400 Indian Languages Face the Threat of Extinction: Study

On the other hand, Samtali, Gondi, Mizo, Garo, Khasi and Kotbarak are showing an upward trend.

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400 Indian Languages Face the Threat of Extinction: Study

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Almost 10 percent of the world’s 4,000 languages that face the threat of extinction are spoken in India.

Linguist Ganesh N Devy says that while English posed no real threat to major Indian languages, the most threatened languages are the ones spoken in the coastal areas of the country.


Devy, chairman, People's Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI) told PTI:

Many languages are on the verge of disappearance and most of them are the coastal languages. The reason is that livelihood in coastal areas is no longer safe. The corporate world is doing deep sea fishing. Traditional fishing communities, on the other hand, have moved inwards... away from the coast, thus giving up their languages.

Some tribal languages have also shown growth in recent years, said Devy, who was in New Delhi for the release of 11 volumes of the People's Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI), claimed to be the world's largest linguistic survey.

For the study, all 780 Indian languages were surveyed by a team of 3,000 people in 27 states.


Devy, also the founder-director of the Bhasha Research and Publication Center, Vadodara and Adivasi Academy at Tejgadh, Gujarat, said the study will cover the remaining states of Sikkim, Goa and Andaman and Nicobar islands by December.

"I conceived the idea of the survey in 2003 and began the fieldwork in 2010 with a team of 3,000 people. The data collection was completed in 2013 and since then, the publication process was started," he said.

The literary expert said while the danger of extinction looms large over some languages, many other languages have been thriving.

"For example, Samtali, Gondi (spoken in Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra), Bheli (Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat), Mizo (Mizoram), Garo and Khasi (Meghalaya) and Kotbarak (Tripura) are showing an upward trend because educated people in these communities have started using these languages for writing.

"They publish poems, write plays and perform them. In some of the languages, even films are being made. For instance, they have started making films in Gondi. The Bhojpuri film industry is prospering... the language itself is growing, probably the fastest in the country," he said.

Devy said the survey also sheds light on ways to conserve our languages. The 67-year-old Sahitya Akademi award winner also sought to debunk the notion that English posed a threat to many Indian languages.


"The notion that English might destroy big languages like Hindi, Bangla, Telugu, Marathi, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati and Punjabi is not well-founded because these languages are among the first 30 major languages, which are thousands of years old. Over two crore people speak these languages with a strong support from the film industry, good music tradition and thriving media," he said.

Devy said 4,000 of the world's 6,000 languages face a potential threat of extinction, out of which 10 percent is spoken in India. In other words, 400 Indian languages out of our total 780 languages may get extinct, he said.

"And to loose these languages means losing huge human capital, cultural capital and even real capital because languages can be economically productive if they are used imaginatively for developing technology," he argued.

Devy said people needed to look at this situation more carefully because languages, unlike air or water, are man- made.


“Language is man-made and comes out of great human labour. Thousands of years are spent before a language is born. If we lose our languages, we are doing grave injustice to our predecessors and ancestors,” he said.

Having completed one of the largest surveys on Indian languages, Devy and his team are gearing up to document the world's existing languages under the project 'Global Language Status Report' (GLSR).

"I have been building a team since 2008 which has members from places like Africa and Australia and it is my dream to complete this global survey," he told PTI.

Asked about any similar initiative elsewhere, the PLSI chief said Peter K Austin from England has worked on endangered languages but the scale of the project was "not as huge as that of the PLSI".

"The GLSR will survey all the 6,000 languages in the world," he added.

(With PTI Inputs)


(We all love to express ourselves, but how often do we do it in our mother tongue? Here's your chance! This Independence Day, khul ke bol with BOL – Love your Bhasha. Sing, write, perform, spew poetry – whatever you like – in your mother tongue. Send us your BOL at or WhatsApp it to 9910181818.)

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Topics:  India   Punjabi   Hindi 

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