Preserving Heritage Languages: Problems and Prospects

Authors: Syed Abdul Manan, Liaquat Ali Channa, Abdul Razaque Channa (Faculty of Arts and Basic Sciences, BUITMS, Pakistan)
Speakers: Syed Abdul Manan, Liaquat Ali Channa, Abdul Razaque Channa
Topic: Language Revitalization
CALA 2020 Colloquium Session

Panel Abstract

Languages are crucial carriers of cultures, values, and collective memories of their communities. They simultaneously serve as signifiers of identities and building blocks of living heritage. Languages are believed to be the key components of representing and transmitting a number of core aspects of their speakers—histories, folkloric traditions, indigenous knowledges, worldviews, shared wisdom, belief systems, and so on. Likewise, experts regard diversity of heritage languages and cultures not only as invaluable resources and important assets, but they also emphasize on their preservation. For instance, Jashua Fishman (1982), an eminent sociolinguist emphasizes why it is crucial for the world to preserve linguistic and cultural diversity.

However, despite the fact that each living language on earth carries and represents vital components of cultural heritage, a large of number of heritage languages and cultures around the globe are faced with threat of extinction. Statistics paint an alarming picture that at least 50% of the world’s more than six thousand languages are losing speakers, and in most world regions, about 90% of the heritage languages may be replaced by the dominant languages at the end of the 21st century (UNESCO, 2003). UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger also suggests a total of 2471 languages as endangered (UNESCO, 2014a).

The situation in Pakistan is far from being satisfactory. Although Pakistan has a highly diverse linguistic and cultural landscape; however, most heritage languages are confronted with endangerment. UNESCO’s Language vitality and endangerment reports indicate that 28 languages in Pakistan fall under endangered languages, of which seven are vulnerable, 15 definitely endangered and 6 are severely endangered (UNESCO, 2014b). Experts observe that the main reason behind such endangerment is that of institutional neglect and official attitudes.  Research suggests that the official attitudes and formation of linguistic hierarchies have left marked bearing on the attitudes of the speakers of many languages as they tend to see their own heritage languages as deficits in economic as well as sociocultural terms.

In this panel discussion, the participants shall discuss the current state of affairs of the heritage languages in Pakistan, discuss their significance, and analyze factors that contribute to their endangerment or vitality. Towards the end, the panelists will put forward policy proposals that how spaces could be created for an ecosystem of languages where most heritage languages flourish than dwindle.

Keywords: Language, Preservation, linguistic and cultural diversity.