Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 5 : 5 May 2005

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.




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Copyright © 2004
M. S. Thirumalai

Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.


At the outset, I would like to admit that I do not specialize in the study of indigenous groups. With my work on the linguistic minorities, I have tried to put forth some views here for your consideration. This presentation is meant to reflect on the current trends in research methodology in the context of globalization and its impact on multilingualism and multiculturalism. An effort is made to point out some of the limitations that hamper the meaningful application and relevance of research results to the people being studied, especially the indigenous people.


In serving in an organization whose work reflects and affects the world of knowledge and research, it is worrying to know that knowledge gained is often not shared across social scientists. So much so, there are links missing, especially when one asks the question, Are the research results of immediate relevance to the community under study? It seems to me that the research methodology adopted by social scientists has led to the compartmentalization of research output, which is not of any gain to the group under study.

Each discipline in the social sciences has brought up reliable and fruitful results. Therefore, the proposition in this paper is - Can present day researchers propose newer methods of data collection and data analysis? And combine research results with the main objective to focus on the total development of the community, which is, their eco-system, their health, their education and their economic progress, through shared participation of the community.


Oral traditions in an every-changing environment where the concepts of "power" and "powerless" continue to determine processes to canalize and manage resources, where "to globalize" is the "mantra" of the times, calls for concern. In spite of decades of calculated research objectives, both qualitatively and quantitatively, sharing and applying research results for development has not received focused attention. We have recent headlines in the local newspapers, which run like this. "Health still an issue for aborigines". It reads as follows:

The health of Australia's indigenous people is still much worse than the rest of the population and remains at standards seen 100 years ago, a new health report released showed. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's Report, "Australia's Health 2000" said the life expectancy of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders from 1991-96 was 56.9 years for men and 61.7 years for women, nearly 20 years less than the national average.

Estimates for the entire country are 75.2 years for men and 81.1 years for women. "The figures for the Australian indigenous population are similar to those for Australians born at the beginning of the 20th century when life expectancy was 55 years for Australian males and 59 years for Australian females," the report said. Indigenous people are still more likely to die from cardiovascular diseases, injury, respiratory diseases, and cancer and endocrine diseases such as diabetes than non-indigenous people. And three-quarters of all indigenous deaths stem from one of the above factors.

Also, while there have been reductions in infant and maternal mortality among indigenous populations, a huge gap remains between indigenous people and the rest of the populations.

Low birth weight babies, still births and neo-natal deaths are above twice as common for indigenous mothers than other mothers.

The report said that the health gap can be attributed to factors such as indigenous peoples' low socio-economic status, poor living conditions, poor nutrition, drug and alcohol abuse and violence.

"As a group, indigenous people are more likely than other Australians to be exposed to such health risk factors," it said (Report from Canberra, Reuters, in Asian Age, 23.6.200, Bangalore, India).


A quick and sketchy analysis of this news report is as follows:

Priorities of all concerned, which includes bureaucrats and researchers, was that each one interacted with the aborigines to meet their individual needs within the overall structure of the discipline they specialize in with no thought on its implications for the community. Was, not knowing the language its major cause? Had there been close coordination between and across bureaucrats and researchers we would not have to read this news item at this point of time. This set of aborigines seems to have been overpowered by their inherent powerlessness.


In contrast to this group there are societies like the Enga people in New Guinea, who face exploitation and domination as a means to select and innovate what is good in developed societies to develop their own life styles. There are the Eskimos in Alaska who has manipulated the influx of productive technologies and domestic conveniences by adapting with the customary relations of production and distribution. (Sahlins, 1999)

In short, there is a determination on the part of the Eskimos to maintain traditional Eskimo culture and at the same time to adapt a pragmatic acceptance of the benefits of modern technology (Jorgensen: 6).


On the one hand, we are faced with the indigenous communities facing slow progressive development, and on the other, with the spurt in the advances in Information Technology, new areas of research are emerging. For example, migrant people across races and cultures in urban settings like the Indians abroad, or mixed marriages following mixed cultural patterns with shared practices are some of the new areas that need probing. Research indicates that these communities are emerging as oral cultures.


