THE MON LANGUAGE
(An endangered species)
By Dr. SM
Out of the over 6000 languages that are in the use in the world today, it is estimated that over half of these will become extinct by the end of the coming century. The languages thus involved will almost exclusively be those of the minorities of the countries concerned. Minority languages in general face difficult challenges in their struggle to survive, or thrive. These challenges are from many fronts, political, social, economic and sometimes, military. Military conflicts, especially ethnically based conflicts, can result in the decimation of ethnic population as well as their displacements and dispersions, creating the conditions for the loss or later assimilation of the languages involved. These sort of situation can even now be seen, in their worst forms, in the recent conflicts of Central Africa and Central Europe. At least based on recent historical occurrences, such conflicts, even when they involved extensive interracial killings or even genocide, had not resulted in the extinction of any of the minority languages. Probably the ethnic populations concerned had to be reduced to below a critical minimum level before such a thing could occur. In the final analysis, it is not so much the military conflicts per se that are a threat to minority language, but the political and social disturbances that follow that do more damage, and even these take time to act. The more insidious and real threat to any minority language, however, is its gradual assimilation by the language of the majority or the prestige language, especially when that language carry the stamp of authority and is enforced as the primarylanguage for official transactions and education.
Let us consider briefly some of the more important ways in which these political, social and economic factors can challenge the survival ofminority languages.
Political: An attempt will be made here to focus on the effects of the European colonization on many of the worlds languages. It is felt that this can vividly illustrate the factors, political or otherwise, that are adversely affecting the minority languages of the world, and their interplay in bringing about the extinction, or slidetowards extinction, of these languages.
The long period of European colonization had been responsible for drastic changed in the worlds political and social picture. Accompanying these had been similarly drastic changes in the worlds language scene, with the repercussions continuing to this day long after the active colonization phase had ended. By the time the European colonization was over after the second world war, their domination had been established throughout the American and Australian continents and in large part of Africa and Asia as well, and they were firmly settled inthe former two continents.
In their efforts to extend their political and cultural influences and to make way for their settlers, at least in the earlier phase, they had not hesitated to indulge in wholesale killings of the native populations and had dispersed or carted-off thousands of them, while suppressing the native cultures and languages. These factors, together with the extensive epidemics of communicable diseases brought in by the white settlers themselves, resulted in the severe decimation of the indigenous populations, especially in the Americas and Australia. These were to have long-term consequences on the populations and languages of the natives concerned; in any case on those of them that had managed to survive.
The language of the colonists were, naturally, assigned as the officialor prestige language to be used for all official, commercial and other transactions in the regions concerned. In areas where this was not feasible, or where a second language was called for, an indigenous language, not always that of the majority population, was designated to be the prestige language to be used in preference to all the other indigenous languages in these areas. This led to the loss of utility value of the other minority languages, resulting in the progressive switching-over of the minority speakers to the prestige language. The media (information and communication media), i.e. the printed publications and the radios, which were usually in the prestige language, had been an important element during the colonial days, as it is even more so now, in drawing more and more people away from the minority languages and had helped to increase still further theutility-gap between these languages.
Also, the improvements in transportation gave rise to an influx of the prestige language and other language speakers into areas populated by minority language speakers, eroding the status of isolation which the latter had previously enjoyed and which had helped to protect their languages and cultures. It had helped too, to facilitate the outward movements of the minority speakers, further reducing their numbers in the areas concerned and adding to the pressures on theirlanguages.
All these factors contributed to the wholesale disappearance of minority languages. The small minorities, with populations of less than 10,000, were the most easily affected, although no minorities escaped these adverse effects and their aftermath. The disturbances in the political and social equilibrium generated by the European colonization process had long-term consequences which continues to this day, affectingmore and more languages that had hitherto escaped extinction.
