DIPCHAND BIHARI, OP
Bhubaneswar:It was a day of reckoning for professor Panchanan Mohanty, former dean of School of Humanities at University of Hyderabad when he discovered two endangered languages – Walmiki and Malhar. Researchers and scholars from various parts of the state showered encomiums on him for his discovery. Mohanty, known for his writings, has written, translated and edited 28 books in English and Oriya which have been published in India and abroad. He has held positions in professional linguistics departments and produced journals. He was the president of the Linguistic Society of India, vice-president and then president of the Dravidian Linguistics Association, chief editor of Indian Linguistics, journal of Linguistic Society of India among others. Interacting with Orissa POST, Panchanan shared the journey of his research in the endangered languages. Excerpts:
Q How did you discover Walmiki and Malhar?
A Well, I and my team travel extensively for research work. During our trip to Odisha and Andhra Pradesh from Telangana we had interacted with several tribal people and discovered these two languages which are being spoken in a few pockets of Odisha and areas bordering Andhra Pradesh. I believe, these languages were hitherto unknown to linguists. Korpaut is very crucial for the study of language and culture. However, the researchers from other parts of the country are not keen on visiting the region due to Maoist activities.
Q What is the significance of the discovery?
A Walmiki is spoken by a few tribals of Koraput district who also reside on the borders of Andhra Pradesh. Malhar is spoken in a remote, isolated rural community, 165-km from Bhubaneswar. We noticed that Walmiki does not belong to a particular family of languages and the community speaking the dialect claims descent from the great Indian saint-poet Valmiki. Malhar is spoken by a community consisting of about 75
people, including children.
Q Have you shared your achievement with anyone else?
A I have published a paper on Walmiki which is very first of its kind. It was published in the proceedings of the XX annual conference of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, UK. I also delivered a keynote address about the language at the conference.
Q It is said Dravidian languages have profound impact on Odia. Have Walmiki and Malhar come from the Dravidian source?
Q Malhar has its roots in Dravidian language. The data I have (500 words and a few sentences) collected suggests that Walmiki is an isolated language and this cannot be categorised in any other language group. There are some Marathi and Telugu words in Walmiki. We need to do intensive research to find out more about the language. People who spoke Walmiki told me names of their 14 gotras (the Vedic “lineage” or schools from ancient times).
n Did the state or the Centre take any initiative to promote the languages? n No, no initiative has been taken by the government. The languages are dying because of lack of government patronage.
Q Did you draw flak after the discovery? n Yes. One person claimed that he had focused on these languages in 2015 in a Telugu newspaper. He said the vernacular paper had published about Kutia language used by Walmiki community. But I discovered that community which used Walmiki language is also Walmiki. There is a Walmiki community which speaks Kutia in Andhra Pradesh but in Odisha they speak Walmiki. Whether Kutia and Walmiki are the same or different can be known after intensive research in future.