How Bharatvani project aims to use digital tech to revive dying languages

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You might, on the metro, or railway station or bus, meet someone from the Ao tribe. You might want to greet them in their own language to break the ice. But of course, Ao is not a language that is commonly taught in schools. So you will probably have to rest content with smiling, nodding and gesticulating. It is communication, true, but deeply dissatisfying.

 

But once the Bharatvani project is complete, all you need to do is get on to the portal, surf the dictionary for the words you need in your language –English or Hindi – and if you are reasonably proficient in using the portal, you could maybe even conduct a full conversation in Ao.

 

When former Human Resources Development Minister, Smriti Irani, inaugurated the Bharatvani portal earlier this year, few understood the importance of the move. In modern societies,  there are hardly any misunderstandings — only miscommunication. Once it is up and running, Bharatvani could become a way to prevent miscommunication — at least on account of language.

 

It is a mammoth task: Bharatvani is a project with an objective of delivering knowledge in and about all the languages in India. It will use multimedia (text, audio, video, images) formats through a portal (website). This portal will be all-inclusive, interactive, dynamic and moderated. The idea is to make India an Open Knowledge society where language is valued and cherished.

 

Today, many languages — and their scripts — are on  the verge of extinction because not enough people speak them and there is no institutionalized agency to record and develop them. By covering almost all Indian languages, Bharatavani will connect with all the communities of India, reaching remote areas and creating understanding. It will do so using the most inexpensive and easily adaptable means: the internet. It will make Indian languages visible on the internet, creating dictionaries and thesaurus so that the language can be used on social media, for blogging, writing poetry, literature…and eventually, also as a tool to teach the language in cyberspace.

 

Twenty two scheduled languages (Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Maithili, Marathi, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Santali, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu) are already available on Bharatvani. More than 100 more languages will be covered in a phased manner. Eventually, in collaboration with the Ministry of Communication and IT (MCIT), language tools such as fonts, software, typing tools, mobile apps, multi language translation tools, text to speech, speech to text etc. will be made available.

 

The project is being run by the Central Institute of Indian Launguages in Mysuru, Karnataka. It is being advised by a committee of eminent linguists and knowledge experts (the National Advisory Committee), a Technology Advisory Committee which will guide Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL) on the technological aspects of the portal and the language tools; and editorial committees in various languages to aggregate content.

 

The portal will document languages and literature in digital format. It will design scripts and typography codes. It will prepare dictionaries and glossaries. It will help in the translation of knowledge texts in modern and classical languages. And eventually it will offer online language teaching, learning and language teacher training with certification.


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