|Thursday, 8 January 2004|
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Some tasks for SAARC
While the trouble-free growth of SAARC needs to be premised, among other things, on the organisation's ability to insulate itself from disputes among its member states, well-wishers of the regional organisation could take heart from the fact, for the present, that the SAARC process has been re-launched on a positive note.
The just-concluded 12th SAARC Heads of State and Government Summit in Islamabad registered many a gain for the regional forum which was grounded over the past couple of years, primarily on account of strained ties between India and Pakistan - states which are pivotal to the functioning of SAARC.
Before we comment on some of these gains by SAARC, we believe it would be important to point out the need for the perpetuation of the SAARC process, regardless of the state of relations among its individual members. We have just witnessed the disruptive impact frosty, troubled relations between two SAARC members could have on the overall fortunes of the regional body. Ideally, ways and means should be sought by the SAARC Seven to insulate the organisation from such disruptive overflows from bilateral disputes. In other words, the SAARC process should be carried forward, irrespective of inter-state political tensions. If this could be achieved, the future of SAARC could be considered as having been protected. This is an urgent task which cannot be soft-pedalled.
The rise of terrorism in South Asia and the increasing jettisoning of democratic forms of dissent and protest have been weighing heavily on the region's political leaders and one could be glad that a major step has been taken by SAARC towards addressing these issues through the signing of the additional protocol to the SAARC Regional Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism. In fact, President Kumaratunga had been in the forefront of the campaign to win the region's endorsement of the protocol which seeks to contain the financing of terror, and Sri Lanka could be glad that some positive moves have been made on this score.
However, equal weight would need to be attached to SAFTA and the Social Charter of SAARC which too met with the organisation's acceptance. This is because the lot of the ordinary people of this region would need to be improved if terrorism is to be defeated. Poverty is the breeding ground of terror and it is our hope that the operationalization of SAFTA and the Social Charter would help relieve the material burdens of the SAARC masses which constitute the majority of the world's poor.
Special attention would need to be paid to poverty alleviation, for which, the people of the region would need to be mobilized, as active agents of the process of delivering themselves from the clutches of underdevelopment and material want.
When the last speakers of a language die, they take with them their history and culture. Forever. The death of a language is an irreparable loss to humanity.
We reported on Wednesday that Romansh, the ancient tongue that is Switzerland's fourth official language, is gradually dying out. Romansh has joined thousands of languages that are in danger of extinction just decades from now. Linguistic experts see the writing on the wall for well over half of the world's 6,000 languages.
Several languages vanish each year, as their last speakers die. The world loses a veritable treasure every time that happens, especially if a particular language does not have letters or symbols.
What causes the death of languages? The dominance of major languages stifles the use of minority languages. English is fast becoming the global lingua franca. Minority languages in the British isles and elsewhere simply cannot compete with the almost total domination of English. The younger generation see little need to perpetuate Irish or Gaelic, because English is the key to higher education and employment.
Languages die when speakers disperse to other parts of their country or to other countries, where they have to use the majority community's language. They also disappear when whole communities, such as rainforest tribes in the Amazon, face extinction.
No language can exist in a vacuum. Each language is nurtured by the infusion of words from other languages - take the French words in English. Sometimes two languages merge to become what is effectively one language. Languages evolve - and die - constantly.
But what can be done to save these languages or at least to record their unique folk tales and cultural connotations? UNESCO and leading linguists are striving to record a number of dying languages for posterity. It is sometimes possible to halt the decline of an endangered language with the collective will of the speakers and a helpful government apparatus.
Nevertheless, we have to come to terms with the fact that a majority of languages are doomed. The world must celebrate linguistic diversity while it lasts and attempt to preserve unique cultural insights offered by each language.
Produced by Lake House