Award for Jesuit linguist

Fr Vijay (left) with an elder and his family in their home in Arunachal Pradesh

Indian Jesuit Fr Vijay D’Souza SJ – based in Oxford – has been awarded graduate funding by the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Foundation. It will help him undertake three years of research on and documentation of the Hrusso Aka language of Arunachal Pradesh in North East India. 

Fr Vijay is a member of the Kohima Region of the Society of Jesus, an area known for its linguistic and cultural diversity: it is estimated that it is home to more than 200 distinct and indigenous cultures and languages. Kohima Jesuits work mainly in extremely remote areas and among some of the most neglected people in the country, running schools and parishes, a research centre and a centre for legal aid.

“Hrusso Aka is an endangered language of Arunachal Pradesh, a remote Indian state in the Himalayan foothills,” Fr Vijay explains. “At present, it’s spoken by only about 3,000 people, and more and more younger members of the Hrusso Aka tribe are switching over to Hindi. Hrusso Aka is staring at extinction in a matter of a couple of generations if the present trend continues.”

A mosaic of linguistic diversity

Fr Vijay describes language as a great treasure – “a complete and rich system of human knowledge that is handed down from generation to generation”; so he believes that when a language becomes extinct it is a tragic loss of a community’s collective roots. “Such a scenario is especially sad for a place like North East India, which defines itself as a mosaic of linguistic and cultural diversity,” he says. “My aim is to develop ways to prevent languages like Hrusso Aka from disappearing.”Fr Vijay collects language data in the Kohima Region of Northeast India

The Jesuits in Britain awarded Fr Vijay a scholarship to begin his formal studies in linguistics at Campion Hall, Oxford in 2013. He has just finished his MPhil, and will be starting his Doctorate this October. The Hans Rausing Endangered Language Foundation is based at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and funds documentation of endangered languages throughout the world. The scholarship he has just received is given to those who are involved in documenting endangered languages throughout the world. It will help cover living costs and fieldwork, equipment and travel expenses during his PhD. Fr Vijay's work will include writing a grammar of the language, creating a 100-hour audio and video database, and community mobilization.

“Learning Hrusso Aka has affected me at a deep and personal level,” he says. “It has been a life-changing experience for me and opened my mind to a whole new worldview. This has motivated me to convince the children and the tribesmen and women that their language is beautiful, and should not be left to die out.”