This post is part of a series of interviews with guest hosts. @AsiaLangs online A rotating Twitter campaign on Rising Voices.
Ganesh Birua is a young activist from the village of Dighiaveda in the Mayurbanj district of Orissa, eastern India. He was the first person in his village to use the Internet for any purpose. In 2014, he opened his first Facebook account, but was unable to find his native Ho language on the internet.
Ho is an Austro-Asiatic Munda language spoken by more than one million speakers from the Ho, Munda, Kolha and Kol communities in the Indian states of Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal. . The name “Ho” comes from the Ho tribe word “𑣙𑣉𑣉”, which means “human”.
During the first few years, Birua studied the script of Ho (called Warang Citi) and started posting the letters and words of Ho on his Facebook page. He started his Elabu Etona Warang Citi (Let’s Learn Warang Citi) blog, twitter, YouTube and Instagram to promote this language online. These social media accounts have become a major source of information on the development of the Ho language.
Rising Voices asked Birua about his efforts to expose his native language to the internet. An edited excerpt of the interview follows.
Rising Voices (RV): Tell us about yourself and your language work.
Ganesh Birua (UK): Johar [greeting in Ho language]I belong to the Ho community in Orissa, India and am a graduate student. I love creating online content, it’s my hobby. Since 2017, I have been participating in the Ho language script Warang Chiti Project 2030. I have created over 500 images so far. We post image content daily on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
I studied in Odia until grade 12, but I had trouble speaking it. At home, I only spoke Ho, so I wasn’t familiar with any other language.
Language was a big struggle for me — I wasn’t fluent in other languages, so I couldn’t make friends in college. Now I can speak, read and write in her 5 languages.
It wasn’t until I left my village for higher education that I discovered the existence of the Internet. I first found out about our script Warang Chiti on Facebook in 2013. Excited to learn the script, I immediately tried to Google it, but found no Waranchichi-related content.
It’s a shame that there isn’t online content available in specific languages and scripts today. I wanted to translate this into my native language. My biggest struggle was creating a new identity for the Ho language through the Warang Chiti script. Indian digital news publications Scroll.in and Argus have written about my efforts.
RV: What is the current state of your language, both online and offline?
GB: New Ho language content has started appearing online. Today, young users are creating high-quality video and audio content (mainly songs for entertainment), and an increasing number of viewers are starting to watch it.
I think most people fell in love with the language after these songs first became popular. Now we release about 50 to 60 songs a month.
Over the last few years there has been work to create digital content for Ho Wikipedia and ho.triballanguage.in, which I am also involved in. Anyone who wants to learn Waran Chithi online can learn it quickly in a very easy way. But this is not enough. Apart from this, digital content on various subjects such as cultures, traditions and languages should be made available.
Now Ho Virtual Keyboard is also available on smartphones and desktops for writing text. Creating text content with this keyboard is very easy and quick.
From 2021, the Android 11 version will support Waranchichi script. Now you can create Warang Chiti scripts directly from your mobile phone on social platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and blogs. Chat with your friends in our language on Messenger and WhatsApp.
Ho language promotion is doing better offline than online. Program meetings and awareness campaigns are carried out from village to village to raise people’s awareness. Its purpose is to encourage people in the community to pay attention to the language and fight for it.
Orissa has Ho language MLE (Multilingual Education) teachers and classes 1 to 5 are taught in their mother tongue. Along with this, the government published the Odia Ho dictionary.
The annual National Ho Youth Congress (NHYM) was formed to protect the Ho language and culture. In Jharkhand, you can learn Ho language at university level. However, it must be available for study at the primary education level. There have been several rallies and protests calling for the language to be included in Schedule 8 of the Constitution (as an official language).
RV: What motivates you to see your language exist in the digital space?
GB: When I started this job, I never thought I could go further. Over the next several years, I tried many different things and worked hard. Focused on doing more. Initially, you could only create image content in three languages. After that, I started writing in a total of 6 languages.
In recent years, people have started to discover and like my work. Now I receive a lot of likes, comments and shares for my content.
I get the most inspiration when someone shares my post. You can also get inspired by seeing content in your own language. Examples: Hooter Baa (pink flower) and Gulel (children’s toy).
RV: Describe some of the challenges that are preventing your language from being fully used online.
GB: The Internet has become a part of our daily lives and it is now essential to move with it. Ignore the internet and we’ll be left behind — no doubt about it.
It was only a few years ago that our community started using the Internet. About 90% of the speakers live in villages with limited internet access. This is one reason why we have so little connection with the digital world.
So far, there are only 3 3rd party applications with Ho mobile keyboard. Some phones are difficult to install. Having the Ho language in the Gboard app will help more people use it seamlessly.
Warang Chiti scripts are only supported on Android 11, but 80% of the community is using Android 9 and 10. Because of this, these people cannot see the Warang Chiti script.
Creating digital content requires awareness. I sometimes involve people in the Ho community in my work and give them admin rights. I wish I had an admin who could help me with the content creation and update the posts daily.
From 6th to 12th September 2022, Ganesh Birua will @AsiaLangs online Rotating Twitter accounts that explore how technology can be used to revitalize Asian languages. Click here for campaign details.