Bangladesh tribals fear linguistic 'genocide'

Bangladesh can justly claim to be a nation born of language, but its status as a cradle of linguistic diversity is under threat from nationalist pride and economic growth.

Of the more than 30 recognised languages spoken in Bangladesh, experts say 20 are now on the verge of extinction.

Many like the Laleng language spoken by the 2,000-strong Patra tribe in the country's far northeast are inherently vulnerable, having no script and relying instead on a rich but fragile oral tradition of folk songs and story telling.

The current head of the tribe, Laxman Lal Patra, smiles as he talks of a Laleng lullaby his mother used to sing when he was a child but then frowns as he tries to recall the actual words, eventually managing just a single verse.

"Our fairy-tales, poems and songs are gone as we don't have a written script to preserve them. Even my daughter-in-law these days hums Bangla lullabies to my grandson," the 70-year-old said.

Bangla, or Bengali, is the undisputed heavyweight in Bangladesh's linguistic arena, spoken by 95 percent of the population and the sole passport to a decent education and career.

National pride in the Bangla language runs deep and is cemented with the blood of the "language martyrs" -- students shot dead by police on February 21, 1952, when Bangladesh was still East Pakistan.

The students were protesting the Pakistani government's Urdu-only policy and demanding that Bangla be recognised as an official language.

The deaths triggered the start of a nationalist struggle that finally ended with the creation of Bangladesh after victory in the 1971 independence war with Pakistan.

February 21 is feted as a heroic national holiday in Bangladesh and is designated by UNESCO as International Mother Language Day to highlight the ethno-linguistic rights of people around the world.

But now Bangla's dominance in schools, the workplace and cultural life in general is threatening those rights in Bangladesh itself.

"Most of us can still talk in Laleng. But we're learning Bangla fast, replacing even the most essential Laleng words," said Patra.

"Young boys pick up Bangla expressions from schools and Bengali neighbours and never forget."

An expanding economy, which has brought roads, electricity and television sets to all but the remotest villages, has helped smother the life out of indigenous languages that were already struggling for survival.

Dhaka University Linguistics professor Shourav Sikder, whose 2011 book "Indigenous Languages of Bangladesh" highlights the seriousness of the situation, reels off a long list of languages that are now dead or dying.

"No one talks in Mahali, Malto, Razoar and Rajbangshi these days," he said, laying the blame squarely on the overriding state patronage and promotion of Bangla.

According to Shikder, only two tribal languages can claim to be secure, largely thanks to the fact that they have written scripts.

Mesbah Kamal, whose Research and Development Collective charity works with indigenous people, believes the loss of tribal languages verges on "cultural genocide" given the loss of identity that inevitably follows.

"And if the indigenous people lose their language, it's not only their loss," Kamal said.

"We are also losing diversity and plurality in our cultural life, and that will create intolerance.

"Our students fought for the rights of their mother language, thanks to which we've got an independent Bangladesh. Yet it's a shame that on the same land other languages are dying out fast," Kamal said.

The government rejects accusations of neglect, with Cultural Affairs Secretary Suraiya Begum insisting that tribal groups "have scope to practice their language and culture" through a variety of state-run bodies.

Begum particularly pointed to the International Mother Language Institute set up in 2001 to preserve and study the ethnic languages spoken in Bangladesh and across the world.

But critics say such institutions are mere window dressing, and totally ignore the ground realities of Bangla's steamroller dominance.

"My beautiful language is dying," said Patra.

"Our young people have turned their backs on it. To them jobs and education are everything."

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Is your home on top of a faultline?
    Is your home on top of a faultline?

    The Philippine Institute of Volcanoly and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) recently issued an updated and high-resolution "atlas" of the East Valley Fault and West Valley Fault, two major faultlines that run through sections of Metro Manila. Metro Manila may be due for a 7.2-magnitude earthquake within this lifetime, say experts from the institute, among them PHIVOLCS director Dr. Renato Solidum, Jr. According to records, the last major earthquake caused by the West Valley Fault took place 357 years …

  • Filipina maid photographs "modern slavery" in Hong Kong

    By Emma Batha LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Filipina maid in Hong Kong has published stark photographs of burned and beaten domestic workers to highlight the "modern slavery" she says has long been the city's shameful secret. "Hong Kong is a very modern, successful city but people treat their helpers like slaves," said Xyza Cruz Bacani, whose black and white portraits won her a scholarship from the Magnum Foundation to start studying at New York University this month. It's common …

  • Want to buy a brand new car?
    Want to buy a brand new car?

    Tired of fixing your old car? Maybe, this is the best time for you to invest a brand new car. BPI Family Savings Bank, the country’s leading consumer bank, is extending its newest campaign “Bagong Kotse, 1-Month Libre” promo until June 30, 2015 which allows potential car buyers to avail of a car loan term up […] The post Want to buy a brand new car? appeared first on Carmudi Philippines. …

  • ‘Kentex owners still in Phl’
    ‘Kentex owners still in Phl’

    The daughter of one of the Kentex Manufacturing Corp. owners has assured the government that the businessmen are still in the Philippines, contrary to some reports that they have fled the country. Barbara Ang, daughter of Kentex shareholder Veato Ang, said her father and his business partners have no plans of leaving the country despite the razing of the Valenzuela slipper factory, which killed 72 workers on May 13. Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian also stood by his promise to punish any local …

  • Lawmakers to review building code provisions
    Lawmakers to review building code provisions

    Lawmakers are set to review provisions of the National Building Code and Republic Act 10121, or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, to strengthen contingencies and policies to prepare the country for possible major earthquakes. The move came following proposals from Reps. Winston Castelo of Quezon City and Lito Atienza of the Buhay party-list to review the two laws and other regulations during a hearing of the House committee on Metro Manila development on the …

  • Noy: Phl may attain first world status with continued reforms
    Noy: Phl may attain first world status with continued reforms

    The Philippines’ attaining first world status may soon be imminent if significant reforms initiated by the current administration would be consistently pursued, President Aquino suggested yesterday. “Kung madidiligan ang ating mga pinunla, at makaka-graduate ang mga pinag-aaral natin upang makapasok sa maaayos na trabaho, baka po tuluyan nang nasa first world status tayo sa panahong iyon (If we water the seeds sown and those we sent to school will find better jobs, then time will come that …

  • Phl won’t recognize China air restrictions
    Phl won’t recognize China air restrictions

    The Philippines will not recognize restrictions on air and sea travel set by China in the West Philippine Sea, President Aquino said yesterday. “We will still fly the routes that we fly based on international law and the various conventions, agreements that have been entered into through various decades,” Aquino told reporters in an ambush interview after inspecting the Marikina Elementary School in preparation for the opening of classes in June. But he expressed confidence that China would …

  • Rainy season likely in 2nd week of June
    Rainy season likely in 2nd week of June

    Filipinos may have to wait until the second or third week of June for rain, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said yesterday. Rene Paciente, chief of PAGASA’s marine meteorological services section, said they expect the rainy season to start in the second or third week of June. The criteria for declaring the onset of the rainy season include the prevalence of the southwest monsoon and the 25-millimeter rainfall recorded in at least five …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options