In News: United Nations declared 2019 to be the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Important Facts:

  • The Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea has the highest number of 'living' indigenous languages in the world (840), while India stands fourth with 453.
  • In 2016, the UN's Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues pointed out that "40% of the estimated 6,700 languages spoken around the world were in danger of disappearing".
  • Ethnologue, a directory of languages, lists 7,111 living languages worldwide(languages that are still being used and spoken by people).
    • According to which Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi and Arabic are the most widely spoken languages worldwide when only first-languages are considered. 
    • These five languages account for what is spoken by over 40% of people worldwide.
  • India has a very high diversity of languages as shown by a 0.9 score in Greenberg's Diversity Index (LDI)
    • It is the probability that two people selected from the population at random will have different mother tongues.
    • It therefore ranges from 0 (everyone has the same mother tongue) to 1 (no two people have the same mother tongue).
  • According to UNESCO's 'Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger' five languages have become extinct since 1950, while 42 are critically endangered in India.

Domestic Support towards indigenous languages:

  • The Central Government is implementing ‘Protection and Preservation of Endangered Languages of India' (SPEEL)’ for protection, preservation and documentation of all mother tongues and languages of India, which are spoken by less than 10,000 people.
    • Dialects are also covered under this programme.
    • It is being implemented by Mysore-based Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL).
  • The University Grants Commission (UGC) too has a scheme for 'Establishment of Centres for Endangered Languages' under which centres were approved in respect of nine Central universities.
  • It has also invited proposals from universities for establishment of Department of Devanagari Lipi (script) in universities with a view to preserve dialects, which do not have a written script in Devanagari.