As can be seen here, most of the factors having a negative impact on minority languages were at play during, and as a consequence of, the European colonization. These include reduction and dispersion of minority speakers, suppression of minority languages, their loss of utility, the rise of prestige languages, the role of the media in increasing the utility-gap and that of improved transportation in disturbing the protective isolation of the minority speakers. An additional problem faced by minority languages is the understandable reluctance of most national authorities to countenance the development of minority languages in the belief that such a course may be harmful to the homogeneity and integrity of their states or regions. Although all these events were not exclusive to the colonial process and could have, in one way or another, happened anywhere and at any place without it; nevertheless, this European colonial process had magnified them into a global phenomenon and had accelerated their occurrences into a concentrated span of time so that the minority languages involved had nochance to regain their equilibrium and recover.
Most of the factors mentioned, even if brought about by different circumstances, have also been at work and having similar consequences in other countries including the European colonial countries themselves. The Welsh and the Yorkshire languages or dialects in Great Britain, for example, are as endangered as, say, the Mon language in Myanmar. It may be mentioned, however, that the Welsh language is now experiencing a revival. The nationalistic endeavors of the Welsh community particularly their campaign to revive their language and culture had been bearing fruit in the past decades, and Welsh is now being increasingly employed in the homes, in society, and in the media. The recent unfolding of the Welsh devolution process, together with the anticipated progress in the social and economic fields and the fuller employment of the Welsh language in education, in the media, for official dealings etc., will help to further reinforce this revival still, much in the critical list and in immediate danger of extinction are many of the worlds small minority languages right across the globe. The remaining speakers of these languages range in number from just a handful to a few hundreds. The Ongota and Elmolo languages of Ethiopia which have less than 20 speakers, and the eighteen or so endangered languages in Alaska having similar number of speakersare just a few of the examples that may be cited.
The effects of the colonial period on languages had not always been detrimental. The European colonization was not able to affect the languages of those people who had a strong national identity and a large-enough population. In fact it even helped the growth of the languages which were granted prestige status by them. The introduction of English as primary language in countries such as India and Nigeria had been helpful in greatly improving the intercommunal communications in these countries and in bringing about some degree of people-to-people understandings and had been a boon to the growth of education and knowledge in these countries, not least because of the vast store of knowledge available in the English language. All these had not been without a price, however. The very fact that the English language had been providing easy access to everything, from the world of science to the latest in the information media, would also have helped to suppress the growth and adaptation of the local languages, which otherwise would have developed in a normal manner to keep pace with the advances in all fields of knowledge, as had been the case in countries not thus colonized.
Economic: More direct effects of the economy onlanguages are seen when poor economic conditions compel masses of people of an ethnic minority community to migrate to more affluent regions in which their language is not spoken. In less obvious ways economics, especially when combined with social factors, can help to determine whether a minority language or writing will continue to be taught, spoken or used in a region. Poor economic and social utility of a language will tend to lessen its usage and learning. For minority children living in an environment speaking their own language, learning the mother tongue is almost automatic as they pick up the language both within their homes and outside; while for those living in an environment speaking a different language, especially the prestige language, it is an uphill task for the parents to make them speak it. For parents struggling for economic survival (or even for economic prosperity) that is somethingeven more difficult to achieve.
Social: Social factors also play a major role indetermining the course of a minority group and its language. Amongst these, intermarriage is of special importance. Intermarriage of members of a minority language group with members of the majority population usually leads to the loss of the offspring and their descendants to the majority population. It could work either way when the marriage is between members of two minority language groups, the direction of the exchange depending usually upon which group, and probably which family, exercises the greater socioeconomic pull. However, when these people reside in an area where the majority language is spoken, the likely outcome is that the prestige or majority language will be the one ultimately adopted.
Social pressures, including racial discrimination, often influencesmembers of a minority ethnic group to try to identify themselves with the majority group, preferring to side with the perceived winning team rather than the losing one. This, in turn, will affect their inclinationsto speak the mother tongue in public or even to teach it to theirchildren.
The disappearance of minority languages in the face of more dominant or useful languages is a trend in the world which is now fast accelerating in view of the enhanced interaction of peoples brought about by advances in communications and by the globalization process in commerce, in knowledge and ideas. Gone are the days when communities can have their languages and cultures protected by being in splendid isolation; physically protected from the inroads of alien cultures andinfluences.
