Nepal Struggles to Preserve Its Indigenous Languages as Those Speaking Them Dwindle

At last count Nepal had 129 spoken languages, but even as new ones are identified, others are becoming extinct. Every two weeks, an indigenous language goes extinct somewhere in the world.

Child reading Newa folk story, Dhaplaan Khyaa, by Durgalal Shrestha. Credit: ASHISH SHAKYA

By Alisha Sijapati
KATMANDU, Feb 3 2021 – At last count Nepal had 129 spoken languages, but even as new ones are identified, others are becoming extinct. At least 24 of the languages and dialects spoken in Nepal are ‘endangered’, and the next ones on the verge of disappearing are Dura, Kusunda, and Tillung, each of which have only one speaker left.

“It will not surprise me if these three languages will be the next to go. With no one left to speak, we will not be able to save them,” says Lok Bahadur Lopchan of the Language Commission of Nepal, which is entrusted with preserving Nepal’s linguistic diversity.

If a language is spoken by less than 1,000 people, it is categorised as ‘endangered’. Lopchan predicts that over 37 more languages spoken in Nepal are in that category and likely to disappear in the next ten years.

According to the Language Commission of Nepal‘s 2019 annual report the languages most commonly spoken in the country are Nepali, Maithili, Bhojpuri, Tharu, Tamang, Nepal Bhasa, Bajjika, Magar, Doteli and Urdu, in that order.

But just as there are languages disappearing, new ones that had never been recognised are being found in far flung parts of the country, like Rana Tharu which is spoken in the western Tarai, Narphu in a remote valley in Manang, Tsum in the Tsum Valley of Upper Gorkha, Nubri Larke in the Manaslu region, Poike and Syarke.

“It is fortunate that these languages have been identified, but it is unfortunate they are spoken by very few people, and could very soon die out,” says Lopchan, who adds that every two weeks, an indigenous language goes extinct somewhere in the world.

“The loss of Nepal’s languages is the result of deliberate state policy, our linguistic heritage was swept away to promote a national character”
Even those that are among the top ten most spoken in Nepal are losing their first language status. Parents insist on proficiency in Nepali or English in school to ensure good job prospects for their children. And even since King Mahendra’s reign, the state has pushed Nepali as the lingua franca to the detriment of other national languages.

Supral Raj Joshi, 29, is a voice actor and grew up speaking Nepal Bhasa at home. But from primary school onwards, it was Nepali and English only in class, and he soon forgot his mother tongue. Speaking Nepali with his family, it suddenly struck him how much of his culture he had lost with the language.

“The loss of Nepal’s languages is the result of deliberate state policy, our linguistic heritage was swept away to promote a national character,” says Joshi.

King Mahendra instituted measures to create a unified Nepali identity through dress, language, and even dismantled democracy and instituted the partyless Panchayat system that he said “suited the Nepali soil”.

Experts say that the decision enforcing the idea of nationalism through one language restricted indigenous communities to speak their ancestral tongue.

“The dominant class made its language the national language, and in doing so other languages suffered collateral damage,” says Rajendra Dahal, Editor of Shikshak magazine. “The end of a language is not just a loss for a community, but for the country and the world.”

At the Language Commission of Nepal, there is a sense of urgency to save the three languages that each have only one speaker left. It has partnered with 45-year-old Kamala Kusunda, the only living person in the world who speaks Kusunda. She now runs a small private school in Dang to teach the language to over 20 students.

“If I die, then my mother language dies with me too. I had to revive this language for its value to our people, and the hope of keeping our ancestral language alive,” Kamal Kusunda told Nepali Times over the phone.

Muktinath Ghimire in Lamjung has a similar task. As the only remaining speaker of Dura, he is preparing to start a school to teach the language to others in the community. “We can’t let this language die,” he says. 

Other languages like Tsum, more recently identified as distinct dialects, were already endangered by the time they were identified as being uniquely different.

“Older people in Tsum Valley exclusively speak Tsum, but the younger generation is losing the language,” says Wangchuk Rapten Lama, a fluent Tsum speaker himself who is working to expand its use by introducing the language to children through cultural activities.

