Ladakh 17

Val set off on her trek yesterday.
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Frid. 2nd August

This evening I had a fascinating conversation over a meal with Barbara, a social anthropologist recording the otherwise unwritten languages of Ladakhi and Zanskari. This raised several interesting issues, but not about the food. (In my case this was vegetable cutlets, finger chips and fried eggs, an English caff remembrance complete with tomato ketchup, which was completely voided before bedtime.)

No, not about the food but that it was agreeably stimulating to discuss the relevancies of Barbara’s work. I suggested that in recording a language for prosperity – and apparently there are some 5,000 unwritten languages still awaiting linguists and anthropologists – its development is arrested. An oral tradition is transmuted into a static form, the solitary skills or reading and writing. That gives rise to the potential danger of a people’s culture, one reliant on communality, breaking down.

The perpetuation of a separate language within a centralised state is subversive, though with 14 major languages.and maybe 200 regional languages and more localised dialects India remains eclectic. The recording of a language requires a norm, a standardisation. Given an established set of parameters, there is scope for control.

Isn’t this symptomatic of the west? TV and videos and other methods of dissemination of information and entertainment are opinion forming without due regard for individual interest.

Does a vibrant society such as Zanskar, therefore, need the range of language skills which Barbara would bring?

However self-effacing she may be, however much she encourages the community to record and protect its customs, she would be effecting a change which is not necessarily desirable.

Still, with the advent of backpacking trekkers who are bringing in their wake a seasonal Kashmiri grocery store, perhaps there are other less benign changes being wrought. Perhaps then, Barbara’s work could help protect the survival of that same community pride which her very presence is helping to diminish.

Will it go round in circles?

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About Jakartass

A Brit Abroad
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