Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Languages of South Asia
by Anjani Kumar Sinha
Because of the fact that most major languages of India have a rich oral tradition and literature, they have survived in spite of the official patronage given to foreign languages such as Persian and English. However, almost all South Asian languages have enriched themselves by borrowing from these languages lexical items and, to a small extent, some sounds such as (f, v, z, x, k, and g) and syntactic features such as embedded relative clauses and reported speech. The contact with Europeans did not lead to the evolution of pidgins (a language that usually arises as methods of communication between groups with a greatly reduced vocabulary and a simplified grammar) and creoles (pidgin language that has become established as the native language of a speech community) the way it did in Africa and Southeast Asia. However, the contact of various tribes speaking Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic languages in the northeast India with speakers of Assamese, Bengali, Hindi and English, has led to the evolution of Nagamese, an Assamese-based pidgin which is now being creolized. The fact that Nagamese is structurally closer to English, and even to Hindi, than to Assamese is a significant linguistic point.

The South Asia language scene is thus fascinating not only because of the varieties of languages and dialects, but also because of the way they have enriched one another and survived even under the most adverse cicumstances. Behind the apparent linguistic conflicts and controversies, there is tolerance for the other person�s language and adaptability, which has led to bilingualism on such a large scale.