Canada-based linguistic anthropologist Mark Turin worked with the Thangmi in Dolakha and Sindhupalchok to document their endangered language.

“To speak of linguists saving languages is just as ludicrous as suggesting that Apps and digital technologies save language,” he says. “Neither is true, and field linguistics is still dominated by quite colonial and extractivist models of knowledge production.”

He says speakers of indigenous languages like Thangmi deserve the recognition as they work tirelessly to reclaim, rejuvenate and revive their ancestral languages, often in the face of considerable opposition.

“Indigenous youth in these communities are now creating domains of use for ancestral languages to thrive once again, in print, online and on air. This is the true work of language revitalisation and reclamation, and it deserves wider recognition,” Turin adds.

After Nepal went into the federal mode, it was expected that schools across the country would teach regional languages. Article 31 of the Constitution says: ‘Every Nepali community living in Nepal shall have the right to acquire education in their mother tongue up to the secondary level, and the right to open and run schools and educational institutions as provided for by law.’

The Curriculum Development Centre along with rural municipalities introduced a ‘local curriculum’ bearing 100 points. For instance, Bhaktapur and Gokarna municipalities have curricula designed to teach students about their own municipalities. While some schools offer mother tongues as an option, a majority choose the ‘local curriculum’.

In October 2020, Kathmandu Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya made it mandatory for schools to teach Nepal Bhasa from Grade 1-8. But there was mixed reaction from parents, with many feeling it would burden the students and their Nepali and English would suffer.

“We have tried offering students formal classes on Nepal Bhasa for many years, but there was not much interest from guardians even though we know children thrive when they learn new languages,” says Jyoti Man Sherchan, former Principal of Malpi International School, who introduced a Thakali language club in the school.

“Parents are more interested in their children being proficient in English or Mandarin. Change is possible only if the government intervenes and provides resources and training to teach our own mother tongues,” says Sherchan.

However, there are limitations in residential schools where students come from all over Nepal. It is impossible to make everyone speak different languages.

Province 2 is different because the Tarai districts are the most multilingual in the country. In Birganj, for example, most people speak Maithili and Bhojpuri, and they also speak Hindi, Nepali or English.

“Although schools here do not teach ancestral languages, the majority of children continue to speak Maithili and Bhojpuri at home,” explains writer Chandra Kishore. “In my school English and Nepali were taught, but the medium language for explaining those languages was Maithili.

Languages stop evolving once people stop conversing in them. Ancestral languages are also needed to root a people in their heritage and give a distinct identity. This is becoming more and more difficult all over the world with globalisation and the Internet.

“My little children only speak English,” says Saraswati Lama who is married to a Rai, and works for a non-profit in Kathmandu. “My daughter learned it from YouTube and she taught it to her younger brother.” Neither Lama, nor her husband speak their own mother tongues, and use Nepali to speak with one another.

But these days, it is in the Nepali diaspora that the country’s linguistic heritage seems to be valued more. Sujan Shrestha was born in Kathmandu but moved to the US while he was in high school. Now a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, he says his wife and children only speak English and Nepal Bhasa, and no Nepali.

“Nepal Bhasa gives the kids an identity, and connects them to the extended family, especially their grandparents. It is about teaching our kids cultural sensitivity and open-mindedness towards other cultures and people.”

This story was originally published by The Nepali Times

The Afghan Dilemma for the Biden/Harris Administration

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed meets with Afghans displaced by the ongoing conflict. Credit: United Nations

By Saber Azam
GENEVA, Feb 3 2021 – President Biden and his administration confront a very challenging situation within the United States and abroad. His predecessor, Mr. Trump, refused to accept the defeat or extend any cooperation to the incoming team.

Simultaneously, the threat of internal terrorism, fomented by the former president’s rhetoric, is real. National security apparatuses are on maximum alert. Furthermore, Republican leaders have not yet decided to realign their party on values defended by Abraham Lincoln.

