Importance of tribal languages and their preservation

By Harshmeet Singh

Ask 10 Indians why they are proud of India and at least eight of them would say ‘because of its diversity.’ India is indeed a multicultural society with a plethora of cultures, languages, and traditions. Of these, extinction of a language is probably the biggest blow to society since a language serves as the repository of the history of the land.

Language engulfs a culture within it. Loss of language is invariably linked with a loss of culture. Bor Sr., the last speaker of the ancient Bo language of Andaman, died in 2010. And with her died the Bo language whose origins go back to the pre-Neolithic era.

Boa Sr. Image source:
Boa Sr.
Image source:


“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart.”

Nelson Mandela

An experience of generations is preserved in indigenous languages. Languages serve as the medium of transmitting cultures from one generation to the other. Many tribal areas still follow learning methods wherein the students are needed to repeat the text after the teachers. This is how the transfer of knowledge takes place in these areas.

Over time, people living in tribal areas develop a knowledge base with the help of continuous interactions with the elder people in the society. The interactions result in the progression of indigenous customs which give a unique identity to these tribes.

Languages teach us values, respect for others, and respect for ourselves. The least our next generation deserves is to inherit its own indigenous language. With a dying language die thousands of stories, millions of lessons, and a lifetime of experience. A language’s death is akin to erasing a part of our history.

Sadly enough, we haven’t done enough to preserve our tribal languages. There is no support system for these languages and no initiatives to set up tribal schools and colleges that could preserve and pass on these languages.

Many critics argue about the need for preserving our dying languages. What’s the harm if we all speak one single language, they ask. Where will that diversity go which made you so proud, I would argue.

Our evolution as a society isn’t based on getting rid of the old languages. It is in our ability to preserve the past and learn from it. There is a simple formula to preserving languages – either use it, or lose it.


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