A Thousand Languages

As a kid, I had always wanted to learn different languages. Apart from three languages (Bengali, English and Hindi in my case) which any average educated Indian knows, I also started dabbling in Marathi, German, Russian, Korean and so on. And then I discovered that there are more than 5000 languages in the world (6909  as per National Geographic Enduring Voices project). And it is also estimated that going forward, one language would become extinct every 15 days. Absolutely unthinkable.

A language is an identity for a particular people - it embodies who they are, what they represent, how they came about being what they are and most importantly, it encapsulates the historical evolution of these people. India itself has more than 1500 languages along with their numerous dialects. Of these 1500 languages,  around 22 languages are considered more important based on the higher number of native speakers compared to others. And all this adds to the cultural identity of India as a whole.

In fact, many of my American and European friends, find it very surprising that many Indians converse in English among themselves. When a Telugu-speaking person converses with a Bengali-speaking person, English is the best option for communication, as generally neither the Telugu nor the Bengali person are very fluent in the official language Hindi (generally). However, at times even they fail to comprehend each other's English because of differing regional accents.

And this problem of plenty (of languages) is a big problem. I firmly believe that to understand any people, it is absolutely imperative to understand their language as then only would we actually  be able to comprehend in full entirety who they are and what they stand for. But there are very few who can actually manage to learn more than 5 or 6 languages - and thus Indians of different regions understand each other at a very superficial level - resulting in stereotyping, regional disputes and mutual mistrust.

But life must go on and the glaring reality must be accepted. And as the world progresses, many of these indigenous languages and cultures will slowly disappear. And with it, another set of people will end up losing their unique identity.

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