This past February 21st was International Mother Language Day and, to celebrate, a charitable foundation has published and distributed the first fiction in Mro language fonts to the tribes who live in the border regions between Myanmar, Bangladesh, and India.
The Mro indigenous group live in the Bandaban district in the Southeastern hill tracts of Bangladesh. According to a 1991 census, the population size was only 22,178. They are a sub-group of the Chin people, Their language is from the Tibeto-Burman group of the Sino-Tibetan family.
The fiction, titled “Mro Fairy Tales”, tells stories related to the groups’ beliefs, metaphors, culture, and practices. The book has also been published in Bengali so that the other communities can read the same tales. Written by Yangan Mro, this is the first fiction published in Mro language fonts and was distributed freely.
All languages of the world need saving, says Niaz Morshed on Facebook.
In the country where some of its citizens were martyred to fight for their language, some unique languages are withering away. I don’t see any effort to save them.
Bidyanana Foundation is a volunteer organization which supports different sectors struggling with poverty and homelessness, especially orphaned children. It is guided by 40 officers and hundreds of volunteers, with 8 local branches. Bidyananda Publications is their sister organization.
Global Voices talked with the founder of the organization Kishor Kumar Das:
There are a few hundred indigenous children in our different orphanages. We wanted to give them books in their own mother language. The first challenge for us to find a writer in Mro language. We advertised on Facebook and one of our volunteers found him. The other challenge was to work with the font, which was never used in Banglabazar, Bangladesh’s largest book publishing market. But we had a great resolve to produce Mro language books for the indigenous children.
Next year we are planning to publish books in a few more languages. We started to create a video tutorial for the indigenous kids. But that work has stalled now for lack of volunteers.
Bangladesh is mainly a country of Bangla speakers, a group that makes up 98% of the population (163 million in Bangladesh, 261 million worldwide). However, there are 39 minority languages spoken in Bangladesh and some of them are facing extinction. Researcher Salek Khokon, published findings that two minority languages (Kudukh and Nagori) have already become extinct.
One of the challenges is that the people in the hills speak in their language but write in Bangla (some of them are only oral languages). However, there are some young indigenous activists who are using innovations to penetrate the digital world with their own language and fonts.
Since 2014, there has been an initiative to provide primary education in 5 indigenous languages, but critics claim that it was not implemented properly.
Bangladesh has now got the International Mother Language Institute (IMLI), a statutory body whose function is the preservation of languages. With the government placing attention on these issues and organizations like Bidyananda pushing for publications in diverse languages, there is hope steps will be taken to save these languages.
Thanks to Global Voices.