Presentation on theme: "Language Technology & Empowerment of the Bhashas Udaya Narayana Singh Central Institute of Indian languages, Mysore LTT-IT: VALEDICTORY ADDRESS."— Presentation transcript:
Language Technology & Empowerment of the Bhashas Udaya Narayana Singh Central Institute of Indian languages, Mysore LTT-IT: VALEDICTORY ADDRESS
Two faces of language Language is a human construct, undoubtedly – which is why the saying Language is species specific and species general is so apt. Lets turn the question around: To what extent is man a construct of language? To a great extent will be the answer for we know that language shapes our world view. Language, then, has two-fold existence: grammatical and social, and man has two others – individual and social. If we remove the common factor then, is language an individual entity? SOCIAL GRAMMATICAL
Why did man create language- related technology? As a social instrument, language acts as the prime vehicle for encoding, accessing and disseminating information. In all such acts, the attempt of the human aggregate is to win over the curse of rapid fading which Hockett describes in detail. In devising all our technologies – all through, mans effort has been to ensure that words or texts do not get lost… This applies to the most primitive to the most sophisticated language-related technologies, from the discovery of metrics and power of rote to stylus or pen to be used by scribes. Also valid for the modern-day technologies like printing, radio, recording, filming to computers. Rather, texts be preserved (encoded) in a manner that they become easily retrievable.
Arresting collective knowledge Initially, it was thought that it was possible to arrest knowledge by depending entirely on compositional structure of texts and rote memory but a time came when its futility was evident. It was also thought necessary to organize public debates and dialogues to both test application of accumulated knowledge of a given school of thought and also to sharpen it.
One technology replaces another In expanding our knowledge bases – the real problems came when those who created and perpetrated knowledge also began to realize its immense power and tried to ensure that texts are limited to clans. *This is also the time when individual authors began ascribing their names and also names of their sponsors in each text – marking the beginning the IPR in this part of the world.
What began as a sustained and sustainable effort in keeping knowledge in public space became activities in privatizing and monopolizing knowledge. Politicization of the varna became a menace. On the other hand, the opposing trend of liberating knowledge also ran parallel to this limiting trends.
Lessons to be learnt From the history of creation, expansion & distribution of knowledge, there is an important lesson to be learnt. In the world that has become complicated with IPRs, market restrictions, patenting, and monopolistic tendencies, one cannot make everything open and available to all – no doubt. Even Universal Digital Library projects or liberating facilities like internet suffer their own restrictions. But developers of Indian languages technologies could ensure – in the model of development and distribution they choose that big players and software giants do not monopolize our own language tools. Even when we share resources, we must make sure that benefit goes to end-users of the tools Contd/
Be that as it may, events such as LTT-IT make us think how such benefits can accrue to all? What could we do to ensure that their spread percolates down to all layers of society? These questions are specially important for us at CIIL. By setting up an institution with such focus as ours, the Government has committed itself to ensuring that such technologies change ordinary lives.
Challenges before Indian languages Here I remember with fond memory what the likes of Shri Vavilala Gopalakrishnaiah, in whose memory this Seminar is dedicated, had stood for - hand in hand with stalwarts in linguistics like Chatterji, Katre or TPM What were these enthusiasts of Bhasha tradition trying to tell us? Their entire thrust was on creation of conditions that make it possible for our languages to compete with international modes of communication. The emphasis was on opening up of greater number of contexts that remained locked firmly for those who were conversant only with indigenous languages. This included contexts like mass media, school education, legal proceedings and official work. As we could see, each one has a wide application, and success that may be possible to achieve in any context will benefit millions of people in one stroke. Contd./-
What do we require to bring in this kind of change in the use of our own languages like Telugu, Bangla or Marathi? We need first of all the political will, and once this will is demonstrated, it must be backed up with hard work by linguists & language technology groups. But one could easily see that for any sophisticated tools to be created, we must be first equipped with some basic tools that would contribute to creation and maintenance of standards and frames of reference. What I mean by basic tools here are much needed every- day objects like a comprehensive dictionary, a set of technical glossaries, special-purpose lexicons, thesauri, style manuals and a reference grammar – which are all projects that must be done by linguists. While implementation of our policy decisions on promotion of Indian languages need not wait for these tools to be developed, those who were equipped with the knowledge and techniques that would construct such facilities were expected to go on developing them on a parallel track. No doubt that these tools required a concerted attempt to develop and refine.
Sensitivity required True – these are activities that couldnt be performed without thorough knowledge of linguistics and the given language structure. But then they would also require a rare sensitivity towards variations that existed in ones own language. One must show the respect to the speech variety a child inherits from her mother. I know there are many who would not like deviations from what is called the Standard. Nevertheless, we have all witnessed the power demonstrated by many such varieties in the way natural history of our languages had allowed them to be developed. Standards, as we know, emerge, and are not made to design. And yet, the history of language standardization has had a curious path so far.
Respect for Speech Varieties and linguistic minorities I know some of my colleagues would like to see all members of our speech community speak in the same way. But then, we know we cannot wish speech variation away, nor can we undermine linguistic minorities who have chosen to live with the majority in harmony. Lets ask ourselves: Isnt it wonderful to live in a plural world? Yes, it is. What kind of space is this plural world? Is it a world of hope, or a world full of despair? Is it a world in which only rivers flow or is it a place where the mountain blows it counch loud and clear? Can there be a place for both, the stationery and the hyper- mobile, the young and the old, or the aged and the agile?