A case in point is that of the Nyah Kur community in the hills of the Korat plateau of Thailand. This community of about 2000 residing in about 25 villages now live in the almost inaccessible regions mentioned. They have been there since time immemorial; probably during the period when that area of Thailand was part of greater Monland. Their language and culture are quite different from that of the rest of Thailand. The language had only recently been discovered to be the same as that spoken by the Mons before the Thai conquest. The isolated geographical location of the community had helped to preserve its language and culture. However latter-day improvements in roads and communications have been bringing their benefits as well as their toll on the community, so that progressively fewer villagers are now able to retain their language and culture.
Present Course of the Mon language
The Mon language had its earliest known historical background in oldMonland which used to occupy much of present day Thailand and lower Myanmar well before the 6th century. The Mon language spoken and written then was quite different from that to which it has evolved today, as can be gauged from comparisons of present-day Mon with the old Mon found in inscriptions from those period. The turn of events subsequently taken by the language in Myanmar and in Thailand are somewhat different, as will be describedbelow.
The Thai situation
It is not known when the Mons first entered present-day Thailand. It must have been from the east and before the 6th century AD, because Mon inscriptions dating to that period had been found there; while chronicles and other historical evidences suggest a much earlier presence. From here they must have fanned westward and penetrated southward along the Malay peninsular at least to the lower reaches of Thailand. There are evidences of Mon-Khemer linguistic influences in the population in that region, probably through contact with the Mons coming from the north. These influences are more apparent in the population of the islands of the Mergui archipelago whose positions of isolation had helped preserved their languages. The Mon extension into lower Myanmar was most probably via Thailand so that the Monland of that period must have covered whole regions of lower Myanmar and vast tracts of Thailand extending from the far north to its southern tip. The Thai-speakers were not in the picture until the 13th century. Meanwhile, the main groups that were in contact with the Mon-speakers had been the Khemers, belonging to the same Mon-Khemer linguistic group, with whom they were constantly engaged in endless struggles for supremacy in eastern and central Thailand. These struggles came to an end after the coming of the Thai speakers. After the final conquest of the country by the Thais in the 13th century, there was a gradual assimilation of the Mons, and the Mon language as it existed then disappeared, except perhaps, in the pocket of land in the Korat plateau previously mentioned.
The assimilation process continues to this day affecting the waves ofMon migrants that have been finding their way into Thailand since ancient times as war refugees or as economic migrants. Quite a number of refugees had crossed over from Myammar before the British occupation of that country. These refugees were mostly settled in sizable colonies in and near Bangkok. About half a century ago, whole communities in suburban areas of the city, such as Pak-lat and Pak-kred, speak the Mon language. Now, only the handful of the elderly in these places speak it. Recent migrants are another matter. Most of them are economic migrants the country individually or in small groups who, except for those in refugee camps, live and work in scattered areas in Bangkok as well as in other parts of the country. Should they continue to live on in Thailand, it is unlikely that their offspring will be speaking the Mon language any more.
The Myanmay situation
In Myanmar, the same downturn is to be seen, but under different circumstances. The Mons had initially been the dominant community in lower Myanmar. They may have been there from time immemorial as part of the old Monland just mentioned. Chronicles had it that the Indian emperor Asoka, who reigned during the third century BC, dispatched two envoys to Suvannabhumi, the Mon kingdom in lower Myanmar. However, with the coming of the Burmese, the subsequent see-saw struggles for supremacy, the later triumph of the Burmese and then the occupation by the British, the country finally say the Burmese becoming the dominant social force in the country. The Burmanization process, involving the assimilation of the Mon language and its replacement by the Burmese language, started before the advent of British rule; but with the Burmese language then becoming the official language and the medium language for education and commerce, the process gained further momentum. The Burmanization probably started in Yangon and the delta regions after the 18th century. Now Mon is not spoken in these regions, except in migrant populations. The inhabitants mostly do not realize that they are of the Mon descent. Only the Mon names of villages, creeks or pagodas are there to bear silent testimony to the fact that these places were once inhabited by the Mons. This goes to highlight onceagain, the truism that once a language disappears the race does too.
