A Hard Truth : Kumaoni and Garhwali Languages are Endangered

Picture source : Google

An endangered language is a language that is at risk of falling out of use as its speakers die out or shift to speaking another language. UNESCO distinguishes four levels of endangerment in languages, based on intergenerational transfer:
Vulnerable: Most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g., home).
Definitely endangered: Children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in the home.

Severely endangered: Language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves.

Critically endangered: The youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently.

On the basis of above parameters, Kumaoni or Garhwali fall in second or third category, although the UNESCO puts them in the first.
Apparently it is due to three reasons :
ii) Economic dominance when lack of jobs and poverty among the native speakers forced people to migrate towards the cities or to other regions, thus dispersing them out from their geographical limits.
ii) Cultural dominance because literature and higher education is available only in the majority language ie Hindi.
iii) Political dominance occurs when education and political activity is carried out exclusively in a majority language. Hindi has a status of Official Language here and is used exclusively in educational institutions, courts, government offices and the media, leaving no room for regional languages.
In such circumstances Kumaoni/Garhwali may become extinct languages, may be, in two or three generations. As communities lose their language they often also lose parts of their cultural traditions which are tied to that language, such as songs, myths and poetry and different forms of folklore that are not easily transferred to another language. This may in turn affect our sense of identity, producing a weakened social cohesion as our values and traditions are exchanged with new ones. In other words, we may lose all those things that we call unique Uttarakhandi Culture and are proud of.

So, what can be done?

The present generation, I think, have a choice; accept the challenge or let our languages doomed to death. It is not a one-man’s job, needs a mass awakening. To bring out that awakening some energetic, dedicated people with clear vision will have to come forward from our communities and work out the strategies in cohesion. They may like to:
• raise awareness of endangered languages, both inside and outside the communities where these are spoken, through all channels and media
• support the use of endangered languages in all contexts: at home, in education, in the media, and in social, cultural and economic life
• monitor linguistic policies and practices, and seek to influence the appropriate authorities where necessary
• support the documentation of old literature, folk or otherwise, by offering financial assistance, training, or facilities for the publication.
• encourage more and more people to write in different forms of literature and plan for their publication and circulation.
• collect and make available information of use in the preservation of endangered language
• disseminate information on all of the above activities as widely as possible

As a linguist I accept the ‘hard truth’ that our worthy languages are at the brink and UNESCO observation about them is perhaps less then where they seem to exist. But, I am still optimist that these languages CAN be saved to be handed over to our future generations. let us ponder and make appropriate strategies.

  • Udaya Pant

    I agree with you; but see it slightly differently though.The language will continue and survive among the locals. The question of endangerment is only form the vie point of the expatriate Kumaoni / Garhwali .My interactions with the genext tells me that IF TAUGHT THEY MAY LIKE TO LEARN THE LANGUAGE; but in a simplistic and one standard dialect mode. Cultural route like roadshows, Ramlila, Kavi Sammelan are better wys than written literature for the young ones who can pick up bits and crux of words only! Some Uttrakhandi’s take it as offence to read jokes improvised in thiri language and people..while this should be a good way to learn through humour packaged learnings! Many soungs with humour or catchy lyrics are known to even the younger generations in big cities. Paths are many but we need to identify which one will attract the foot falls!

    • http://www.facebook.com/suresh.pant.39 Suresh Pant

      I share your positive views.
      Yes, a language survives so long it isused, but I had a different experience. I found local people substituting Hindieven in their private or social interactions. Even if you initiate withKumaoni, most likely you will get reply in Hindi. (This phenomenon is less visible
      in Garhwal though.)
      You are right that thereshould be one simple standardized common form to make things easy for learners.Here again only users, not the grammarians or linguists can help develop such aform. Poets, authors, media people, folk artists and such interactive groups canplay a great role in developing common standardized form.
      I do agree when you say,” Paths are many but we need toidentify which one will attract the foot falls!”

  • Ruchika Joshi

    Thanks for writing this Mr. Pant. I have shared it on facebook hoping more people will read it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/suresh.pant.39 Suresh Pant

      thanks Ruchika, look forward to your objective comments too.

