Preserving culture through language

About 20 percent of the world’s population speaks English, according the language learning app Babbel, so it would be hard to imagine the world without it. However, less common languages are facing the possibility of extinction as the number of speakers decreases.

This is the case for Lamkang, a northeastern Indian language spoken mainly in communities within the state of Manipur. Native speaker Sumshot Khular is collaborating with linguists in the Computational Resources on South Asian Languages group at UNT to help create a standard dictionary and spelling system to keep the language alive.

“Our very identity, our everything, is in the language,” Khular said.

Khular said schools in India teach in widely spoken languages, such as English, but not smaller tribal languages. This means children are less likely to learn Lamkang. Khular said this is a problem because language is tied very closely to culture. Many traditions and stories are passed down orally, so the death of the language has a great impact on the community.

“All your rich tradition, your culture, your way of life, would be dead,” Khular said.

Elders tell stories and sing songs to others in the community to help teach and explain their importance. Khular said even if the stories can be preserved, the significance and the people who can provide them cannot. S.N. Bunghon, an elder in her community, recently died, and Khular said “all his knowledge died with him.”

Because of this, she stressed the importance of the language, especially for the younger generation.

Read more: North Texas Daily

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