Dr. Asangba Tzüdir
Already today, several of the world’s nearly 7,000 languages face a serious risk of extinction. A lead study author Tatsuya Anamo at the University of Cambridge in England said that, Ainu, a language in Japan, is now seriously threatened with only 10 native speakers left. The United Nations has noted that half of the languages spoken today will ‘disappear’ by the end of this century if nothing is done to save them.
Naga tribal language is not spared of such risk. There are certain factors compounding this risk. Nagamese is comfortably nestled in many Naga homes while English has become the ‘flavoured’ language besides the adoption in ‘official’ spaces. Within the waves of ‘modernity’ and its associated changes, urbanisation has posed a serious threat through the ‘shift’ from original performative space. The richness of tribal language is manifested by the presence of meaningful cultural elements and without which it becomes just another dialect that enables simple communication. The process of urbanisation and the shift from original space is slowly reducing tribal language to a simple dialect. Religion is also playing its part of creating violence on traditional culture and practices and this poses a serious threat to language. A certain village in Nagaland has carved a beautiful logdrum to be kept as a cultural ‘memorabilia’ in the village but due to certain tensions between ‘cultural practices’ and ‘functioning’ of Christianity coupled with a fear of certain ‘prophesy’, the ‘artefact’ is ‘prohibited’ from being brought inside the village. The very presence of such artefacts will not only create a cultural vibrancy by way of connecting with the past history and lived realities, but will revive language within its cultural context where language can be meaningfully employed as a tool to express culture. Similarly, very surprisingly, the board of deacons of a Church also prohibited a certain pastor through a press communiqué, who was invited to pray during a logdrum inauguration programme. For reasons best known to the board of deacons, the directive was issued through a local daily paper. It may also be misinterpreted as reviving a ‘heathen’ practice but in context on a logical and pragmatic plane of interpretation, it directly or indirectly contributes to revival of language within cultural context. The action of the board of deacons in a way shows contempt of such efforts to restore culture and therefore a form of cultural facet of language expression. By now the Church should also realise that Nagas are not only ‘religious’ in the Christian sense but are also ‘culturally religious.’ As such, it should try to harmonise traditional cultural practices and religion without necessarily embracing it within the context of ceremony and rituals involved.
The issues related to the logdrum here presents a case of diminishing culture and folklore and the need to revive tribal language within a meaningful context. Such efforts to revive our traditional culture which is a window to our traditional heritage should be encouraged especially in the face of genuine threats posed to language through the waves of global changes today. Every aspect of culture has a story about our history and culture and the presence of such artefacts will only serve as a space to make tribal language more relevant, because at the heart of cultural expression is its language without which it gets reduced to a simple dialect. The threats are therefore, not just about becoming extinct but losing its real essence, meaning and therefore relevance of a language. Besides, trying to ‘dissociate’ from one’s culture is in itself creating violence on the roots of our identity more so language.
(Dr. Asangba Tzüdir contributes a weekly guest editorial to The Morung Express. Comments can be mailed to email@example.com)