This language assimilation later extended into Bago and Hanthawaddy regions and is now spreading towards Mottama and Mawlamyaing. In the area below Taungoo west of the Thanlwin rever only isolated clusters of villages remain where the inhabitants still speak Mon. The area in the now Mon state east of the Thanlwin could be considered as the last bastion of the Mon-speakers. However even this bastion appears to be crumbling in the face of the relentless assimilative process.
There are thus many areas covering much of lower Myanmar whereinhabitants have lost their identity as Mons because of the language factor. Their cultures had been absorbed into and had help enrich the Myanmar mainstream culture. However in addition to these contributions in the cultural field they had, as Myanmar citizens, made valuable contributions to the country in all fields ranging from the administrative and political to the educational and economic fields. A whos-who list of prominent personalities who had made major contributions in the service of the country, starting from the colonial period will contain a host of names of Mon patriots, most of them not speaking the language but Mons nonetheless. They had largely not been recognized, except by those in the inner circles, mainly because the Mons, unlike most of their brethren belonging to the other minority groups, had generally adopted Burmese names. The same situation may be said to exist in Thailand where the Mons have adoptedThai names.
Counter to what is happening elsewhere, there appears to be an increase in the Mon-speaking populations in many towns on lower Myanmar. This apparent reversal of trend is in the form of the appearance of small and large colonies of Mon-speaking folks in non Mon-speaking towns such as Bago, Mawlamyaing, Mudon and even Yangon. This had been occurring for several decades now. However it is not something Mon patriots should be hastening to celebrate about. The increase in Mon-speaking people in these towns is in reality, a manifestation of the urbanization process which has been occurring on a global scale, and is at the expense of the Mon rural villages. Also past experience has shown that this urban increase will only be temporary because in a generation or two, the offspring of most of these Mon migrants will no longer be speaking the language.
This phenomenon is actually a double-edged sword working against theMon language. The reversal of this urbanization process has been seen to occur when the Mon migrants in these towns return to their villages with their children and grandchildren after an extended period of stay. Usually by this time the children or grandchildren speak Burmese fluently, and may or may not speak the mother tongue. The villagers, particularly the children, even if they had hitherto been speaking amongst themselves in Mon, are compelled to speak to the returnees in Burmese. Thus a nidus of Burmese-speaking children is established, or reinforced if the children had already begun to converse with each other in Burmese. The more such returnees there are, themore the problem is compounded.
As we have seen, the Mon language is sliding steadily towards final obliteration. Although the situation is not as critical as with many other languages in the world also facing extinction, such as the Ongota and Elmolo languages of Ethiopia just alluded to, which have less than 20 speakers, or the 100 or so languages in the Americas with less than 300 speakers, the signs are there loud and clear and should be a call to action for those concerned with the survival of the Mon language.
It is appropriate at this point to consider the factors responsible forthis decline. We have dealt briefly with the general causes of minority language decline; let us now try to deal more specifically with the more important factors as they relate to the situation of the Mon language in Myanmar. Most or these should also apply to the Thaisituation.
No matter how strong the external forces pushing for the decline of the Mon language are, it is the internal forces within the community -- its spirit and determination, at the collective as well as the individual level, to preserve the language that is crucial for stemming the decline. Unfortunately this spirit has generally been found to be wanting amongst the Mons; even though there had been recent signs of arevival.
All Mon children who go to school soon learn to speak Burmese fluently, even if they did not know Burmese when joining, because that is the teaching medium. It is therefore up to the parents to teach the mother-tongue to their children not only before they enter school but to continue speaking to them in the language to ensure that they can continue to speak it. Parents, because of vocabulary limitations of the Mon language and fluency problems of their children, usually prefer the convenience of speaking to their children in Burmese rather than summoning that little extra effort, that little zeal or spirit, necessary to train them to speak the mother-tongue properly. The effort necessary to get the offspring to speak the Mon language is compounded when only one of the parents can speak it. In such cases, more often than not, that extra effort will not be forthcoming.
What is more, the writer had observed Mon parents who were ashamed tohave themselves or their offspring identified as Mons and would therefore make no effort to teach the language to the children; and then there are people, especially the young, who think it is out of fashion or even,somehow, degrading to speak in Mon.
