An Endangered Indian Language Gets a Lifeline

Historically Jesuits have often made a name for themselves as pioneers and explorers in various fields of scientific enterprise and human development; and our own Campion Hall Jesuit, Vijay D’Souza, is combining the modern with the traditional in devoting his Oxford linguistic PhD studies to preserving and promoting the native language of a remote Indian people in the Hima- layan foothills. This has involved him in extend- ed fieldwork, staying in villages and recording stories, conversation, religious ceremonies and the people’s traditional songs, supported by grant from London's Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR).

Here to stay

Now Vijay’s patient and persistent work has been crowned by an historic event: the formal recognition and promulgation by the state legislative assembly on 1st Au- gust 2017 of an official alphabet for the tribe’s indigenous language which Vijay and his team have been developing for the past eighteen years. The assembly and its leader have assured all future support for the continuation of the work.

Vijay explains: “Hrusso Aka is a highly endangered language of the Himalayan state of Arunachal Pradesh, Northeast In- dia. It has only about 4000 speakers and the number is further declining due to un- precedented language shift towards Hindi. I have been involved in community mobi- lization for the prevention of language loss. 

“The promulgation of the alphabet, with an alphabet song, and the launching of a mobile dic- tionary app have been accompanied by a YouTube channel and a Facebook page, all to promote the use of the native language especially among young people, and to provide a much- needed lifeline for Aka which will facilitate its survival and growth.”

Reading to learn

Vijay was instrumental in publishing the first- ever printed book in Hrusso Aka in 1999. He is planning to work now on textbooks so that the language can be taught systematically in the local schools. 

--Text courtesy the Editor, Campion News. Find a link to our current issue on the top of the News page.