The health crisis is unprecedented. So far, over 450’0000 Americans have lost their lives in less than a year because of the coronavirus ravages alone. The economy is frail and unemployment soaring. President Biden and Vice-President Harris inherit a deeply divided country. Such a state of affairs is distinctive and has never occurred in the United States of America’s recently remembered history.

Abroad, the United States suffered an enormous setback during the last four years. Mr. Trump snubbed every friend, ally, and liable institution, antagonizing practically the whole world against his policies.

Among other significant lapses, his discord with Europeans and NATO, unilateral retraction from the Iran nuclear deal and Paris climate agreement, unhindered support to the Saudi-led Yemen tragedy, and troops withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan have been flagrant deviations from the standard and sound approaches undertaken by any government, Democrat or Republican.

On Afghanistan, more specifically, the United States and its allies spent trillions of dollars since 2001 on the bilateral and multilateral military, humanitarian, and development aid schemes. Thousands of their soldiers either lost their lives or sustained severe injuries.

However, due to evident inefficiency, systematic corruption, rampant nepotism, intentioned tribalism, and the traditional carelessness of Kabul leaders, little changed in ordinary people’s lives. Alarming insecurity all over the country, a quasi-inexistent economy, the inapplicable rule of law, raging violations of human rights, rising bigotry, and lack of vision for the future portray the current situation.

The Trump-Taliban agreement is perceived as a nail that aimed at durably coffining the hope for democracy, prosperity, and a peaceful future. There is a growing feeling within and outside Afghanistan that the United States did not achieve tangible results from their longest and costly war since Vietnam.

The Biden/Harris administration could transform the United States’ looming letdown into a success story of their foreign policy. Boldness and slightly more patience are essential to such an achievement.

Practically all post-Taliban chieftains in Afghanistan proved inept and part of the problem. The hope for a solution and taking Afghanistan out of the abyss rely on a young and incorruptible generation. Some students and scholars voiced their views by addressing President Biden and Vice-President Harris in a letter on 26 January 2021, transmitted to the White House two days later.

They valiantly highlight some inconsistency between policy and practice and the continued unfortunate support provided to inefficient and corrupt individuals by the international community. They further underscore their growing fear that Afghanistan has become the battleground for a new “great game” among superpowers that would last for decades.

They deem it necessary to learn from mistakes committed by the international community and Afghan leadership. In their view, the new administration in the United States needs to opt for an innovative approach that would finally bring peace and stability to Afghanistan and allow an honorable withdrawal of foreign troops from this country. In particular, they insist on the following:

