Saving India’s Traditional Languages

India is a large country that contains an incredible amount of cultural diversity. As the country continues its growth into a major economic power, the modern world has begun to creep into its small, traditional villages.

This brings opportunity, but can also cause people to shed their traditional languages and cultural identities in order to fit in and better compete for jobs. This problem isn’t unique to India, of course. It’s happened time and time again, and often the people involved don’t realize how important their language and culture are to them until they have almost completely disappeared.

In India, however, the New York Times reports that Ganesh Devy is leading an effort to try to preserve some rural Indian languages and cultures now, while they are threatened but still relatively healthy. To accomplish this task, he has created a school called the Adivasi Academy. The school serves young adults from adivasi tribes. The adivasi are native Indians who typically live by hunting and gathering, worship trees and elephants, and are known for creating and appreciating art.

Despite similarities between different groups of adivasi, there are also many differences in language and culture. At the Adivasi Academy, students are taught to document and preserve the unique cultural elements of their clans and villages. They create dictionaries of languages that have never before been written down, and record elements of their culture such as traditional foods, clothing, ceremonies, beliefs and stories.

By basically turning students into anthropologists studying their own cultures, the academy helps communicate that these traditional languages and cultures are valuable, and worth preserving even as the adivasi become more connected to the rest of India and the modern world.

Is it working?

It’s too soon to tell how much of an impact the program is having, but most of the students who graduate from it do choose to stay in their villages.
For example, the New York Times article quotes one student, Vikesh Rathwa, who originally planned to leave his village and become a filmmaker.

According to Mr. Rathwa,

“Coming here made me see my household life in a new way. We need to walk in step with our traditions, and with technology, too.”

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