U.N.E.S.C.O. Conference on Linguistic Heritage in India and Asia.

Report on the U.N.E.S.C.O. Conference on
Linguistic Heritage in India and Asia.

By Dr. E. Annamalai.

The U.N.E.S.C.O. centre of the Basque country, Spain is preparing a World Languages Report for U.N.E.S.C.O. (e-mail and Web site unescopv@eurosur.org, http://www.unescoeh.org). This project grew out of the international seminar, “Linguapax”, on linguistic policies held in Leioa, Basque country, in 1996 and came into being in July, 1997. The chair of its steering committee is Dr. Felix Marti, who is also the chair of U.N.E.S.C.O.’s Advisory Committee for Linguistic Pluralism and Multilingual Education. The members the technical co-ordination committee of the project include Dr. Paul Ortega, Dr. Itziar Idiazabal and Dr. Patxi Juaristi, who participated in the above conference. The project is advised by a Scientific Committee chaired by Dr. Miquel Siguan. The aim of the World Languages Report is to “describe the linguistic diversity of the world, study the evolution and current state of the languages, explain the problems which affect them in different regions of the world,to draw attention to the need for a proper management of the world’s linguistic heritage”. The Report will be based on information collected through a specially designed survey questionnaire and from published works. The questionnaire will be filled in by experts, research institutes and organizations. The Report is expected to be completed in 2001.

In order to consult experts to help prepare the Report, U.N.E.S.C.O. has been organizing conferences in all the continents. Three conferences have been held in Western Europe (in Mons, Belgium), Eastern Europe (in the Russian Republic of Kalmykia), Latin America (in Cochabmaba, Bolivia)and Africa (in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso). The fourth conference is the above one held in Mysore, India from March 6 to 10, 2000 under the auspices of the Central Institute of Indian Languages (ciil@giasbg01.vsnl.net.in , http://www.ciil.org). There were 27 participants from Asia (21 from India and the rest from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Malaysia, Cambodia and Indonesia ). The conference was introduced by Dr. Felix Marti and inaugurated by Dr. D.P. Pattanayak. The keynote paper was presented by Dr. E.Annamalai (see attachment).

The notion heritage was understood to mean past achievements of linguistic study and current linguistic wealth of India and Asia and accordingly, there were papers on both subjects. The majority of the papers, however, were on the latter and they described the demographic, educational, policy as well as grammatical information on the languages of the region. The papers will be published by C.I.I.L. under the editorship of Dr. O.N. Koul.

A preliminary analysis of the information received from 100 questionnaires was presented. The participants formed themselves into three working groups and deliberated on (a) factors responsible for language loss; (b) current policies and programmes for language maintenance and their inadequacies; and (c) action plan for the future. On the basis of these deliberations, the conference prepared a document of recommendations for preserving linguistic diversity (see below).



Observing that the disappearance of languages has been increasing over time and that this will progressively deplete the linguistic resources and heritage of the globe this Regional Conference focused on the linguistic heritage and linguistic diversity in the Asian region. Efforts taken in different countries to arrest the loss of languages was reviewed and recommendations were made to reverse language loss and preserve linguistic diversity.

The preservation of linguistic diversity is necessary not only for ethical reasons but also as inputs for human progress and development. Every language codifies a way of cognizing, experiencing and organizing knowledge of the world. Each way may have the potential to correct any wrong step taken by “successful languages and cultures” which may be detrimental to humanity.

The Conference recognizes that the responsibility for action towards maintenance of languages lie with the Government, the Non-governmental Organizations, the Market, the Community, the Individual and the International bodies. With the active co-operation between all these agencies, ‘The Mysore Document’ makes the following recommendations.


1. Every State shall recognize the right of every language to exist and to develop irrespective of its size of population and political status; the state shall ensure equal rights and opportunities to all linguistic communities for survival and development.

2. It shall be the right of the linguistic communities to use their language in private domains like home. The obligation of the state is to give specified rĂ´les for every language in public domains like education, government (executive, legislative and judicial wings). Where a pyramidal structure in the allocation of roles to languages, becomes necessary it shall be ensured that every language finds a place at the bottom of the pyramid in each domain. It shall be ensured that linkages between the different levels of the pyramidal structure does not disadvantage the speaker of any language.

