Future of the Local Languages in Gilgit-Baltistan

Sajjad Hussain Tshering

Most of the indigenous and small languages all over the world are facing a common threat known as ‘language death’. Due to lack of power, sophistication, standard and utility in government and education these languages are dissolving silently. The indigenous and small languages of Pakistan are no exception to this global phenomenon. The stronger languages are taking place of those which cannot fight back. Languages spoken in Gilgit Baltistan (Balti, Brushaski, Dohmarki, Khowar, Shina, and Wakhi) are among those which are drastically moving towards language endangerment. The state of endangerment can be gauged from the maximum inclination of the speakers in code-mixing and code-switching from the local languages to Urdu and then to English. A large number of English words have made their way into the lexicon of these languages that at present they seem no more exotic to our ears. Consequently, a large amount of lexical items are vanishing from the common use. This alarming phenomenon heralds the beginning of ‘the end’ of these languages from the globe. Many factors are at work in accelerating the process of relexification, language shift consequently the death of minor languages. Scholars hold different perspectives on language vitality and language death, let us view what they have to say about the present state of minor languages of the world.

Societies are interrelated with the help of cultural strings and language is the most important and the strongest string that strings the individuals of a society into a harmonious group. Enrique Uribe-Jongbloed (2007) and Babalola & Onanuga (2012), state that languages, like other cultural norms, are handed over to the new generations by the old ones, and language is the most important ‘linguistic heritage’ of a nation. Culture of society contains language in it and vice versa, it is the language which represents culture. Cultural preservation directly or indirectly preserves a language, thus they are interdependent. At present a large number of world cultures are at the verge of extinction due to the endangerment of their indigenous languages. “When a language dies, the world loses a unique collection of speeches, structures and data which might never exist again….” (Enrique Uribe-Jongbloed, 2007). This very phenomenon is also true for Pakistan where the indigenous languages are experiencing the same, therefore it stresses on the researchers and policy makers to take steps in preservation and maintenance of the indigenous languages of Pakistan through educational and traditional ways.

It is fact that the indigenous and minor languages have been transmitted to their new generations through oral traditions like; cultural events, religious rituals, folksongs, folktales etc. The culture of storytelling is generally found in the undeveloped and minor societies where they educate their young ones about the experiences of their forefathers, and other day to day affairs through stories and folktales. In some countries the governments have made use of radio and television as useful channels of disseminating the knowledge inherent in the folktales of the indigenous peoples. The incorporation of folktales and folklores into mass-media can strengthen the endangered languages of the world (Babalola & Onanuga, 2012; Penjore, 2005). Mass-media has been the fast growing medium of communication in ‘the global village’ today. It is capable of disseminating the knowledge among thousands of people in no time. The use of mass-media especially radio and television can bring about a drastic change in the preservation of the indigenous languages of Gilgit Baltistan and can expose the masses to the rare treasure of knowledge if the language policy of the country is molded for the very purpose.

The language policy of Pakistan is viewed as biased, out dated and pro-elite. Furthermore, it is believed that the language policy of the country is the continuation of the dominancy of colonial language, English, over other languages of Pakistan, consequently the minor languages of the country are at the risk of language shift or death (Rehman, 2004, 2006). Some researchers, on the other hand, hold a different prospective on this issue. According to Romaine (2011), it is not only the language policy which guarantees the maintenance and revival of any endangered or weak language of a country, rather it is the awareness and willingness of the societies and parents in encouraging their children for using their mother-tongues. Thus, language policy alone is not capable of revitalizing an endangered language rather it is the duty of the speakers/societies to make use of their endangered languages to bring them back to life.

Language preservation or maintenance or revitalization only comes true when the society or the speakers of those endangered languages are provided with a congenial environment to learn and use their language. Romaine (2011), believes that putting a stop on language shift and empowering the society or the indigenous people is “the key to preserving language ecosystem essential to language maintenance”. The first step in language preservation and revival is ‘language documentation’. Unless the language in question is documented its preservation and revival seem not possible. Usually different institutions and individuals gather data for their personal use, similarly different governmental departments are assigned the task to accumulate and disseminate knowledge among the citizens, and libraries are one of the best sources of this kind. Libraries contain books, magazines, journals, newspaper, periodicals, brochures etc, all these genres are recorded in different languages, thus, libraries provide the best platform for the preservation of languages (Olaifa, 2014). Accordingly, data gathered or documented on indigenous and endangered languages need to be accessible to common public through internet and in printed form for their maximum utility.

The present era is known as the age of ‘Information Technology’ (IT). IT has transformed the world and has made everything easy to access. The old and outdated software for data storage should be replaced with the ones with maximum stored-data durability. At present the trend of ‘ebooks’ is gaining popularity among the youth and educators due to it portability, manageability and reader friendly nature. A number of software have been designed for storing and reading purposes of reading materials; sophisticated universities and institutions have link with digital libraries around the world. These digital libraries can store millions of books, journals, articles etc and can store even more with easy access from all over the globe. These software and the likes have made the storing of languages easier and accessible to all (Nathan, 2008; Steven & Simons, 2003). The use of IT would be a more effective medium for data storage and dissemination for the endangered languages around due to its less cost and easy access from all around the world.

Language preservation and revitalization is not impossible as we have examples from history; the revival of Hebrew language, after its death for decades, is an excellent instance. However, Zukermann and Walsh (2011), believe that the Hebrew spoken today, in Israel, seems different from the one died earlier, because the revivalists did not stick to the ‘purists’ view’, who believe that a language should be revived as it was hundred years ago! Thus, following the procedures and techniques used for the revival of Hebrew other dead/endangered languages of the world can easily be revived.

Infusing willingness among the speakers to use their mother tongues and reorientation of their priorities can only guarantee the preservation, maintenance and revitalization of the local languages of Gilgit Baltistan

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