Making endangered languages more accessible

Karnataka’s tourism tagline is, ‘One state, many worlds’. But what attracts little discussion is the many languages within the many worlds of the State.

The Bangalore Literature Festival (BLF), in its landmark tenth edition this year, opened here on Saturday with ‘Multilingualism and endangered languages’ as a dominating theme. The highlight of this year’s festival is a series of panel discussions around the theme, ‘The Many Language Worlds of Karnataka,’ with writers and those fluent in languages such as Tulu, Konkani, Kodava takk, Koraga, Dakhani Urdu, Byari, Navyati, Kundapra Kannada, Halakki Kannada, Sanketi and Havyaka.

In one such session on ‘Scripting a future for endangered languages,’ panellists highlighted the need for making scripts of endangered languages more accessible to speakers. Writer Kaveri Ponnappa, speaking about Kodava takk, said endangered languages need more speakers, and rather than a new script, you need a script that is more accessible to speakers. Advocating a script that reaches the maximum number of speakers and increasing its scope, she said Kodavas have a considerable task – not only for for those who live abroad, but also live in other parts of India who are no longer learning the Kannada script.

A Roman script would reach a larger number of people, agreed Sayeegeetha Hedge, from the Nitte University Centre for Tulu studies, NITTE, while speaking about Tulu. “If learners want to learn Tulu, it is difficult to go through with the Kannada script. We have to take revised Roman also for those who can’t speak and read Kannada. This is very much needed,” she said.

Author Vivek Shanbhag spoke about challenges faced by the Konkani language, which adopted multiple scripts for survival as speakers are in different states Such as Kerala, Karnataka and Goa. “So the solution is apt for Kodava and Tulu, but not for Konkani because they are different languages.”

But languages that are only spoken have a longer life, he said. “English is now confronted with Kannada. In Konkani homes, there’s no such confrontation. People still speak Konkani at home. There’s no one solution. We must understand the context and respond,” he added.

In another session, ‘Konkani: One language, multiple scripts,’ this was discussed further by Damodar Mauzo, who was recently awarded Jnanpith Prashasti for his works in Konkani. “Multiple vocabularies are recognised by multiple speakers. When I go to Mangaluru or Kochi, I give a keen ear and find so many things we’ve lost but they continue to use. So I try to incorporate these in my writings. Though today the vocabulary is slightly different, it is not alien to us. We’re coming closer day by day. Words used in Goa can be heard in Mangaluru and vice-versa,” he said.

“I look at the Konkani world as a cultural state. We are divided geographically. But culturally, we’re one State. It’s the main feature of the Konkani speaking diaspora – they live in harmony, whether they live in Karnataka or Kerala,” he added.

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