Another very interesting news headline is as follows:

"Homogenized, United Europe is still far, far away," the gist of which is as follows:

The vision of political leaders of "Europeanization" is a far cry. The French President is already referring to a two-speed Europe with a core of willing countries pressing on to forge deeper union with the rest (This is a sign of non-acceptance of Europeanization, on the part of pockets of Europeans) of Europe is far away from trying to adapt the bland American-style homogeneity and federal model. Regional wishes, as well as national identities, will be hard to obscure. The 15-member European Union, not only used 11 official languages, partner states jealously maintain their own shapes and sizes of electrical and telephone plugs and impose their own rules for such mundane chores as importing the family car. (Asian Age, 30.6.2000)

A quick inference of this news item is that protection of group identity is jealously guarded in the midst of flourishing economic development. Development is a universal concept. Whether it is the "progressive", or "progressing", each group has rules to cohere identity markers. As Ganguly (2000) states "in an environment of higher economic growth, the rich, the middle class, as well as the poor try to seek and find new avenues for economic participation in order to derive benefits. It is a progressive process of participative sharing". (Asian Age, 2000)


The contradictions of life styles continue to dominate the everyday media scene. We read about Bolivian Indian witch doctors participating in the celebrations of the rising sun during a winter solstice ceremony which coincides with the Aymara New Year at Taihunaco, of a local individual from Hubli in India with cheeks pierced by a trishul, carrying a portrait of goddess Durga collecting alms, as well as millions of rupees spent on cyberspace networks.

Under these circumstances, research and development in a dynamic and transforming socio-political economy will continue to be complex. New parameters and appropriate approaches will have to be developed. With the paradigms of displacement and marginalization, of not sharing research results, of viewing the policy for development of the indigenous peoples with benevolence rather than their rights for survival, security and self-esteem development of these peoples will continue to be a far cry. Instead of development for the beneficiaries inter-disciplinary research must promote the approach of partners in development.


Radcliffe-Brown (1952-2) defined Anthropology as the Sociology of Primitive Societies. Influenced by Redfield (1956), postwar period Anthropologists, studied the interaction between "local traditions" and "great traditions". The focus on the study of other cultures changed due to socio-political situations, for example, the prison camps during the war period of the 1940s. The post-war processes of decolonization and deconstruction enabled Anthropologists like Jack Goody (1991) to observe people from other cultures to state,

Anthropologists had often tried to avoid administration and problems of development, and matters that touched on political theory. They were interested in 'patrilineal' and 'matrilineal' societies, the developmental cycle of domestic groups, the maintenance of social control in communities, the role of the mother's brother, etc. The 'structural-functional' paradigm diversified into 'comparative analyses and 'controlled comparison', where systems of authority and organization that operated within the framework of oral cultural patterns were analyzed. Analysis of religious practices, of funerals and sacrifices which led to myth and ritual, furthered the study of 'the structure of meaning of the actors' and its overt symbolic connotations in relation to action, verbal and gestures, of transition and transmission between the present world and the next.

Somewhere across time social scientists began to question concepts of research. As Goody (ibid) points out,

Indeed my hesitation to use a variety of hard anthropological concepts such as ritual, religion, the sacred, and the profane - except as vague sign-posts - was precisely because they were not based upon, nor did they reflect, indigenous categories, which were more complex and more shaded than such constructs allowed.


Because indigenous social groups, whether big or small, had developed the system of power, which is, ways to control, mechanisms to manage scare resources, and the sharing of resources across generations, differed from the developed social groups.


Linguistics is an offshoot of Anthropological Linguistics. It emerged as a separate discipline so as to meet challenges of studying the language in its total structure, bringing out its phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic significance, the purpose being to progressively develop oral cultures as written cultures.

Max Mueller in his Lectures on the Science of Language established laws to show that languages change. Dialect dictionaries, mapping of the geographical distribution of form, such as the 'isogloss' meant that there are variants of the same language.

Dialect surveys presented the rural/urban divide of linguistic phenomenon, which had implications of language use in the school system, like the disadvantages rural children have in schooling through a language different from their own.