    1 – Comprehensive review of the Trump-Taliban agreement: This accord is “unilateral, uncalculated, and even dangerous for the region’s peace and security.” Moreover, it is the outcome of an expedited process to secure a “foreign policy success” for the former president of the United States. Indeed, the Taliban deem it their undeniable success, generating understandable concerns among Afghan people and regional powers, particularly India, the Russian Federation, Central Asian countries, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the People’s Republic of China.
    2 – Robust nation-building efforts: It is evident that Afghanistan is a country possessing defined boundaries with its neighbors and a seat and recognition in all relevant international and regional structures. However, history has demonstrated that substantial efforts have never been undertaken by Afghan rulers to weld durably different ethnic groups and interests around common national values. Without such an enterprise, any undertaking to salvage Afghanistan will face insurmountable challenges. Furthermore, ethnic rivalries, tension, and conflict have always led adversaries of the country to take advantage of the divisions and achieve their objectives at the expense of the Afghan people’s well-being.
    3 – Initiating a viable and just peace process: Since the Geneva Accord of 1988 between the Soviet-sponsored communist regime in Kabul and Pakistan, numerous other futile agreements have been concluded in which “transfer and/or distribution of power” constituted the essence of deliberations among the protagonists, ignoring the fundamental internal and external causes of the conflict. The Doha peace process, already ten years old, merely focuses on power-sharing formulas, considered a peripheral endeavor. With a fresh foreign policy, it is a golden opportunity for the United States government to engage in a process that addresses the deep-rooted inter-Afghan, regional, and international concerns in an unbiased manner.
    4 – Review of the Afghan constitution and its derivative laws: It is clear that the outcome of the Bonn agreement of December 2001 and the subsequent post-Taliban constitution of Afghanistan did not reflect the Afghan society’s deep transformations during the harsh years of communism and Soviet invasion, the violent inter-faction battles among Mujahidin, and the inhuman Taliban regime. Therefore, the Afghan constitution’s reform is necessary. Continuation to build on the wrong foundations would prolong the agony of the Afghan people and draw the certainty of a “great failure” closer.
    5 – Search for an amicable understanding with Pakistan: Pakistan played a crucial role in hosting millions of refugees and allowing Mujahidin groups to fight the Soviets and their puppet regimes. However, their post-communism interference in Afghanistan and blind support to the Taliban, one of the most notorious terrorist organizations in the region, brought unforgivable tragedies. Nevertheless, Afghans must find an amicable understanding with Pakistan for the peace, security, and prosperity of both countries. It must lead Pakistan to end harboring, training, and arming the Taliban. Moreover, the crucial question that friends of Afghanistan must answer would be whether the Taliban is “an armed opposition group” or mercenaries at the service of a foreign nation. The answer to this question is fundamental for the future peace and security of the region.
    6 – Elaboration and implementation of a vigorous good-governance and ethics framework, policy and action plan for public and private sectors: There is no question that corruption, nepotism, tribalism, and decision-makers’ inefficiency have gangrened all organs of public and private segments in Afghanistan. Without developing and executing a clear policy and action plan to fight and defeat the scourges mentioned above and cultivate and promote good governance in the community, educative, administrative, and business stratum, international assistance would continue to be wasted and national resources embezzled in large part.
    7 – Necessity to prepare the future: Leaders in Afghanistan have hardly explained where their political, social, and economic visions would take the country in the near and distant future. In addition, repeated election riggings have induced a total lack of trust in the democratic system, further fomenting corruption and mismanagement. Without clear, transparent, and honest election procedures and competent people in charge, there will be no hope for a peaceful country. The presence of short- medium- and long-term development plans would allow the population to determine where their country would be in ten, twenty, or fifty years and what sacrifices are needed to achieve such objectives.

The letter’s signatories justifiably call on President Biden and Vice-President Harris to promote and support a young and incorruptible generation of Afghan leaders to endeavor and surmount the impediments mentioned above.

With all sincerity and humility, the new administration in Washington must embrace this new approach and abandon the policy of building on what did not function. It is also the right moment to put intense pressure on Pakistan to stop its unhindered and destructive support to the Taliban.

Finally, the international community and the United States, in particular, need to define their position concerning the Taliban and those who harbor, arm, train, and finance them, bearing in mind that their success to share or grab power would be perceived the success of other terrorist organizations too over the forces of democracy and the rule of law.

Afghans have suffered for over forty years from wars, destruction, killing of innocents – mainly women and children, extremism, terrorism, bigotry, and the ineptness of their leaders. It is high time to end their suffering with a refreshing policy and a new generation of leaders!

 


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Road to Hell Paved with Good Intentions

Credit: UNICEF/Nahom Tesfaye

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Feb 3 2021 – Access to COVID-19 vaccines for many developing countries and most of their people will have to wait as the powerful and better off secure earlier access regardless of need or urgency. More profits, by manufacturing scarcity, will surely cause even more loss of both lives and livelihoods.

Good intentions not enough
To induce private efforts to develop and distribute vaccines, the WHO initiated COVAX to ensure more equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. However, interest by vaccine companies has been limited, while some governments – especially from better-off upper middle-income countries – pursue other options.

COVAX has been co-led with GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). Buoyed by their earlier success with advance market commitments (AMC), they have extended the same approach in very different circumstances.

AMC was originally conceived to induce the development of vaccines for ‘neglected diseases’. Such infectious diseases remain threats in poor countries and among poor people. Hence, prospective sales revenue was believed to be too small for needed investments by profit-seeking vaccine companies.

