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It was just a year back that West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee tried to revive the endangered tribal language Kurukh, by giving it an official language status. Kurukh, mother tongue belonging to the Dravidian family, is spoken by Oraon tribal community who live in Dooars of Bengal. Interestingly, most tribal languages of Bengal have their origins in the Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burmese languages. But Kurukh is an exception, which has its origin from the Dravidian family. While, other tribal languages of Bengal such as Santhali, Munda and Hoe, belong to Austro-Asiastic family, while the languages spoken by the Tamang, Lepcha and Bhutia tribes of the Darjeeling hills are of the Tibeto-Burmese group.

Kurukh language is spoken by around 17 lakh people (2001 census report) of the Oraon tribes of Chotanagpur plateau. It is closely related to Kumarbhag Paharia and Sauria Paharia languages, which are together referred to as Malto. Its script is called Tolong Siki. The language has been listed ‘vulnerable’ in UNESCO’s list of endangered languages. While, the Rajbanshi school children of North Bengal lag behind in their classroom performances due to their encounter with an unfamiliar language, and face problems of interaction in classroom due to incomprehensibility of the target language. Their mother tongue also faces extinction.

As many as nine to 10 languages in Bengal, specifically in the north, are either extinct or on the verge of extinction. In case of languages such as Mogor, there is not much vocabulary. There is only one survivor of the speech community who could not say much about the language community he belongs to.

One language disappears on average every two weeks, taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. Keeping this in mind, the UN agency introduced International Mother Language Day in 1999, a world-wide annual observance held on February 21 to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and promote multilingualism. This year, UNESCO commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its bold statement that ‘no discrimination can be made on basis of language,’ and celebrates its translation into more than 500 languages. The theme of 2018’s introduced International Mother Language Day is Linguistic diversity and multilingualism count for sustainable development.

Thus, it is now of utmost importance to look at these vanishing languages. In some cases, a lone surviving member of a particular speech community exists. In some cases, the member of a particular language community just could not be traced. The ‘language gap’ between the old (60 to 80 years) and the younger generation (10 to 30 years) has also widened at an alarming rate in recent years. A 20-year-old today can’t string together a single sentence in the same language. This is also alarming, especially for minor languages of Bengal such as Sobor, Goya, Tharu, Jalda, Asur, Hemal and Bedia.