Variation at the phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic levels was the baseline to recognize that diversity in form and function is implicit in a social structure. Which means that isoglosses converge or diverge so that dialects were neither uniform nor discrete (Le Page 1998). The assumption that language use is constant across domains was slashed by the recognition of the fact that contexts and domains determine language use.

From historical and comparative Philology to the new domains of Descriptive Linguistics, Dialect geography, and "Pure Linguistics, all had to face the onslaught of immediate irrelevance to the users of languages.

The socio-cultural dynamics of an ever-resilient society helped elaborate and modify approaches to methods of analysis. Therefore, in order to describe, analyze and explain the continuity of Linguistic phenomena, the methods and approaches had to delve deeper into social facts and social problems. And this is when "Sociolinguistics" emerged on the research scene.

Probing language in its social contexts brought up areas of research such as the bilingual continuum, bilingual speech, bilingualism as boundary marking functions, Pidgins, Creoles, Code-mixing, Code-switching, Variation across social class, language spread, language planning and the latest is language management (Neustypny, 2000). As Martinet (1953) pointed out

There was a time when the progress of research required that each community should be considered linguistically self-contained and homogeneous. Linguists will always have to revert at times to this pragmatic assumption. But we shall now have to stress the fact that a linguistic community is NEVER homogeneous and hardly ever self-contained. Linguistic diversity begins next door, nay at home, and within one and the same man.

Therefore, in studying a community, the significance of language has important implications for the development of the group.


In this section, with the help of research results on a few indigenous people in parts of India, a position will be taken, that the effort, time and money spent in TRYING to help indigenous people progress failed, the failure being because we overlooked understanding the nuances of their culture. These nuances could best be understood if only we knew that the culture through the language they use. The plea, therefore, is that research for the development of people is possible only through a coordinated and collaborative effort across disciplines in understanding of the group. Compartmentalization has to be replaced.


The Bondos (a tribal group in the state of Orissa, India) have realized the havoc education has played on their culture. They have the following reasons for shunning education for their children:

  1. Education leads to unemployment
  2. Education is expensive
  3. Education makes their children shun manual work
  4. It creates problems in cultivation and rearing of cattle
  5. The small children at home get neglected
  6. Collection of forest material will be hampered
  7. Education will create problems for their culture
  8. Education will hamper private income

According to the Bondo culture the income earned out of sale of forest produce is considered individual income. In other words, the Bondo culture promotes children growing up as independent earning members. Schooling of their children renders them dependent on their parent's income. Schooling thereby destroys the socio-economic structure of the community. Education detribalizes the tribal communities, distances them from their culture, instills negative attitudes and they are often ashamed of their origin.


Kundu (2000) feels that 'continuity and change' in the development of people should replace 'gain and loss'. By introducing the watch, the tribal community lost out on reading time through nature, i.e., by the movement of the sun. Attracting the aborigines of Australia by gifting them the steel axe and replacing the stone axe displaced the power structure of the community. Those who possessed the stone axe were rich and powerful, respected and obeyed. "The stone axe, or the possession of it, controlled the social structure of the Australian aborigines" (ibid).

Gifting the steel axe resulted in the destruction of its power structure.

In an effort to help the tribal community in the Koraput district of Orissa, the UNICEF gifted the community one hundred jersey cows with fodder and medicine. The project failed. The reason - "Tribals strongly believe that the milk of the cow is for its calf and it is a sin to deprive the calf of its mother's milk" (ibid).

Tiwari (2000) points out that the Baiga tribals of Madhya Pradesh call themselves "dharti putra" (children of the earth). They were a healthy tribe, who lived in wooded habitats and survived off the forest yield. In 1935, the British changed them from shifting cultivators, hunters, and bamboo workers to settlers on arable land. This, according to the non-tribals, is a step in development. With disease, malnutrition, hand pumps with water that tastes bad, the Baiga Development Project initiated in 1978 in 1200 villages led to their destruction. The rate of literacy is below 5%; modern medicine is too expensive, so they continue to seek out shamans ("Guniya") or witch doctors ("ojha"). The benefits, according to Tiwari, were diverted to the non-tribals.

