27.05.2020

Gutob language

Gutob language is spoken primarily in the Koraput district of Odisha. In terms of languages and ethnicity this region is a melting pot of tribes and castes, who live side by side and speak Indo-Aryan, Dravidian and Munda languages. One ethnic group can have several names, and the same name can be applied to several groups, so the size of the group is difficult to estimate. The Gutobs are no exception.

Since 1971, the Indian Census has only listed the languages spoken by with more than ten thousand speakers. Thus, from all Koraput Munda it counts only Savara (Sora) and Gadaba (Gutob). At the same time the ethnonym “Gadaba” refers to two tribes living alongside: the Munda-speaking Gutob-Gadaba and the Dravidian-speaking Olar-Gadaba. These tribes have a total population of about 40 thousand people and are not distinguished in 2011 Census data.

According to Ethnologue, the number of specifically Gutob native speakers is about 8,000 (with reference to IICCC 2000). However, it is not possible to verify this source. As reported by the 1996 Asha Kiran Society sociolinguistic study, Gutob language was preserved in 40 villages in the Lamtaput Block of Koraput district with 5,065 speakers.

The sociolinguistic situation for Gutob, as for other minor Koraput Munda, is characterized by the pressure of the “pyramid” of several languages of a higher status: Desiya, Oriya, Hindi and English. First of all, everyday communication between people of different tribes and castes in the region is conducted in Desiya, an Indo-Aryan idiom. Parents seek to teach their children this language, and that is why it is Desiya that primarily replaces the native languages for the younger generation of tribes.

The language of instruction at schools, as well as of media and official institutions, is the official language of the state. In Odisha it is of Oriya, an Indo-Aryan language. The status of Oriya is higher than Desiya, and it is learned while receiving education. In addition to the official languages ​​of the states, in India there are two official languages of the Union ​​- Hindi and English. In Odisha, English is taught at schools from the third grade, and Hindi from the eighth, but people also absorb Hindi watching Hindi-speaking TV channels. Yet, English opens up great opportunities for young people and so it is undoubtedly more prestigious than Hindi. In addition, there is a strong influence of Telugu, the official language of the neighboring Andhra Pradesh state, that belongs to Dravidian family. Also, there is interaction with the languages ​​of the Dravidian tribes, such as Olar Gadaba.

As for religion, the minor Koraput Mundas, unlike Sora, are practically not influented by Christianization. They mostly practice their traditional animistic rites. These beliefs are more or less syncretically fused with Hinduism, for example, its followers celebrate common Hindu holidays.  The modern Mahima Dharma (known as Alekh Dharma) is also a relatively popular religious doctrine. This monotheistic belief, specific to the tribes, arose in the 20th century. Possibly due to the absence of strong religious shifts, a significant influence of religion on the linguistic situation of the minor Koraput Mundas was not observed.

In the second half of the 20th century, the Gutob people went through a significant resettlement caused by two large-scale hydroelectric projects (on the Kolab and Machkund rivers), which led to flooding of their villages. Due to the resettlements the Gutob speakers no longer live compactly, but are a minority in the villages where the majority speaks Desiya (castes of Rona, Kumar, Gour and others). As a result, the loss of the Gutob language is happening quite quickly, as does the cultural assimilation of the people. In fact, in these mixed villages, you can observe the process of Gutob turning from a tribe into a caste, eroding its cultural and linguistic specifics. Gutobs are gradually getting incorporated into the caste hierarchy of villages, for example, into the order of water intake from a village well, during common village festivals, etc. Desiya has almost supplanted Gutob language in the religious and ritual sphere; the Gutob folklore that we recorded is full of Desiya vocabulary.

The inaccessibility of the regions where Gutob is spoken and the neglect of tribes in Hindu society resulted in the lack of studies of Gutob language.

With the rapid changes in the region, the position of Gutob language is vulnerable. The arrangements should be taken to support it. One of such arrangments might be the MultiLingual Education. This is an official governmental program for introducing  minor native languages ​​into the elementary school as a language of instruction. Such teaching currently is conducted in a number of schools in the villages where Bonda is spoken. The state school textbooks from first to fourth grade are published in Bonda, in the writing system based on Oriya script. A significant participation in this MLE program is taken by the Asha Kiran Society.

The Asha Kiran Society is a nonprofit organization located in the village of Malenga, Lamtaput block, Koraput district. It was created by a group of Christians from Kerala, and originally its aim was to provide local tribes with medical care and health literacy. Later the organization took up educational projects, and many of its employees are now representatives of the local tribes who have been educated with its help. In addition, the Asha Kiran Society is involved in Multilingual Education (MLE) projects, education programs for tribes in their native languages. The Asha Kiran Society project for revitalization of Gutob was undertaken from 1996 to 2002. It did not receive official state support and implementation in schools because Gutobs nowadays do not live compactly. Therefore, according to the government position, teaching Gutob language in elementary school in mixed villages can cause segregation and ethnic hatred among children.

The Asha Kiran Society has developed a language teaching project in Desiya, the main language for the mixed villages. This project, however, does not receive state support for another reason. The MLE program in India is based on the constitutional right of any ethnic Indian community to receive education in their native language. But according to the generally accepted opinion, Desiya is not a native language of any ethnic community but a lingua franca (as mentioned above, this is not true and our data testifies to it). In a number of villages, with the permission of schools but without state support, the Asha Kiran Society gives classes for the preschoolers in Desiya. Materials of Desiya are published in a writing system based on the Oriya script. Although the sociolinguistic situation of all the minor Koraput Munda is quite vulnerable, in the case of Gutob it’s even worse. It is affected by the lack of compact settlements and, consequently, the impossibility of revitalizing the language through the school education.