However, there are also many bright exceptions to the rule. The writer had known of a husband who had the zeal to teach not only his Burmese-speaking wife but also his children to speak Mon this, in a Burmese-speaking environment. He also knows of a friend who had diligently taught himself to read and write Mon only on reaching early adulthood and could now write and speak Mon fluently. Again this was in a non Mon-speaking environment and in the midst of non Mon-speaking siblings. There had also been parents living in non Mon-speaking environment who used to send their children back to their villages to enable them to speak the mother tongue. If only these exceptions were the rule, the Mon language would not have been in suchdire peril.
A more recent development, which deserves attention, has been the establishment of Mon classes in many villages and towns, in which Mon language and writing are taught. These classes are organized by the local communities with the help of the monasteries which usually provide many of the teachers. This is one of the few positive trends in the generally bleak picture concerning the Mon language, and merits furtherencouragement.
Utility value of the Mon language
The Mon language had lost its utility value in the face of the official and dominant language of the country. It cannot be used for any official communications, for commerce or other interactions. With the loss of utility there is less incentive to learn to write or speak Mon. Progressively fewer people speak or read the language so that there is less commercial incentive to produce books, magazines, newspapers and other reading-matter leading, again, to less incentive to learn Mon, and the utility gap with the majority language continues to widen; and the vicious cycle goes on.
As had been mentioned, Mon is not taught in the schools run by the state. So Mon children have no opportunity to learn to read and write Mon in their schools, even if some of them had learnt to speak their language in their homes or neighborhoods. However there is one factor here in the form of the Mon monasteries which are found in the majority of the Mon speaking villages and towns. These monasteries afford an opportunity for Mon children to learn to read and to write their language. The monasteries are probably doing a good job because a surprising number of Mon youths now entering the Universities can read and write Mon. The Mon classes established in the villages and towns, just alluded to, may have also contributed.
Reading and writing in Mon presents special difficulties. In the first place, written-Mon, is in many respects, quite different from spoken-Mon. This adds to the difficulty of learning Mon writing even for a Mon-speaker. There is another problem. People trying to learn Mon writing are often baffled by the many rules and the many inconsistencies in these rules. The spelling for example can have 2 pronunciations and 2 meanings. Use of some symbols too, is sometimes difficult to understand; _ for example, could stand for and so on. Besides, there are several words containing this symbol which, although spelled the same way, have different pronunciations and have to be learnt more or less by heart. Examples are . Etc., . there are of course, many writings which are much more difficult than the Mon writing, with many more characters to be committed to memory, such as the Chinese writings, for example. However the Mon writing which is facing the threat of extinction cannot afford to turn off new learners by being more difficultto learn than it needs to be.
Another important problem that is hampering the attractiveness and usefulness of the language is its poor vocabulary range. The Mon vocabulary had not kept pace with the time, and had in fact not changed much since the middle-ages. Much of the words are borrowed from Pali or Burmese; some are transliteration of English words. In Thailand the same appears to be the case, with Thai words being substituted instead. Effective communications, not only of modern ideas and developments, but even of everyday events are therefore difficult. In towns and large villages, in particular, where communications usually involves more than day-to-day and household events, Mon folks usually prefer to speak in the major-tongue or revert to the major-tongue very often, even if they were initially speaking toeach other in Mon.
It is said that having words from other languages will help to enrich a language. This is probably true for languages that already has a sound basic vocabulary. But when the basic vocabulary is already weak, like the Mon language, there is a danger that the language may be swamped by the foreign language elements. If the Mon language is made up largely of Burmese words, why would Mons bother to speak with each other in Mon? Wouldnt speaking in Burmese be more convenient? The question of language assimilation then becomes morereal.
Many of the ethnic groups in Myanmar, particularly the Chins and Kachins enjoy the protection of geographic location and difficult access so that they are relatively unaffected by the assimilative process. The Mons, lying in the fertile plains of lower Myanmar, do not enjoy that seclusion. Besides, the Mons had been in so close contact with the Burmese, both in war and in peace, that there had come about the Burmese saying, Mon and Burmese are the same. This augers well for national unity, but it can also be a formula for the rapid assimilationof the Mon language.