Goody (ibid, p. 22) points out, "we Anthropologists are interested but in our own way and on our terms. That has always seemed to me the way to ruin. There is no Anthropological Truth, enlightenment, or even insight that is not related to the work of scholars in other fields." He probably meant the lack of inter-disciplinary approaches to research.


Edward Sapir (1921: 142) pointed out, "everyone knows that language is variable." So also culture is variable and so are methods of research. All have an inherent structure. It seems that all along it was unimportant and unessential to relate research results with peoples' development. In fact, peoples' development has to necessarily involve peoples' active participation in their own development.

Total development of a people is that the central concern of research is to coordinate and collaborate across disciplines. The advances in technology significantly affect the study of societies, and ushers "theoretical" shifts. Its cumulative influence from simple tape-recording voices to video-recording events in actual conditions of performance enables accurate interpretation of continuity and change. Therefore, a last question is, Are theoretical tools and working definitions adequate to unearth the changing scenario, which are complex, fluid and diverse? Are analytical tools homogenizing research results?


Discussing the Development Paradigm of the tribal people, Roy Burman (2000) says,

The first step towards new development paradigm should start with swapping the colonial legacies in legal epistemology." If this is achieved a "partnership approach" in "securing intellectual property right of the tribal people in respect of the knowledge system and practices which enabled them to maintain the bio-diversity of their habitat for centuries" must be "carried out with peoples' participation and partnership.


History in any form reveals the identity of that form. The histories of the social sciences are very different but there are similarities. "Development" has multiple connotations. For the Linguist it is development of the language, for the Economist it is eradication of poverty by widening channels to generate employment opportunities, for the Educationist it is opening up schools and for the Anthropologist it is interpreting peoples' cultures. Language is the central mode through which cultural processes are articulatable and articulated (Silverstein, 1998). It is likely that in this complex phenomenon of human behavior the concept of 'development' will continue to be increasingly vague.

Pfaffenberger (1992) points out,

Against the Standard View's exaggerated picture of technological evolution from simple tools to complex, machines, the socio-technical system concepts puts forward a universal conception of human technological activity in which complex social structures, non-verbal activity systems, advanced linguistic communication, the ritual coordination of labor, advanced artifact manufacture, the linkage of phenomenally diverse social and non-social actors, and the social use of diverse artifacts are all recognized as parts of a single complex that is simultaneously adaptive and expressive.

The missing link, therefore, seems to be the insufficient coordination and cooperation in the midst of compartmentalization of research. In a complex multilingual, multicultural context like India, we need to appropriate and approximate aspects of research for the progress of the powerless people.


Deepak Tiwari. 2000. The Lost Tribe. Aboriginal Baigas on the verge of becoming extinct. The Week. June 25, 2000.

Ganguly, Ashok. 2000. Liberalization. Reforms for the Poor. Asian Age. 27.6.2000.

Jack Goody. 1991. Prefatory Chapter. Annual Review of Anthropology. Vol. 20

Kundu, Mamatha. 2000. Continuity and change in the behavior patterns of educated Tribals: Some personal encounters. Paper presented at the National Seminar on Tribal Cultures in Transition. 2000.

Le Page, B. R. 1996. A Sociolinguistic Theory of Language. The Handbooks of Sociolinguistics.

Martinet. A. 1953. Preface to U. Weinreich. Languages in Contact. Mouton. The Hague.

Pfaffenberger, Bryan. 1992. The Social Anthropology of Technology. Annual Review of Anthropology. Volume 21.

Roy Burman, B. K. 2000. Tribal Culture in Transition and Development Paradigm. Keynote Address at the National Seminar on "Tribal Culture in Transition". Utkal University of Culture. Bhubaneswar.

Sapir, E. 1921. Language. An Introduction to the Study of Speech.

Silverstein, M. 1998. Contemporary transformations in Local Linguistic Communities. Annual Review of Anthropology. Volume 27, 1998.

A version of this article was presented at the International Seminar On Linguistic and Interdisciplinary Approaches to Critical Resources to Development. CIIL, Mysore, 2000.



Jennifer M. Bayer, Ph.D.
Central Institute of Indian Languages
Mysore 570006, India

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