I just came across an article in The Hindu which reports on a new script for the Bagatha language that was developed by Professor Prasanna Sree. The language is reported to be spoken in the Araku valley region of the Vishakapatnam district. Given that I know a fair share about that part of India, it always baffles me that every now and then a new language or language name pops up. So what is this Bagatha language? Is it a distinct language of – probably – Indo-Aryan provenance? Is it a dialect of Telugu or Oriya? Is it a mere sociolinguistic variance of Telugu? Well nobody seems to know, or bothers to give details.
I couldn’t find anything on the Bagatha language in the pertinent linguistic and anthropological literature. In texts from the colonial period – such as the Vizagapatam District Gazetteer – the Bagatha community appears several times, but if a linguistic affiliation is mentioned they figure as Telugu speakers. I didn’t find any reference to a Bagatha language in texts from this period.
So I did a short web search and even there it is little to nothing about this language. The Ethnologue (paywall!) has no information about Bagatha. Although some statements on the web seem to indicate that an older version of the Ethnologue had an entry for an Indo-Aryan language “Bagata” which was classified as an Eastern Indo-Aryan language and was reported for Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. I was not able to verify this, but if it is correct: Why was it removed from the catalogue? Beyond that, Omniglot – which is also mentioned in the original Hindu article – specifically mentions the Bagatha language, but no further information is given. The Bagatha are occasionally mentioned on other sites and tend to be associated with either Telugu or Desia/Adivasi Oriya, but all groups in this region of the Eastern Ghats speak one if not both of these languages, so this alone is no evidence for the non-existense of a distinct Bagatha language. However, a page from the CIIL even states that the Bagathas, amongst others, do not have distinctive linguistic identity, but then why do they need a separate script?
So what is the Bagatha language? I honestly don’t know. The Eastern Ghats are a highly diverse area and are still understudied. So everything is possible, but some things are more likely than others.
Languages of three major language families of India are spoken in these hills: Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, and Munda. In general, we know more about the Dravidian and Munda languages of the region, than about the small local Indo-Aryan languages. So given the lack of any substantial evidence, my guess would be that Bagatha is a small Indo-Aryan language, probably rather closely related to Oriya. Otherwise it is probably a dialect of Telugu. Anything else would be a major surprise for me.
If anybody knows more about this language I would be happy to learn more!
(I wrote this post on 9/18/2010 for an older blog of mine, just putting it here for reference.)