There had been quite an appreciable migration of the Mon population from the rural areas, particularly near the border with Thailand. The migrations were either to other places inside the country or into Thailand. Although the migrations had previously been due to of civil wars and insurrections, the causes at the present time are mainly economic. The relative poor local economic conditions in the rural areas has been leading to an influx of migrants into the towns, affecting the urbanization process previously mentioned. The economic attractions from across the Thai border had also been too tempting for the hundreds and thousands of Mon village folks who had so far crossed over. The net result is that many of the villages in these areas are almost empty. The long-term adverse effect on the Mon language, as a whole and in the region, remains to be seen and will ultimately depend upon the total number of migrants involved, on whether they will ultimately be returning to the villages, how long they will be staying away, and a host of other factors. The key to the solution of this problem, as with many other problems facing the Mons, is economicdevelopment in the region.
Influence of the entertainment media
There are very limited entertainment options for the Mon folks inthe villages. The cinema and the television are only available in the towns and larger villages. Only a limited program in Mon is available on the radio and that offers little entertainment value. The only viable entertainment at the moment, which is spreading in the villages, is the video. The video-shows are available in video-houses sprouting up in the villages, and rural Mon folks frequent these video-houses for their entertainment. As the programs available are almost exclusively in Burmese, except for a scattering of foreign action-pictures, the Mon folks constantly exposed to these programs become used to the Burmese language and are prone to adopt the expressions and language of their role-models on the screen. It is learnt that with the advent of these video-houses, many more Mon youths are beginning to converse with each other in Burmese, even in villages where only Mon was once spoken.
Actions to be taken
What should be done by the Mons to overcome this downward slide? There are many things that could be done. The author has taken the liberty to humbly suggest some of the more important ones, particularly those that can be undertaken at the community levels. The list will by no means be complete and the practicality of some will depend upon place and circumstances. However, the action-plan has been presented to show that there are many things that can still be done to overcome the downturn and, also to provide possible guideline for those who are eager to do something about the problem on their own or to be used as a basis for action-plans for organizations wishing to undertake the same initiatives on a regional or national scale. Some of the proposals may need to be modified or changed, based on local circumstances. It should be noted that families or communities bent on doing something about the situation need not wait for regional or central bodies to be formed to organize these activities for them. They should be able to choose and carry out such activities as are suitable locally even though such isolated activities may not, as noted below be as effective as when they are part of a concerted effort. Such centers of isolated activities can be coordinated at a later stage to make them more effective.
As the cause is multifactorial and sustained, the problem needs also to be tackled from different angles and in a comprehensive and sustained manner. Single isolated measures, no matter how good, will not be as effective. It will be of not much use, for example, to provide Mon books and other reading material to encourage people to learn Mon if no attempts are made to teach people to read them and vice versa. A package of measures are needed, to be implemented at the same time as far as possible - each measure dovetailing into the others. Also, need for other additional activities will turn up as the program is being implemented. It is important that all activities are conducted within the bounds of existing laws.
The activities suggested here are mainly social and cultural measuresthat can be undertaken at community levels. However favorable regional and local economic conditions are also necessary to prevent further egress of Mon speakers and to provide the appropriate environment for educational, social, and cultural development and the nurturing of the Mon language. Economic and infrastructure development are largely within the realm of governmental responsibilities and outside the scope of this article. Still, communities can help by bringing the attention of the authorities and developmental agencies to the needs of their areas and by participating and helping in developmental projects affecting them. Also they can help by encouraging local businessesand entrepreneurs engaging in activities beneficial to theirregions.
Activities suggested are as follows:
-To draw attention of the Mon community to this relentless side towards extinction of the Mon language and race.
-To try to instill some patriotic spirit amongst the Mons and a sense ofpride in their community and language.
-To motivate and to generate the determination amongst the Mons toarrest this downward slide, and to regard this task as a national cause for the Mon community requiring concerted and sustained action.
