Saturday November 25, 2017

Bodo Sahitya Sabha – Trying to revive the language

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By Harshmeet Singh

There aren’t many better examples of India’s diverse culture than its linguistic diversity. The country is home to 780 languages with over 120 of them holding the ‘official’ status. But the other side of the story is that India currently heads the list of UNESCO’s world’s languages in danger. The constitution, in its eighth schedule, lists 22 languages as the official regional languages in the country. This series of articles is an attempt to focus on these 22 languages, their pasts and present, and cherish our linguistic diversity. After discussing Assamese in the previous write-up, today, we shift our focus towards Bodo.

One of the most famous tribal languages in the country, Bodo has close to one and a half million speakers in India, with most of them residing in the North-East. Along with Assamese, it is the official language of Assam.

The number of Bodo speakers in the country is on a constant decline. The language originally belongs to the Bodo tribe, which is one of the oldest inhabitants in the North-East part of the country. Despite being a minority in Assam, the tribe continues to take forward its culture with utmost zeal.

Post-independence, a number of Bodo speakers felt that the language is at a risk of being overshadowed by languages such as Assamese and Bengali. Until 1950s, there were hardly any Bodo-medium schools, which hurt the prospects of the language. It was only in the early 1950s that the Bodo population realized that education in indigenous language is essential for the language’s development. To take forward the cause of the language, the Bodo Sahitya Sabha was formed in 1952. After a continuous struggle by the Sabha, Bodo was put in place as the medium of instruction at the primary level in 1963. The language reached the secondary level in 1968. Now, multiple universities, including the University of Guwahati offer post graduate courses in Bodo language.

The language got a further shot in the arm when the HRD ministry and the central government allowed the Bodo Sahitya Sabha to go ahead and prepare a list of over 40,000 scientific and technical terms in the language in order to evolve it further. With the passing of the 92nd amendment Act 2003, Bodo found a place in the eight schedule of the Indian constitution.

In the news

Last month, the All Bodo Students’ Union observed the 63rd foundation day of Bodo Sahitya Sabha in Delhi. Kejriwal, while attending the event, announced that he would request the JNU and the Delhi University to come up with a dedicated department on Bodo in order to promote the language. He also promised to grant land for setting up of Bodo cultural research centre in the national capital. While many such promises have been made in the past too, only a few have been fulfilled. But with the language activists not giving up the cause, the number of Bodo speakers will only go up in the times to come.

Read more here – Assamese – a bright spot in the Indian regional languages scene

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Assamese want recognition for their script in computer coding

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Guwahati: The rich history of Assam from the times of Brahmi script in Guptan times to the rock inscriptions and copper plates of fourth and fifth centuries has the ability to convince the US-based Unicode Consortium to give it a sperate slot for its script and remove computational intricacies in using it in the digital age.

The Unicode Consortium, that gives languages a set of universal characters for use in computers, identifies Assamese as another form of Bengali script, making its use difficult in the digital world.

The Assam government recently submitted to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) that it is a historically evolved script with its own set of characters and symbols representing written texts. But the non-inclusion of this in Unicode and ISO standards has triggered problems in using the language in computers.

During the initial days of digital standards for the Indian Languages in the first Indian Script Code for Information Interchange (ISCII) released by BIS in December 1991, a clear mention was made of the Assamese script. The ISCII document released by BIS clearly mentioned that the northern scripts are Devnagari, Punjabi, Gujarati, Oriya, Bengali, and Assamese, while the southern scripts are Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Tamil, an official said.

“However, in all subsequent standards like ISO and Unicode, Assamese script has not been included,” said the official, who is on the panel constituted by the Assam government to push its case for a separate slot on the Unicode, but who did not wish to be identified.

Literary bodies, academicians, and researchers in Assam had objected to the Unicode Consortium move and written to the union government. The Assam government was then asked to submit a detailed proposal that would subsequently be referred to the US body.

While literary bodies such as Asom Sahitya Sabha (ASS) had maintained that the Assamese language was being neglected, Satyakam Phukan, a surgeon who has researched the origin of the Assamese script, said it could be due to lack of knowledge of the US-body about the uniqueness of the script.

“The Assamese alphabets were not separately encoded by Unicode. Following their policy of unification, the Assamese script was eclipsed into Bengali. The uniqueness of the Assamese script was perhaps unknown to the mainly American experts of Unicode,” Phukan told IANS.

