Professor Asko Parpola, the scholar from the University of Helsinki in Finland with three decades of work on the Indus civilisation script, has called for greater efforts to preserve the disappearing languages of the world. In particular, he referred to the need for close study of Dravidian languages.
Speaking to journalists and scholars at the offices of The Hindu today, Dr. Parpola, whose seminal thesis on the Indus Script has been published as a book, identified Tamil as a Dravidian language least affected by Indo-Aryan influences.
Many languages are disappearing, and tribal languages are particularly vulnerable. Tamil has preserved much, but not everything, said Dr. Parpola adding, “There might be others which could survive.”
Commending the work of Professor Upadhyaya in documenting Tulu, he said though this was a non-literary language, meticulous work had been done to collect folklore and process it into Tulu lexicon. “This sort of thing, one would hope, is done in other languages, taking into account the vocabulary and the important cultural and religious traditions.”
In what should be a reminder to Tamil leaders of today to be more open to scholarly approaches to other Dravidian languages, Professor Parpola said, “Treat other Dravidian languages as a part of your linguistic tradition.”
Unfortunately, in the case of the Indus civilisation, little had survived in visual terms, compared to the Egyptian civilisation where a wealth of materials including hieroglyphs are available; in Mesopotamia, many cuneiform evidences are to be found in the original, without the mediation of copyists.
To a question on the influence of technology on preservation Professor Parpola said the relatively narrow range of devices available for recording and preservation in the past have given way to many choices today. The important thing is to save the recorded evidence in new media, to stay ahead of technological obsolescence.
The visiting scholar made the important point of taking linguistic studies beyond the narrow confines of chauvinism and supremacist, oppressive rhetoric. But will Dravidian leaders of various Southern States, particularly Tamil Nadu, free language from the bondage of politics and encourage genuine scholarship?