual choice of words. Losing a language may also mean losing crucial knowledge about the linguistic group’s history and their local environment, as it can provide scientists, botanists and academics with information that might be lost otherwise if these specific descriptions did not have an equivalent word in a more dominant language. 

Coming to the use of “another” language among the Hmar population, it is a matter that occupies a grave situation. Most people treat this “other” language like the most popular in the whole wide world. Some advance as far as making it their domestic vernacular. Others still popularise it in their own community and social media. Many people find pleasure in speaking the language even when far from being fluent. This practise is a chronic cancer that has no cure to date. 

Let us ask ourselves this question: “what will we gain from it”? If we are to learn any language at all, why not make it English or Hindi? We will, at the least, have the advantage of mastering one international language and our own national language. Uplifting the dialect to the status of one subject to the university level alone will not prevent it from future extinction. Just as the history of the Hmar is mainly based on oral sources, speaking is the most required proposition for the dialect. 

Mere writing without its reader world would be like an archive material that simply waits for the keen eyes of a researcher to discover its earlier existence. The need of the hour is making it a medium of conversation with similar language groups, in the family and friend circle which is one sure means of encouraging its long life.

Let us make a comparison between English and the language in question. The former is a fast spreading language around the world because people hope to find better jobs, travel with fewer communicative problems, and be read by more scholars, etc. Successful scholars, businessmen and bureaucrats in non-English speaking countries inspire their countrymen to invest time and money in learning it for more benefits. Americans, Britons and Australians require those fluent in English to handle world trade and diplomatic matters with their powerful partners in the dominant language at least in the domains that involve them. They however, don’t intend English to become their domestic vernacular except perhaps in small nation states like Singapore, where the goal is still far from being reached. 

The American, British and Australian businessmen do not aim at spreading the English language but at making money and for better transaction through the local language. This is not the case in the present issue. Therefore, let us ask ourselves if it is worth shifting from and sacrificing our mother tongue for this “other language” that would serve us no great purpose.

Conclusion: The Hmar political movements and aspirations have gone a long way in bringing the community to the stage of a much coveted imminent event for which the entire population (within the five states) is deeply grateful to the pioneers. 

However, with regards to language, the impending events somehow, have the premonition of a debased Hmar cultural heritage. It can only be hoped that this event would turn the wheel for the “would be speakers,” as, it would hardly do to sing the Hmar patriotic songs in “another” language or to further its political aspirations in a different tongue.  

As language is a very strong element in the identity of an ethnic group, it is the cultural duty of each individual to utilise his/her will and work towards the preservation of its language, whose utmost solution lies in the encouragement of its “would be” speakers.

Source: H.S.A. Silchar Branch
Silver Jubilee Souvenir-2017

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