Motivation of Mon parents
-To organize a sustained campaign, including peer pressure, to motivate Mon parents to teach the mother-tongue to their children.
-To provide the competitive prizes and honors for parents who are ableto teach all their children to speak the language fluently.
-To encourage parents to send their children to schools, monastic andotherwise, or to Mon classes, to learn Mon language and writing.
-To ensure that all scholarships / stipends and prizes in the programmeant for children, are only for those speaking Mon.
-To encourage the opening of Mon -speaking day-care centers andnurseries for busy parents.
-To encourage parents who live in non Mon-speaking environment, who can not train their children to speak the language at home, to send their children, during vacations etc., back to their villages, to the grandparents or other places where the children can speak their tongue. It may be necessary to keep this up until the children are well into their teens, because they can easily forget a language even if they had been speaking it fluently during childhood.
Mon language teaching
-To work for having Mon to be taught in primary schools in Mon areas and to establish private Mon schools where feasible.
-To provide community support and encouragement for monasteries teachingMon reading and writing, and community pressure and help to do so inmonasteries that do not.
-To open Mon language classes or schools wherever needed, and to provide community support for such classes and schools.
-To draw up standardized syllabus and texts for monastic andnon-monastic Mon teaching.
Incentives to learn Mon
-To produce or encourage production of publications such as journals, book, newspapers etc. in Mon, covering a range of subjects of topical interest and of the arts and sciences.
-To work for increase in Mon programs in the radio and TV.
-To provide video programs of general interest and wholesomeentertainment value in the Mon language and to distribute suitable Burmese and foreign video-programs either with Mon language subtitles orvoice-dubbed in Mon.
-To provide opportunities for Mon writers to publish their works.
-To hold competitions and prize distributions for different levels ofMon writers.
-To have debating contests and prizes for Mon speakers.
-To organize pen-friend clubs to enable Mon youths to exercise their Monwriting skills and also the opportunity to socialize.
Review of Mon language and writing
-To review and reform Mon writing to establish an expert committeefor the purpose.
-To review and enhance the Mon vocabulary. This should be a long-term task for which an independent standing committee should be constituted with power to co-op the required experts.
The above 2 bodies will need to have the necessary authority to enable their recommendations to be implemented. Government blessing and support should be sought.
Much of the activities are community-based and can be carried out, at least initially, by independent individual communities. However it will be necessary on the long-term to have an appropriate organization constituted to be able to plan, coordinate and implement these and future activities on a sufficiently wide-scaled and sustained manner to really have the desired impact. It is important that this organization should have the support and cooperation of the Mon people as a whole and the blessing of the state as well. It should necessarily be non-political, although it will seek the cooperation of relevant political and non political organizations, and of the authorities concerned whenever necessary to carry out its activities. As much of the activities will be at the grass-root levels, the communities at these levels, i.e. the villages, wards and townships, should be allowed to operate on a self-sustaining basis with the center only providing guidance, support and coordination. At the center, various commissions or committees can be formed to carry out specific tasks suchas review of Mon writings.
Since the task is a long-term one, it is necessary to have a firm constitution for the organization to prevent deviation from its objectives etc. as time goes on.
At the periphery, operation should be on a community self-supporting basis relying on voluntary man power in most case. Funds needed should be generated at the community level except for certain special activities. At the center, many of the activities will require funding. Public donation will have to be the main source. However other means of generating funds will have to be devised later on. For certain long-term activities trust-funds mayhave to be set up.
The writer feels that urgent attention needs to be drawn to thismatter of the creeping decline of the Mon language while there is still time and before the Mon speaking population has shrunken to levels whichwould make survival impossible.
Even now, there is no certainty that this inexorable decline, which is also part of a world-wide trend, can be stemmed in spite of all the efforts that may be put into it. However there had been instances, such as that of the Hebrew language, in which a language had been revived by a great national effort necessary to save their language rather than resigning themselves to fate. They will need to be preparedfor a prolonged struggle probably extending into many generations.
The fate of the Mon language, and ultimately of the Mons as a community, will now depend upon whether the Mons themselves measure up to the task.