The Plural World Didnt our poets say: The rivers run swift with a song, breaking through all barriers. But the mountain stays and remembers, and follows her with his love. (Tagore, The Gift, in The Crescent Moon, In Das, S.K., ed. 1994: 153) Even when we talk of streams, and claim to be in the mainstream, or at least, swear by it, where are the other streams – those numerous torrents and tributaries? Do the edges, the periphery, have a story to tell? Many may wonder: Those who have by now got into a habit of staying only in their cocoons, can they narrate a tale of places far and wide?
Let me further ask: Do we live in a world where the alphabet begins with an `I and ends with another `I – where there is no scope for othering? Shouldn t there a scope for you? Aren t we forgetting the fact that the creative moment comes only when the I and the you begin to mould each other? Let I and you merge into a `we. Talking about us, in India, we have had a rich and long experience of living together. Those who ruled at the regional as well as supra- regional levels have also had interesting experiences in managing our multilingualism. Managing Multilingualism
Tamed and Wicked Problems No doubt there have been both tamed and wicked problems. While tamed and tamable problems have have had their resolutions, there are many wicked problems that are still dodging any attempt to solve, however well-meaning the attempts may be. Coupled with that, there have been interesting interplay of different formations. The politics of planning and execution of policies have been as interesting as the socio-political forces that any effort of this gigantic size has to learn to deal with.
Enormity of Indian Experience Many other developing nations are now trying to learn from the Indian experience in managing our pluri-cultural and multilingual scenario. For us, the time has now come to document many of these problems in the area of language management and consider situations across our space which pose problems for social engineers. However, any attempt to prepare an archaeology of living traditions of these large number of languages in the developing and under-developed world has to remember the enormity of this task and the interesting theoretical challenges they throw up for our disciplines and scholars. Ultimately, even this documentation has to depend on technology we would choose.
Linguistic fanaticism on the rise The last five decades in the life of our nation has seen numerous language problems in different parts of the country. Some problems have arisen from denial of basic language rights to minor and minority speech communities while others sprang up from control over scarce resources. While some communities have been linguistically tolerant to others, some have demonstrated prejudices. Studies have revealed interesting linguistic attitudes that a given sub-group has towards others within a speech community. But all these things happen as we do not realize two things: (a) All said and done, South Asia IS a LINGUISTIC AREA, and there are greater rewards in exploring the nature of this convergence; and (b) Language Technology can now enable us to efficiently manage such a vast plural state, and also to go from one language to the other in strategically important ways.
Problems facing our endangered languages Compare this scenario with a recent prediction by a bio- mathematician called Pagel that, out of 6,000 odd distinct human languages spoken all over the world, only 10% will survive the first half of this new century. Given that the developing and under-developed countries house close to 90% of this stupendous figure, it portrays a bleak picture for many of our languages and their speakers. With these languages, their rich cultural heritage – as much as they are preserved through their speech behavior – will also disappear. I need not elaborate further that there is a serious problem here for our endangered languages as well as for their speakers, and they need our urgent attention.
Lets try to understand the Spread of the problem in India T he Scheduled Tribes alone account for millions representing 8.08% of our population – living mainly in the forest and hilly regions (1991 Census); More than 70% are in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Gujarat. In addition, there are a large number of minor languages spoken by small segments of population that do not belong to the reserved category. We not only need special provisions for their protection from social injustices and all forms of exploitation, we also need concrete plans for development with safeguards including promotion of educational and economic interests; I think a concrete Language Development Plan is needed.
What could we do in India? There is a general feeling among those who do not understand the Indian polity and the administrative set up of the country that we do not have a mechanism in place to protect and promote minor and minority languages. The trouble is that they often point to small countries like Nepal where both in Constitutional provisions and in Universal Education documents these issues are specifically mentioned. In case of India, the sheer size of the country and complexity of the administrative set up are such that it cannot be compared with other nation-states in this respect.
Divided Responsibilities: Whose baby is it? 5 th & 6 th Schedule of the Constitution & Article 224 made special provision; the Home Ministry to implement Special representation for the STs in the Lok Sabha and State assemblies till Jan 2010 (Art 330, 332, 334); Under Articles 164 and 338, separate State-level and National Commission at the Centre was set up in 1999, but under Ministry of Tribal Welfare. Then there is Commission for Linguistic Minorities (Allahabad) under the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment; Grant-in-Aid scheme under Article 275(1) was also created; Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 were enacted; Planning Commission took a landmark step by opening 43 Special Multi-purpose Tribal Blocks (SMPTBs) during 2nd Five Year Plan; Later, under 4th Plan, many projects set up in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, and a separate Tribal Development Agency was established.
The Fifth Five Year Plan marked a shift in the approach when the Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) for direct benefit of the STs was launched; In 1987, the Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation (TRIFED) was set up to provide marketing help; The GIA scheme covers 376 NGOs working on them – some on languages and cultures, each getting about 90% grant. BUT ARE ALL THESE ENOUGH? A lot more needs to be done with concerted focus, esp. in prevention of land alienation from tribal to no-tribal, review of National Forest Policy and Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, etc
Possible areas we could move in Cultural documentation Dictionaries (general purpose) Thesauri Specialized/Technical Glossary Literacy books Primers Style Manuals Promote initial Literary Attempts Language Technology for them will follow this swolid foundation