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Odia will get status of a classical language

Plea for a classical language status for Odia (Oriya) has reached the penultimate stage.

The linguistic committee of the Sahitya Akademi, which met Odisha state government officials in New Delhi, has accepted the latter’s claims and forwarded the proposal to the Union culture ministry for final approval. The Culture Ministry will soon place the committee’s recommendation before the Union Cabinet for final approval.

Once approved, Odia will join the exclusive club of Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Sanskrit and Tamil which have already been accorded classical status.

This was the first time a language has been recommended for classical tag in one sitting of the linguistic committee. The meeting, which began at 12 noon, went on till 3pm on Tuesday.

At a meeting in New Delhi on Tuesday, the Odisha Government placed the 500-page report in support of its demand for classical status to Odia language before the Linguistic Committee. The report was earlier prepared by an 11-member panel constituted by the State Government comprising eminent litterateurs, linguists and historians. The expert panel, headed by noted litterateur and founder director of Central Institute of Indian Languages Debi Prasanna Pattanayak, was formed on January 16 this year.

To get classical status, a language must fulfil four criteria laid down by the Government. Among them are the language must have a recorded history of 1,500 – 2,000 years and its literary tradition must be original and not borrowed from any speaking community.

“We told the Committee that the earliest reference to Odia is found in Natya Sashtra of Bharat Muni of 4th century BC. The ancient scripts that resemble with Odia have been discovered from rock inscriptions of King Kharavela and King Ashoka.

It proves Odia language is traced back to an era between 1,000 and 1,500 years. Besides, Odia has an unbroken literary continuity and is the only language in the country which contains 49 letters,” he said.

Pattanayak is hopeful that the recommendation would get Cabinet approval soon.

“The evidence to support Odia’s claims was well documented. I would say that it has been one of the best documentations that we have seen till date,” said Anvita Abbi of the Centre for Linguistics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and a member of the committee.

“At a time when classical Sanskrit was being spoken by the Brahminical classes elsewhere in India, Odia was already being used as a language of the masses in Kalinga. I have a feeling that the language dates further back from 3rd century BC,’’ Abbi said.

Quelling the widespread belief that Odia is related to Bengali and Assamese, experts said during the meeting that Odia did not fall in the same category.

“The language has a unique structure and cannot be called the sister language of Bengali or Assamese,” Abbi said.
Odia 6th classical language
Noted linguist Debi Prasanna Pattanayak, however, said: “We are not solely interested in the monetary gain. The new status, if conferred, would also help in popularising the language among the next generation, while the funds could be spent towards forming an university to carry out more research in Odia.”

“This has been a longstanding demand of the people of Odisha. I hope the cabinet will accept the recommendations of the linguistic committee and confer the classical status on Odia language,” Chief minister Naveen Patnaik expressed happiness.

Sources in the Sahitya Akademi said: “With the approval of the report by the language committee, getting the classical status remains only a formality.” After getting the cabinet approval, the culture ministry will notify the classical status.

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