3. The mother tongue/home language shall be the medium of education in the early stage (i.e., in the pre-primary and primary stages). When the use of mother tongue/home language as medium warrants radical changes in pedagogy, curriculum and evaluation (for example, teaching without textbooks, contextualized curriculum, evaluation without written examination etc., ) the effort should be encouraged and supported. Progressive transfer of the medium to the language of the region and the state shall make use of the skills already learnt in the mother tongue / home language.

4. The mother tongue/home language shall be continued to be taught as a language even after it is not used as a medium. It shall be taught as a language up to the level the linguistic community desires.

5. The non pedagogical materials is smaller languages for “reading for pleasure”, for creative expressions etc., shall be produced with monetary support from the state. To facilitate their production the technological support including the high-tech. inputs like software shall be provided even for the smaller languages (beginning with providing a writing system).

6. The same pattern of language use shall be followed in non-formal education, literacy education for adults etc.,

7. The mother tongue/home language prevailing in the locality shall be the language of the lowest levels of administration and judiciary. The communication between the citizens on the one hand and Administration and Judiciary on the other (for example, submission of petitions, issue of Government notifications) shall also be in the mother tongue/home language in the locality whenever a person is not well versed in the language used at the higher levels of Administration and Judiciary, the state at its cost shall provide services such as translation and interpretation.

8. In the mass media for information and entertainment (both print and electronic), the state shall provide resources for the use of smaller languages to provide information and entertainment to their speakers.

9. The products and services from the market (such as ingredient information, warning, directions/manuals for use and maintenance, Banking and Insurance Regulations etc.,) shall be given in the language of the consumers, even through small languages and not economically profitable. The companies shall be made to accept this condition by the Consumer Forums for which legal support may be provided by the State.

10. The linguistic community shall share equally with the state the responsibility for maintaining its language. The community’s action may be influenced by its perceived cultural, political and economic value of its languages. Efforts shall be taken to enhance pride in cultural values. The communities should be entitled to receive state support for any activities in maintaining its language. Language may be closely identified with other primordial institutions like religion and ethnicity. Recognition of such cultural institutions will help maintenance of language.

11. Language maintenance is equally the responsibility of individual speakers of the language. In order to encourage them to have a positive attitude towards their mother tongue/home language any creative translations into mother tongue/home language shall be made rewarding.

12. Bilingualism with the mother tongue shall be rewarded with regard to economic opportunities.

13. U.N.E.S.C.O. and such other International bodies may bring out in regular intervals global reports, on the state of the linguistic diversities, similar to Human Development Report, The Endangered Species Report, etc., highlighting the achievements as well as failures. With regard to linguistic diversity the countries shall be ranked as they are in Human Development Index.

14. The U.N. shall declare a specific day as the day of “Mother Tongue” in which discussion on maintenance of mother tongue and their value for humanity may be discussed.

15. The Centralized and exploitative development paradigm that currently prevails is not conducive for the maintenance of languages. Bodies like World Bank, I.M.F., may encourage countries that take up a different paradigm of development which is in consonance with linguistic diversity. The International bodies may bring their pressure to bear upon massive displacement of linguistic/ethnic communities as a result of dams, defence projects etc., by insisting on the states certain conditionalities like absolute necessity for displacement, non-segmentation of a linguistic community, and provide ecological conditions similar to the original habitat that support maintenance of culture and languages.

16. Priority and special funds may be allotted to record languages in their natural use as well as elicit data when their loss is imminent (for example, due to biological reasons). The training courses in Universities and other places on Language planning and development shall give equal focus on strategies for the survival of language.

The use of the word mother tongue/home language in this document is meant to include any language that is used or perceived to provide cultural identity, familial communication and social membership as well as acquired in the process of primary socialization and of cognizing the world around. Other names like first language, community language, ethnic language etc. are used in this sense in different social and political contexts. A person may have more than one such language.

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