A digital boost for the preservation of Sindhi

The Hindu
April 11, 2017

Digest this: the Sindhi language has 52 alphabets against 35 in Hindi; it has 101 words for ‘Elephant’; 28 commonly used words for camel, and an equal number of words for water.

Its vast lexicon lent it the sobriquet of being the most ‘oxygenated language’.

In a major step aimed at conserving and disseminating the Sindhi language, the National Council for Promotion of Sindhi Language (NCPSL), affiliated with the Union HRD Ministry, on Monday released software tools and eBooks developed by the city-based Centre for development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) in order to adapt Sindhi into the digital medium.

“There was a maxim that if one was afflicted with lung problem, speak Sindhi. Its moniker of the most ‘oxygenated’ language was not without reason as in early medieval times, the province of Sindh was a bustling commercial entrepot, lying on vital land and sea routes connecting west with the east,” says author and Prof. Aruna Jethwani, who is also the Vice-Chairperson, NCPSL.

Speaking to The Hindu, Prof. Jethwani said that owing to its peculiar geographical location in History, Sindhi embraced the gamut of Indo-Iranic languages including Uzbeki, Persian, Pushto, Hindi, Urdu, and Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil.

Yet, she trenchantly points out, in spite of assimilating so many variegated tongues, Sindhi remains a purely Indian language.

The occasion marked the 50th year since Sindhi was included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India by the 21st amendment of the Constitution. The Eighth Schedule enumerates languages (presently 22 in number) which the Centre has the responsibility to preserve and develop.

“It is all very well to learn and find the learning of foreign languages exciting. But what about our Indian treasure trove of languages? For instance, Sindhi has the maximum number of alphabets, adjectives and adverbs compared to any regional language,” observes Prof. Jethwani.

The Partition of 1947 resulted in the community being scattered and living as a Diaspora across the globe, leading to the atrophying of the language. As a result, the community’s leaders endeavoured to get the language included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution.

The community has a significant presence in Pune, with a populace exceeding two lakh and a robust presence in the educational field, manifested especially in the educational institutions set up by the Sadhu Vaswani Mission.

“The inexorable process of, and stress by necessity, on Anglicization has reduced the importance of several Indian mother languages, including Sindhi. It was with the view to preserve Sindhi that the NCPSL was instituted in 1994 and the release of software is a huge shot in the arm and an important step towards its rejuvenation as an educative force,” Dr. Jethwani said.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mahesh Kulkarni, Associate Director, C-DAC said that the release of the CD containing tools and technology for the conservation and propagation of the Sindhi language - both in the Devnagiri and Arabic scripts - is part of an MoU the institute has signed with the NCPSL.

Under this two-year project, software like Sindhi typing tool on Android devices and desktop platform, Sindhi fonts, Sindhi eBooks, and other free and Open Source software like office productivity tools, children software and website development tools are being developed in the Sindhi language, he informed.

“The project is pegged at Rs. 72 lakh. In the first phase, we have focused upon content creation, like developing user-friendly tools like a Word Processor and Chat Messengers localized into Sindhi language. We’ve also localized browsers like Firefox and the Thunderbird email software into Sindhi, along with educative tools like Mathematical Markup Language (MathML),” said Mr. Kulkarni, commenting that the NCPSL website was also being upgraded by C-DAC in tandem.

Further, he said that some books on Sindhi literature were ready to be viewed and downloaded for teaching purposes.

“The training in technology would be imparted to ‘master trainers’, who in turn would introduce these tools in schools where Sindhi is taught,” he informed, stating that in the second phase of the project following content creation, C-DAC would be developing open-source Natural Language Processing (NLP) tools like spell checkers and grammar checkers.