In the Nilgiri district of Tamil Nadu alone, more than ten tribal/unlettered languages are spoken and one among them is Badaga. In the Nilgiri linguistic area, Badaga tops in the number of speakers. Badagas have separate hamlets of their own and due to this almost all the Badagas who live in these hamlets, for at least a few years, can speak and understand Badaga language. During the recent past many Badagas have migrated to other places and the Badagas who are living outside the Nilgiris, identify these hamlets as their native place. Hence, except a few, all are having the natural inclination towards this language and culture. With over four hundred Badaga villagers and few others, Badaga consolidated its language domain and kept its linguistic area almost intact despite many strong negative influences. In recent times, the idea of cultural awareness has increased and this trend induced many indigenous people to look to Badaga as prestigious.
Making Badaga as a written language, in addition to the desideratum of the community, is to actually use the language and to expand its domains. Of course as a spoken language, Badaga speech area expanded its territory considerably over the last few decades. Badaga population too is increasing day by day and now the Badaga speakers are more in numbers compared with the Badaga population found in beginning years of last century. The definition of the Badaga as a single language is not a problematic. Since whatever major dialect language variations may have existed earlier, now the language is spoken more or less uniformly in all Badaga hamlets, which are sparsely located in the entire Nilgiri hills.
Non – literary, oral (spoken), minor, undeveloped, non-scheduled, dominated, not used in education, administration, judiciary, legislature or other levels, not vehicle of power and prestige, high incidence of bilingualism, not used as media in electronic, audio and visual programs, no script of its own, oral literature, etc., are the attributives of a tribal/unlettered language. It is to be noted that the script of its own may change most of these attributes in to the positive note. Hence, it is natural to expect the speakers of unlettered languages are eager to have a script.
The basis for general use of a written language must include, among other things, two crucial elements 1. An adequately expressive writing system and 2. Broad based acceptance of that writing system. Among these the first one is to be considered as a foundation and an individual can earmark a suitable script. But the second one is very hard which requires continuous work as well as involvement of many. Since the beginning of the last century, the idea of having a script for Badaga language is mooted out by few individuals now and then and it has not attained the central stage at any part of this period. Unfortunately, to look into this matter, in Badaga speech area, no formal language academy or committee has ever existed. The awareness in this regard is lacking in community level.
Documentation of any unwritten spoken language is expected to result in a grammar, a dictionary, texts and teaching materials. Linguistic/anthropological scholars did systematic works on Badaga and its culture. They have produced scientific and relevant materials in few areas. These scholarly works are available in English, Tamil, French etc., Hence, use of these works to local people is found to be almost nil. To our dismay, it is to be noted that most of the local people are unaware of these developments altogether. In addition to documentation, encouragement must be given for creative literary works. Actually this is more crucial for cultivating any language. When we produce literary master pieces the language gets its due recognition and it will pave its own growth. Documentation and other activities may be in Tamil, English etc., But creative writings must be in Badaga which requires broad based accepted script.
For centuries Badagas, the speakers of the language have been living in the Nilgiri hills in isolation and they created culture and linguistic traits among themselves. During the past Badaga played very well in its role for communication. Of course with the present generation’s bilingualism and multilingualism, it lost its sheen considerably. In the present situation mono- lingualism is unthinkable among Badaga speakers. So Badaga has to develop its own path to grow with bilingualism and multilingualism.
To know the language is the key to keep and preserve the culture. Using one’s mother tongue at home will make it easier for children to be comfortable with their own cultural identity. Badaga language is the essence and identity of Badaga culture. The situation of indigenous tribal language is unique. A close observation of the day to day life of an ordinary tribe is sufficient to convince anyone the humane values among tribal people have much to offer to the so called civilized world. The literacy rate of the Badagas is growing with the pace of other communities. But the Badaga literacy is not yet be started i.e. up to now Badaga’s existence is only with oral form. It seems, it is easy to popularize the existing letters of the neighboring languages with minor changes, instead of going new script for Badaga. To this the multilingualism of Badagas is an asset and their acquaintance with other language will help for making their language a lettered one.