Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Ganesh Devy and Mapping Linguistic Diversity

From 2010 till 2013, Ganesh Devy oversaw the People's Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI). G Seetharaman meets the man who is out to map the world's linguistic diversity.

Via The Economic Times

Speech Studies PLSI was India's first language survey in a century and unlike the previous one, was not a government effort. The survey was done by Devy's Bhasha Research and Publication Centre with the help of 3,000 people, a tenth of whom were linguists.

The survey identified 780 languages across the country and said there could be another 100 languages. (The Census of 2011, which looked only at languages spoken by 10,000 people or more, listed 122 languages.)

"Much of the work on language diversity is being done by academics. His work is a big contrast to that because he is working at the grassroots level," says Peter Austin, a linguistics professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. 

Devy, who is a self-trained linguist, now wants to move on to something that he has been contemplating for 20 years, an undertak undertaking far more ambitious than PLSI: a global study of languages. Called the Global Language Status Report (GLSR), the project will be a collaboration between linguists, sociologists, anthropologists, folklorists and indigenous activities across the world. 

According to Devy, GLSR will not be a survey, but a report on the outlook for languages and their application in various domains like technology and law. "PLSI just describes the domains of a language. GLSR will get into diagnostics: will a language survive or will it disappear? If it disappears, which language will replace it?" 

Devy, who was awarded the Padma Shri in 2014, hopes to tap into a network of 150 experts from around 50 countries. Dishon Kweya, who teaches literature at Egerton University in Kenya, is one of them. "The idea of studying people's languages across the world is to me a very exciting avant-garde effort.... We have not had much of similar studies in terms of scope.... In some respect it is a trailblazer." 

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