According to the story of the Tower of Babel, God broke what united man the most – language, with language. He scattered the world with an infinite number of languages such that the men could not build a tower tall enough to reach the heavens. Does that explain why so many languages – particularly, Indian languages – are vulnerable to almost completely dying out?
The number of languages I have been exposed to during my education, have been more than limited. I was briefly introduced to Marathi for three years until the 7th grade, besides Hindi and English, and finally Spanish in high school, and that’s the end of it. India has 29 states, and yet, I never had the opportunity to explore any of its languages the way I was made to explore the mentioned 4.
According to The People’s Linguistic Survey of India, 220 of the 780 languages spoken in India have been lost in the past 50 years. While UNESCO has classified over 191 Indian languages as either vulnerable or endangered, we’ve put down 10 incredibly interesting, yet almost extinct, Indian languages.
What is most wonderful about Shauraseni is that it was a ‘dramatic Prakrit’ – the language used in drama and theatre in northern medieval India. Many Jain epics had been composed in this language, the most famous being the Satkhandagama and the Kasayapahuda. Many Hindi-based languages have actually originated from Shauraseni, and it is said to be very similar to classical Sanskrit. Primarily, members of the Digambara sect wrote in Shauraseni.
Although not really a language by itself, Apabhramsa is most commonly used to define the range of languages that formed the transition between the late Middle and the early Modern Indo-Aryan languages, and was most prominent between the 6th and 13th centuries. A large number of Apabhramsa works of literature have been found in Jain libraries. Its grammar is starkly different from that of traditional Sanskrit; Apabhramsa in Sanskrit literally means ‘corrupt’ or ‘non-grammatical.’ The Sandesh Rasak, by Abdur Rahman of Multan, traced back to 1000 AD, is considered to be the only known work of Apabhramsa by a Muslim.
A Dravidian language spoken mostly in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Chattisgarh, Gondi is the language of the Gond people, although only about half of them still speak it. Gondi is said to have had a very rich oral folklore tradition. Nevertheless, no written literature has been found, and the Gondi script was barely used by the Gonds. Some Gonds have even lost their own language, embracing instead Telugu, Marathi or Hindi.
IV. Tai Aiton
Classified as a threatened language, with no more than two thousand speakers around the world, this language is spoken in Assam – more specifically, in the Dhonsiri Valley and the Brahmaputra’s South bank. This area actually holds three other actively spoken languages as well – Phake, Khamti and Khamyang. The strangest thing about Tai Aton is that it is almost completely monosyllabic. Each symbol in Tai Aton has a specific tone. It also has a vowel system of 7 vowels – the smallest of all Assamese languages.
V. Mahasu Pahari
This is a Western Pahari language spoken in areas in Himachal Pradesh, with a speaking population of about 1 crore as of 2001, with the number steadily decreasing. As it traversed various locations, it took on several forms, including Baghati and Kiunthali in Lower Mahasu Pahari, and Rampuri and Rohruri in Upper Mahasu Pahari. It uses the Devanagari script, which probably explains why it isn’t as vulnerable to immediately dying out as the other mentioned languages.
Again a Dravidian languages, Bellari is spoken by a mere 1,000 Bellara – members of a Scheduled Caste of Karnataka and Kerala. It is most similar to the languages of Tulu and Koraga. Currently, it is being traced to a tiny community of fifty families of basket-weavers in Karnataka.
Gutob is an Indian Munda language, spoken primarily within Koraput, Orissa and Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, by the South Munda subgroup of the Austroasiatic languages. It has been given a number of different names, including Gadba, Gudwa and Boi Gadaba. A population of only 8,000 people have been found to currently speak it. Many traditionally Gutob speakers are shifting to Desiya instead, as the popularity of the language is slowly dying out.
Jarawa is an Ongan language spoken in Interior and South-Interior Andaman Islands. It is used by the hinter-gatherer communities who live along the coasts of and within the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Jarawas, who are the only remaining Negrito members of the islands; the African ethnic groups that migrated and settled in certain parts of Southeast Asia around 30 to 65 thousand years ago. Apart from being hunters and fishermen, this community also has a rich history of warriors, surviving the British as well as Japanese occupations of their land. Currently, the Jarawa population is approximately 270. Jarawa includes 41 sounds, 28 constants and 13 vowels, and has no script.
Again specific to the Andamans, Önge is spoken by the Onge people of the Little Andaman Island. Like the Jarawas, the Onge were hunter-gatherers. Although it was previously spoken throughout the Little Andaman as well some of the islands in the Northern and Southern tips of the Andamans, the number of Önge speakers started to decline after British occupation of the islands in the 19th century. As of now, there are only 94 native speakers of Önge.
Puroik, or Sulung, spans areas of Arunachal Pradesh in India and Lhünzê County in Tibet. In Arunachal Pradesh, it is spoken in 53 villages along the Par River. Due to Puroik’s characteristic of being enormously divergent, its very classification has been questioned. Literacy among Puroik speakers is very low – only about 2%, who use either the Bengali, Devanagari or, strangely enough, Latin, to write it. Puroik has no grammatical gender.
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