Ganesh Devy is a writer and lead co-ordinator of the survey called the People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI). He informed that in 1961 India had 1,100 languages but nearly 250 of them have disappeared over the period of 50 years. His team has found 780 languages so far. The survey was carried out over two years from 2011.
Most of the dead languages were spoken by nomadic communities scattered across the country. “Were they alive, they would have been spoken by 3% to 4% of Indians, that is around five crore people,” Devy said.
The languages disappeared due to lack of recognition, displacement of communities, absence of livelihood option for speakers and stigma against what are considered ‘under-developed’ mother tongues. “The absence of a policy on language conservation completed the process,” Devy said.
In fact census of 1961 had recorded 1,652 languages. the number was reduced to 1,100 as it was found that variants of many languages present in this list. In 1971, the census documented only those languages that are spoken by more than 10,000 speakers. The remaining languages were included in ‘others’ section. As this practice continues many small languages were forgotten.