We have been talking about the need for promotion of tribal languages and dialects spoken in the state alongside the steps being taken up for declaration of Manipuri language as a classical language. In fact, the mandate of Directorate of Language Planning and Implementation was not only promotion of the state language but also of the various tribal languages and dialects. So, it is but historic that the Chief Minister N Biren Singh should proposed a three-month course for those willing to study the dialects and languages of different communities of the state, at a celebratory function of the 31st Manipuri Language Day itself. As he rightly pointed out, it will encourage interaction among the people and help in building unity and nationalism. Although, it is a small beginning, it will certainly remain as a landmark in the language movement of Manipur.
It is said, every two weeks a language disappears taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. At least 43 per cent of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world. Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and planet. Experts believe when languages fade, so does the world's rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Multilingual and multicultural societies exist through their languages which transmit and preserve traditional knowledge and cultures in a sustainable way.
As per international standards, even Manipuri Language which is included in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution has been listed as one of the dying languages of the world. As we push for ‘classical language’ status for the Manipuri language, we must also understand that the number of speakers of a language is very important in consideration of the strength of a language. The basic question is how many people speak Manipuri or Meiteilon, which is heralded as the lingua-franca of the state.
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A common refrain among the revivalists has been that Manipuri language is corrupted with so many foreign words and terms and a concerted effort of weeding out foreign words or ‘lonyan’ from Manipuri language is gaining momentum in recent times.
What the revivalists do not understand is that Manipuri language is a dynamic language and it has the strength to absorb foreign words into its fold and also adapt to change and modern realities. One has to believe in the resilience of the language and its adaptability to modern linguistic changes. It is one of the oldest languages in Southeast Asia, which has its own script and written literature.
It is a fact that Manipuri language is the lingua-franca of the state and different communities and peoples communicate through the language, though some choose to remain in denial mode and not speak it in public forums. Having said that, we also like to pose a question to those whose mother tongue is Manipuri or Meiteilon. How many of the Meiteis have tried or endeavoured to learn the tribal languages and dialects in their interactions either in official capacity or otherwise?
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The non-Manipuris who come to the state either to serve as officers or to do business always make it a point to learn Manipuri language so that they could communicate. Reaching out also means trying to understand each other in the languages or dialects one is comfortable with.
Many of the tribal languages and dialects have so many similarities with Manipuri in the use of words and terms. In many instances, one will also find that Manipuri language itself has two or more words with the same meaning which shows its dynamic nature.
Earlier, we had suggested an experiment in incorporating terms from the tribal languages and dialects in the proposed Manipuri language bank. Well, we expect a lot more from the state government led by N Biren Singh in bringing harmony between the various languages and dialects.