Language is living entity, can die, says author Vaishali Shroff
DIMAPUR — Award-winning author Vaishali Shroff said on Saturday that language is a living entity that is born, grows, evolves, changes, and adapts, and may become endangered and die at some point.
She said this during a conversation titled ‘Exploring identity through language’ with the session’s host and writer, Karthik Venkatesh, on Saturday during the final day of ‘The White Owl Literature Festival and Book Fair’ at the Plaza, Zone Niathu, Chümoukedima.
Shroff said that according to Ganesh N Devy’s “People’s Linguistic Survey of India,” India had over 780 languages, 600 of which are potentially endangered and over 250 of which have completely vanished in the last 50 to 60 years.
English—a threat to indigenous languages
Responding to the question of whether English is responsible for the extinction of some indigenous languages, Shroff stated that English played a significant role in the annihilation of most indigenous languages and cultures in India, and there is much to discuss about English as a language from colonial times to post-Independence and today.
Furthermore, she explained that due to the necessity of earning a living to support their families, there is a shift in preference for using English, which compels individuals to migrate from their native languages to English in order to ensure a higher standard of living.
As a result, this type of migration has not only led to the erosion of ancestral languages, but it has also weakened their command over their native language over time, she said, adding, however, that having a bridging language, such as English, is also important.
According to her, not acknowledging knowledge means not acknowledging people, and it is critical to acknowledge and respect other languages and communities, no matter how large or small they are in number.
Shroff said that language provides insight into how an entire society or community lives and their worldview, as well as a sense of belonging, because it connects at a very different level than simply communicating.
Author Jane De Souza, who was also part of the conversation, observed that people have adopted the English language from the British and have subsequently developed their own variant. She noted that her first novel, titled “The Spy Who Lost Her Head,” was written in Hinglish (a combination of Hindi and English).
Borders newer than languages
Responding to the question of whether languages belong to a country, Venkatesh said that national borders are 200 to 300 years old at best, whereas languages are much older, so languages do not respect national boundaries.
Vaishali noted that languages belong to their speakers as well as the culture that comes with them.
The session was followed by an interactive discussion with the audience, which included students, authors, and intellectuals, among others.