    • http://www.facebook.com/suresh.pant.39 Suresh Pant

      You may like to see my another post,”पहाडी भाषाएँ : प्रश्न अस्तित्व का”


  • udaya pant

    I haven’t done a realty check off late; but the pattern was different in Almora+ Nainital ; and Pithoragarh …the former will converse more in Kumaoni..the latter preferred Hindi except in closed groups! But yes, the trend may be changing due to children tilted towards Hindi and English (for good reasons though).

  • n k s pundir

    hello, according to me if garhwali and kumaoni are included into eight schedule as early, it can be saved. i myself born in bangalore belong to garhwal hill want to learn this language, but not even the uttarakhand open university offers it. so according to me like devnagari script can be used as writing system as in case of many other indian languages like konkani, marathi, dogri, bodo etc. i living in bangalore know about language tulu which not included in eight schedule but taught in mangalore university, so this kind of effort must be made.
    also the state government make some kind of clause in government jobs like to know either of two languges, then there will be interest of people in learning. also can be taught in schools and universities.

  • 52fortsofglory

    Thank you Mr. Pant for putting these facts that have troubled many of us out in the open.Your efforts are much appreciated.

    I agree with most of what you’ve said though I’d like to bring a few points of my own to the table:
    1. Our people need to realize an important fact, that among the Pahari people(s) of Uttarakhand, there are two major distinct identities, that of the Kumaonis, and that of the Garhwalis. We need to understand that there is no one ‘Uttarakhandi’ identity, as some people would like to think.

    2. That being said, in my opinion, for the preservation of the cultural identities of both these communities, the Garhwalis and the Kumaonis, the state should ideally be bifurcated; my idea here is not to create divisions, but to naturally strengthen the identity of both these communities.

    3. After this has been accomplished, it would be much easier for people to take in the idea of a separate Garhwali or Kumaoni Identity. At this stage, it would also be much easier to strive for official Status for both these languages.

    4. The bifurcation process would especially benefit the Kumaonis, as right now they are at a great distance from the center of power and wealth in the capital, Dehradun.

    Going back to the idea of separate identities and the need for bifurcation, I’d like for everyone to understand that Garhwal and Kumaon were different sovereign Kingdoms for hundreds of years, thus logically, each has developed a very unique identity of its own. The idea of Uttarakhand is an artifical one; Uttarakhand is simply the creation of a State out of the hill region that was earlier part of UP. But things aren’t that simple on the ground. On the ground, we are two different communities, who naturally need different States of their own for the preservation of their languages, culture, heritage, identity and for the better administration of their lands.

    Furthermore, Uttarakhand is not the only example of an artificial state in India; there are many more. There is no logical basis for states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir etc.

    It is time we stood up for the right thing and made sure that our communities survive the ongoing cultural and linguistic assimilation into the plains people.

    • vivek

      Hi bifurcation is a mad idea.For protecting language it can be good to bring it to schools.

    • Vikas

      Even I was thinking about this. This is indeed the need of the moment. The point we lose our language and culture, we lose our identity, values and history. Bifurcation of the state is a good idea to protect the distinct cultures and languages of Garhwal and Kumaun. There is no popular support for this because some view it as alienating one communtiy from the other, which is wrong. Because people don’t realize it that upto what extent the harm will be done by assimilating the cultures with the rest of India.

      Unfortunately, there is no demand in the current political scenario to make it happen. We should raise our voice for this to happen. We are not creating divisions because we will still remain one country and there will be no restrictions on anyone’s travel or residence. There will only be the establishment of the concrete identities of the two distinct communities and from that, further work could be effectively done to protect our cultures and languages.

  • I am I

    Hi Everybody, please save our language mother languages Garhwali and Kumaoni languages. Our language has been encroaching by Hindi language. Please everyone consider it.

    Thank you

    • Rusconnect Gray Hat

      Taaun Sagadiya Aamro Pitharachyon Veyun Chhan . Je Aamro Pithar Aamitheey Gadwadi ani Kumaoni Aeydado , Heinchin Taaun Sagadiya Kaddhi Phan Ni Hondan !

      This is our mistake only ! Our ancestors didn’t teach us Gadwadi and Kumaoni Languages due to the consideration both of them as Tribal Languages.

      If they had taught us to speak our Languages , we would not have felt embarassing speaking Hindi in front of Punjabies , Marathies , Gujraties Bengalis etc . Whenever They speak their beautiful Languages . A kind of pain sensation kills me asking and repenting for my Languages.

      I feel very bad about it !

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