The Assam government’s proposal to BIS went deeper into the origin of the script to push for a separate slot for the local language.

“The Assamese script is one of the important scripts of Eastern India. Assamese script is originated from the Brahmi script of the Gupta age. Studies of the rock inscriptions and copper plate inscriptions of the 4th, 5th and later centuries, discovered in different parts of Assam, clearly indicate that the Assamese script is the evolutionary resultant of the scripts used in rock and copper plate inscriptions and other objects like coins and clay seals of Nalanda,” the Assam government’s proposal to the BIS said.

“The evolution of this Assamese script can be divided into three different stages: Old Assamese script or the Kamrupi script (4th/5th to 13th century); Medieval Assamese script (13th to early part of 19th century) and Modern script from the early part of the nineteenth century,” the proposal said.

It further said that the Assamese script started to take its modern form in the early part of the 13th century as evident from the Kanai-Barashibowa rock inscriptions in north Guwahati.

The script received its modern form when the missionaries started printed books and magazines in the early 19th century. The first printed book in Assamese was “Dharmapustak”, a translation of the Bible by Atmaram Sarma from Kaliabar in Assam, published in 1813.

“In the digital world, to use a language as the medium of information, we must have all the characters and symbols with proper codes. The Assamese script has got its own set of characters and symbols, and these are required to have assigned codes for proper usage in terms of computational tasks, application development etc. The language, a major Indian language recognized in the eighth schedule of the Constitution of India, has got its own script, the Script, having its own historical evolution,” the proposal mentioned.

The Assamese language, a major Indian language recognized in the eighth schedule of the Constitution of India, has got its own script, the Assamese Script, having its own historical evolution,” the proposal mentioned.

Ranjan Kumar Baruah, a Guwahati-based social entrepreneur, said a separate slot for its script was necessary for promoting the language in the digital age.

“This is necessary at a time when our state government asked all business establishments, government and non-government organizations to use the local language in hoardings and banners and for other official purposes,” Baruah said.(IANS)

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Assamese – a bright spot in Indian regional languages scene

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By Harshmeet Singh

There aren’t many better examples of India’s diverse culture than its linguistic diversity. The country is home to 780 languages with over 120 of them holding the ‘official’ status. But the other side of the story is that India currently heads the list of UNESCO’s world’s languages in danger.

The constitution, in its eighth schedule, lists 22 languages as the official regional languages in the country. This series of articles is an attempt to focus on these 22 languages, their pasts and present, and cherish our linguistic diversity. We start the series today with Assamese.

The official language of the state of Assam, Assamese has more than 13 million native speakers. Apart from Assam, it also finds a considerable number of speakers in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and even Bangladesh and Bhutan. It is widely regarded as the easternmost language of the Indo-Aryan family.

Unlike most other Indian languages, Assamese doesn’t trace its origins to Sanskrit. But due to the migration of people in large numbers from north India to the northeastern parts of the country, the language came under the influence of Sanskrit. The script of the language is very similar to the scripts of Maithili and Bengali languages.

The northeast region boasts of a strong literary history and tradition. Archeologists have recovered a number of copper plates and edicts dating back to the medieval times. In Assam, ancient religious texts were usually written on saanchi tree’s bark. Since then, the language has evolved considerably. A number of spellings in the Assamese language don’t follow the rules of phonetics. Hemkosh, an Assamese dictionary based on the Sanskrit spellings of words, was compiled by Hemchandra Barua in the year 1900. It has come to be known as the standard reference for the language.

Assamese remains one of the few regional languages in the country which has managed to hold its own over the centuries. Just earlier this week, the famous Tezpur University, in collaboration with the century old Asomia Club, decided to teach Assamese language to the students, researchers and officials coming to the state from different parts of the country. It would help break the linguistic barriers between the locals and the outside people residing in the state.

One of the organizers behind the initiative, Hemanta Lahkar, told TOI, “Our aim is to popularize Assamese among the people who are spending time in the state and will go to other parts of the country in the years to come. Learning Assamese will certainly bridge a lot of gaps. We believe this would act as a bond among people in this diverse country.”

Initiatives such as these combined with a sustained pride of the Assamese people in their mother tongue would ensure that Assamese thrives further in the times to come.