Stories, Myths, Songs as Magical Spaces
Mahalakshmi Jayaram
TAATUNG TATUNG AND OTHER AMAZING STORIES OF INDIA’S DIVERSE LANGUAGES by By Vaishali Shroff. Illustrations by Adrija Ghosh Puffin Books, 2023, 167 pp., $ 9.99
June 2024, volume 48, No 6

Every language has a story and every story has a language.

Vaishali Shroff’s Taatung Tatung and Other Amazing Stories of India’s Diverse Languages is an impassioned plea for linguistic diversity, emphasizing the social, historical and cultural value of preserving languages even as she chronicles the impact of languages defeated and lost due to the hegemonic march of dominant tongues across the Indian subcontinent.

The title, ‘Taatung Tatung’ relates to a poignant tale of the last speaker of Aka-Bo, one of the languages of the Andaman Nicobar islands; Elder Boa Sir, who would sing and call out to birds and trees on the islands since there was no one left who could speak with her in the language! With her death in 2010, the language of one of India’s most ancient people was silenced and with it the immense knowledge and understanding of the earth that it held.
As Shroff says in the introduction, many of India’s languages exist only in the oral tradition, with songs, stories and wisdom passed on through generations. However, these languages are not recognized officially despite the deep connections they hold for their communities. Instead, the speakers of these languages are forced to learn ‘dominant’ languages, a struggle which costs them their identity and dignity. Quoting the 2011 census, she says that there are close to 800 languages and 19,500 dialects, only 22 languages have been declared as official languages. ‘We have lost over 250 languages in the last fifty years in India…’

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