Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Linguistic Diversity in North-Eastern India

“Our Language is our Identity”

North–Eastern region of India consists of seven states (also labeled as seven sisters). They are Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, and Tripura. Assam is located in the centre among these states and much of the area of the state is plain in comparison to other six states mentioned above. This North-Eastern part of our country is significant not because of the number of these states. Rather, this entire region is so rich in culture, language, and natural resources.

Each of these states has their own culture yet they share cultural traits too. One may not believe it but there are around 200 languages in this single region. However, all of them may not be separate languages, and some of them may be counted as dialects of these languages. If we leave this ambiguity, still there will be around or more than 60 languages in the North-East. It is obvious that with the enormous number of languages, there will be a huge diversity in cultures. Languages of these ‘seven sisters’ belong to three language families, namely, Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burman of the Sino-Tibetan family, and Austro-Asiatic. Most of these languages belong to the Tibeto-Burman family (abbreviated as TB languages). The only language which belongs to the Austro-Asiatic family is the Khasi language, which is spoken in the state of Meghalaya, the south-western state of the North-East region.

 In this article, I am presenting a brief sketch of the languages found in this region. Arunachal Pradesh, the North-Easternmost state of the country, exhibits a very rich diversity of languages. Few languages which are found in this beautiful land are, Tshangla, Takpa, Sherdukpen, Bugun, Sulung, Lishpa, Hruso, Dhammai, Bangru, Apatani, Tagin, Yano, Gallong, Idu, Digaru, Miju, Jinghpaw, Singpho, Tangsa, Nocte, Wancho, etc. Another state Assam has Assamese (Indo-Aryan Language family) language as the dominant language. Bengali speakers also hold a strong position in the state. Towards the lower part of Assam Bodo is an another dominant language (which is also an official language in addition to Assamese).

However, there are so many other small (languages with less speakers) yet significant languages thereby contributing to the rich linguistic and cultural diversity of the state. Name of other languages that are found in Assam are, Dimasa, Tiwa, Rabha, Kuch/ Koch, Mising, Karbi, Kachari, Deori,etc (some of these languages are on the verge of extinction). In the upper Assam (North-Eastern part of the state) a distinct group of languages are found which is together labeled as the “Tai” group. The languages of this Tai group are,  Tai-Ahom, Tai-Phake, Tai-Khamti, Tai-Aiton, Tai-Khamyang etc. There are several other languages which are spoken in the rest of the states of North-East, i.e., Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya. The name of few of them are, Meithei, Puiron, Khoirao, Andro, Sengmai, Kuki, Maram, Mao, Konyak, Phom, Chang, Khiamngan, Chokri, Angami, Pochuri, Zeme, Mzieme, Kheza, Rengma, Sangtam, Yimchungru, Garo, Khasi, Ruga, A’tong, Kokborok, Mizo, Tangkhul, etc. etc.

North-East is one of the richest culturally and linguistically regions of our country. The term “Unity in diversity’ perfectly fits to the region. Every linguistic community irrespective of size and population in North-East nurture the idiosyncrasies of their cultures. Naturally (natural resources), linguistically, culturally, it is one of the most precious region of this country. World’s largest river island, Majuli (recognized by Guinness Book of  World Record) is located in this region. More interestingly, the world’s smallest river island, Umananda, is also found in this very region only. Significantly, one-horned rhinoceros is found in this region. Tawang, a tourist district in Arunachal Pradesh, is called as the “Switzerland of India”. Loktak Lake is one of the prominent fresh water lake which is located in Manipur. The North-Eastern region of India attracts a huge flock of tourists all over the world every year.

For the name of the  languages mentioned in this article, I have taken reference  of a chapter on Tibeto-Burman languages of Northeastern India, written by Robbins Burling, one of the eminent and prolific linguists.

Written by Dhiraj Medhi
A Masters student in Linguistics and Endangered Languages, Dhiraj is fond of writing, singing and playing instruments. He wishes to create a positive atmosphere in the society through this writings and music.

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