Comprehension, translation, production: Naga languages need development

Comprehension, translation, production: Naga languages need development
Seen here are screen grabs from a short film made to promote the Wancho script developed by Banwang Losu from Longding district, Arunachal Pradesh. The film is available on YouTube. The non-development of indigenous languages in the Naga areas, experts say, could lead to their extinction, robbing people of their culture and identity.


Morung Express Feature
Dimapur | July 15


Angshang lives and works in Dimapur. From Yonghong Changnyu in Mon district, she socializes with her Konyak neighbour, from Tanhai village, but is unable to speak in a common Konyak language. “We speak in Nagamese,” she shrugs, as neither of them is familiar with Wakching Konyak, the dialect in which the Bible was first translated in the Konyak region and, inadvertently, became the common Konyak language or Konyak lingua franca.


“Tanhai Konyak presents no special affiliation to Wakching Konyak,” concludes a paper titled ‘A preliminary study of Tanhai Konyak Historical Phonology’ by Guillaume Jacques and Methna Tanhai Konyak published in the La linguistique in 2010.


“If you go a few miles farther [from Wakching], you come to Tanhai, where the people speak yet another language, and on a two days’ march you can easily pass through four distinct language-areas,” notes the paper quoting Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf.


Due to this lack of “intercomprehension,” while many Konyak people read the Bible, written in Wakching Konyak, they find it difficult to communicate in the language.


According to the paper, “Tanhai would seem in many respects closer to Wancho. Native speakers of Tanhai also feel that Wancho is easier to understand than Wakching.”


Wancho is one of the languages spoken by Nagas inhabiting Longding district in Arunachal Pradesh where the linguistic varieties are so many that people often rely on Hindi to communicate with each other.


At this rate, many languages in this linguistic group face the threat of extinction. This instance is representative of many Naga languages; the Naga peoples in India and Myanmar do not have one language to conjoin them. In its absence, Nagamese, Bangla, Assamese, Meiteilon or Hindi is spoken.


Found in translation
Languages are perennially changing. “Sometimes we are influenced by geography, sometimes by our neighbours,” explains Wanglit Mongchan, Assistant Professor of Linguistics, Arunachal Institute of Tribal Studies (AITS) at the Rajiv Gandhi University (RGU) in Itanagar. But without intentional efforts to preserve them in a globalizing world, indigenous languages may be lost completely to colonial ones.


One of the methods to preserve and develop indigenous languages has been through Bible translation.


In Arunachal Pradesh, the Bible has been translated to Nokte and Wancho in the Roman script. After 15 years of work though, Banwang Losu has developed a Wancho script into which the Wancho Roman script Bible is hoped to be translated. The script is being taught to students through digital media and textbooks will soon be developed—in 2013, Losu published the first ever book on the same, titled ‘Wancho Script.’

In Mon district of Nagaland State, Rev. Y Chingang Konyak, who developed the first English to Konyak dictionary, continues to update words and translations for fluency. His dictionary is widely used by the Konyak people.
But most languages spoken by a small population of indigenous peoples are not studied enough to be developed and preserved.


“People should be encouraged to study their respective languages and dialects, and develop them so that these languages can be taught at primary as well as university levels,” notes Methna Tanhai Konyak, one of the authors of the 2010 paper. He stresses that the faster languages disappear, “the less we maintain our identity and culture.”


Linguistic surveys
Nokte himself, linguist Wanglit Mongchan saw a circular posted outside the State Bank of India (SBI) in Longding district of Arunachal Pradesh. It was written in Wancho (Roman script). “If we translate every day material into our respective languages, we can at least help the Roman script reading people navigate life more easily as well as keep the language dynamic,” suggests Mongchan taking the example of Longding’s SBI. It communicated with people in a language they understood, thus making the instructions easier to understand and implement.


“Such production helps people learn their language apart from generating awareness so that people start to think more through the language,” the linguist maintains. Language is a tool for people to interpret other aspects of life and community.


Government intervention may also help, as the Government of Arunachal Pradesh has shown. Its Directorate of Research has now taken up a Linguistics Survey of Arunachal Pradesh that will be technically assisted by some linguists from the AITS at RGU.


The objective of this Survey is to identify, “linguistically and technically,” the languages spoken in the 83,743 sq. km State. Though not easy to do in a State as diverse as Arunachal Pradesh, “the study will help people identify with similar groups which can then work to preserve and progress their languages,” hopes Wanglit Mongchan.


It is a similar model to what Methna Tanhai Konyak hopes the Government of Nagaland will do for the Konyaks as well as Nagas in general.