By guaranteeing and subsidising sales, the AMC effectively promises the vaccine developer to make the research and development effort profitable, typically with early payments and subsidies to enhance the inducement.

No one size fits all
In the Covid-19 pandemic context, however, the COVAX AMC is not a ‘white knight’ coming to the rescue of an orphaned, typically tropical disease. Instead, it competes with other buyers, mostly of greater means.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

To put it bluntly, the Covid-19 pandemic context is quite different from the ‘neglected diseases’ problem which the AMC was conceived to address, i.e., contemporary Western R&D efforts presumed to be driven primarily, if not exclusively by the prospect of profits.

The highly infectious ‘aerosol-borne’ virus quickly achieved a global reach. Apparently more likely to be lethal with advancing age, mass vulnerability to infection ensured a broad, inclusive, international market for Covid-19 vaccines from the outset.

Recognising the extent and impact of the pandemic threat, vaccine developers expect to sell their vaccines very profitably. They made advance sales to many rich-country governments, rather than, or even while committing to COVAX. Unsurprisingly in these circumstances, the COVAX AMC approach has not worked well, let alone equitably.

The companies did not require AMC advance purchases to start their efforts. Expecting the WHO to protect their interests, participating developing country governments, mainly of upper-middle income economies, have generally not worked together to push for further price moderation.

COVAX subverted
Advance Covid-19 vaccine purchases by many rich country governments are not only greatly in excess of their population requirements, but also not made in a transparent manner conducive to improving equity.

Unsure of the efficacy and effectiveness of the often still experimental vaccines, some booked, paid for and now demand far more than needed by their populations. Thus, COVAX has been subverted by rich country government actions.

Ironically, instead of protecting and promoting the interests of the poor, the public interest and the common good, the COVAX AMC has served to set floor prices. Arguably, COVAX has ensured profits for vaccine companies without addressing the ‘only money talks’ problem and competitive ‘vaccine nationalism’.

To ensure a ‘people’s vaccine’ available to all, Acharya and Reddy have proposed public financing to develop or buy over vaccine formulas. This can ensure patentable and other relevant information is freely shared, enabling generic vaccine producers to greatly increase supply at much lower prices.

As rich country governments have already paid much to accelerate vaccine development, they can more easily secure and share the thus far undisclosed information needed to greatly and affordably scale up generic vaccine output.

As vaccine developers do not really expect much revenue from selling vaccines to the poor, such ‘generosity’ would cost them little, while earning them and the enabling governments priceless appreciation and goodwill in the process.

Way out
The best way forward now involves approving the TRIPS waiver at the WTO, which the Trump administration, the EU and some allies, such as Brazil, have stubbornly blocked.

The TRIPS waiver – sought by developing countries led by South Africa, India and Pakistan – seeks to temporarily suspend several TRIPS provisions on patents, design and protection of undisclosed information.

The Biden administration has shown renewed commitment to multilateralism by re-joining the World Health Organization (WHO). It can demonstrate leadership by not only lifting the US embargo on exports of vaccines, vital medicines and equipment, but also advocating strongly for the TRIPS waiver proposal at the WTO.

US taxpayers have already spent many billions to accelerate private vaccine development and distribution. Vaccines for the world can be greatly increased, at little additional cost, by working with the rest of the world, as Chinese researchers did by sharing the virus’ genome sequence with the world within a fortnight of its discovery over a year ago.

 


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LeddarTech Announces the Appointment of Yann Delabrière to Its Board of Directors

QUEBEC CITY, Feb. 03, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — LeddarTech , a global leader in Level 1–5 ADAS and AD sensing technology, is pleased to announce the appointment of Mr. Yann Delabrire to its Board of Directors, which further enhances the diversity and industry expertise of the Board.

Mr. Delabrire possesses over 30 years of experience in senior executive positions in the aerospace, identity, security, and automotive industries. Mr. Delabrire presently occupies the role of Non–Executive Director of ST Microelectronics. He also currently holds the position of Chairman of the Board of IDEMIA, a global leader in augmented reality, where he previously served as President and CEO. Mr. Delabrire also acts as Lead Independent Director of Alstom S.A., an industry giant that develops and markets integrated systems that provide sustainable foundations for the future of transportation.

