Welcome to The Research Acceleration Centre
Documenting Endangered Languages: A Linguistic Study of Birhor and Asuri
1) About the Cluster ... Contd.

This cluster proposes to work on the endangered languages of India. Internationally, UNESCO and other bodies have expressed concern about the large number of languages that are dying/being endangered. The UNESCO report on language endangerment rightly notes that "the extinction of a language results in the irrecoverable loss of unique cultural knowledge embodied in it for centuries, including historical, spiritual and ecological knowledge that may be essential for the survival of not only its speakers, but also countless others." With every language reflecting unique philosophies, world-views, cultural and traditional features, it becomes important for linguists to work towards helping marginalized communities maintain their unique cultural identities and heritage as reflected in their languages.

The UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger (Moseley 2010) lists Birhor as a “critically endangered” language in terms of its vitality. With no official records of the number of speakers of this language, the UNESCO site notes their number as between 2000 and 10000. The same UNESCO document lists Asuri as a “definitely endangered” language in terms of its vitality. There are no official records of the number of speakers of this language. The UNESCO site notes their number as between 7000 and 16000.

what kind of researches it will incorporate:

It seeks to write descriptive grammars of endangered languages as part of their documentation. This involves describing the language in terms of its phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax and analysis of larger discourse; It also seeks to investigate the sociolinguistic and pragmatic issues connected with their endangerment and explore the possibilities of language maintenance and revitalization.

why such researches are important:

Very little information is available on these two languages and hardly any work has been done on them. Languages are among the most important identity markers for any community, so much so that most communities in India are known by the name of their languages and not necessarily the states/regions (for example, Malayalee, Telugu, Punjabi, etc.). The invisibilityof languages in the records of the government or in the Census is directly related to the invisibility of communities in the larger discourse of a nation. Books published on the language and cultural practices of a communitygive the community representation. The grammars produced as a result of language documentation projects are very useful in not only describing the languages thoroughly but also aid in pedagogical textbook production. This can aid larger goals of literacy in the mother tongue among these communities.Languages are generally endangered because of socio-political reasons such as lack of prestige, lack of standardization, lack of economic utility of the languages, and lack of study materials to be used in the classrooms, apart from dwindling number of speakers. The project seeks to address these issues which are at the core of endangerment.

The disciplines it would involve in developing such researches:

Linguistic documentation is emerging today as an important area of focus among linguists, language conservationists, anthropologists and environmentalists, etc. especially with respect to lesser studied and endangered languages. The research in language endangerment and documentation complements works in these disciplines.

The particular project currently undertaken with a hyperlink to the project title:

The current project proposes to work on two endangered languages Birhor and Asuri. Asuri and Birhor are classified under the minor Kherwarian languages sub-group of the Northern Munda languages (Austroasiatic family). Their actual numbers are difficult to ascertain. This is because they often get totally acculturated and assimilated with the larger dominant communities around. The last official record of the number of Asuri speakers recorded is 7703, in the 1981 Census of India. Since the Census of India currently does not record any language with less than 10000 speakers, both Birhor and Asuri have been dropped from the records.


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