Mr. Delabrire's previous senior and C–level experience in automotive includes:

  • Faurecia: Chairman and CEO of Faurecia, a worldwide leader in automotive equipment. Mr. Delabrire's leadership led to the dramatic growth of the organization, particularly in North America and Asia, and restored its profitability and cash generation capabilities.
  • PSA Peugeot Citron: Held the Chief Finance Officer position, which eventually led to joining the newly created Executive Committee of the Group. In parallel to his position as CFO, Mr. Delabrire later became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PSA's consumer finance unit.

Between 1983 and 2018, Mr. Delabrire also lent his executive experience to the aerospace, identity, and security industries.

  • Zodiac Aerospace: Advisor to the Board and then CEO of the company. During Mr. Delabrire's tenure, he restructured and oversaw the company's sale to Safran Group in 2018.
  • Capgemini: Served as a Non–Executive Director and Chairman of the company's audit committee.
  • Printemps: Group CFO for the high–end retail group now known as Kering.
  • COFACE: CFO for the French export credit agency after a term with the French Court of Auditors and three years within the French Foreign Trade Ministry beginning in 1983.

"The LeddarTech Board of Directors is very pleased to welcome Yann Delabrire to the LeddarTech team," stated Mr. Michel Brl, chairman of the Board of LeddarTech. "Yann will be a tremendous asset to the board of LeddarTech; his background in artificial intelligence, foreign trade, automotive, and manufacturing will contribute greatly to the continued growth and success of LeddarTech," Mr. Brl concluded.

"LeddarTech has been on an amazing trajectory over the past year which has included two acquisitions and engagement with several major customers and strategic partners," stated Charles Boulanger, CEO of LeddarTech. "I am especially proud of the long–term agreement reached with OSRAM that was publicly announced on January 20, 2021 to provide our industry–leading LiDAR hardware and software components into OSRAM's PERCEPT LiDAR platform. The extensive industry expertise that Yann brings to our Board of Directors further augments our growth strategy as a market leader in sensing solutions for ADAS and AD applications," Mr. Boulanger concluded.

Mr. Delabrire holds a PhD in Mathematics, having graduated from the cole Normale Suprieure and the cole Nationale d'Administration. He is also a Chevalier de la Lgion d'Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honor) and Officier de l'Ordre National du Mrite (Officer of the National Order of Merit).

About LeddarTech

LeddarTech is a leader in environmental sensing platforms for autonomous vehicles and advanced driver assistance systems. Founded in 2007, LeddarTech has evolved to become a comprehensive end–to–end environmental sensing company by enabling customers to solve critical sensing and perception challenges across the entire value chain of the automotive and mobility market segments. With its LeddarVision sensor–fusion and perception platform and its cost–effective, scalable, and versatile LiDAR development solution for automotive–grade solid–state LiDARs based on the LeddarEngine, LeddarTech enables Tier 1–2 automotive system integrators to develop full–stack sensing solutions for autonomy level 1 to 5. These solutions are actively deployed in autonomous shuttles, trucks, buses, delivery vehicles, smart cities/factories, and robotaxi applications. The company is responsible for several innovations in cutting–edge automotive and mobility remote–sensing applications, with over 95 patented technologies (granted or pending) enhancing ADAS and autonomous driving capabilities.

Additional information about LeddarTech is accessible at www.leddartech.com and on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Contact:
Daniel Aitken, Vice–President, Global Marketing, Communications, and Product Management, LeddarTech Inc.
Tel.: + 1–418–653–9000 ext. 232
daniel.aitken@leddartech.com

Leddar, LeddarTech, LeddarEngine, LeddarVision, LeddarSP, LeddarCore, VAYADrive, VayaVision, and related logos are trademarks or registered trademarks of LeddarTech Inc. and its subsidiaries. All other brands, product names, and marks are or may be trademarks or registered trademarks used to identify products or services of their respective owners.