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The Farcical Nagamese: Singing A Piercing Falsetto

By EMN Updated: Feb 14, 2016 10:03 pm

First Language or Mother Tongue:
“As languages disappear, cultures die. The world becomes inherently a
less interesting place, but we also sacrifice raw
knowledge and the intellectual achievements of millennia”
– Ken Hale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Linguists, Etymologists, Social Scientists and Psychologists all agree that language bonds people to one’s culture which molds an individual and maintains the connection with ancestors and tradition. The food-habits, clothing, festivals, religion and language are all part of a person’s cultural heritage. Every community or ethnic group has its own values, beliefs and ways of living. Human beings are social beings with the need to belong to a group of people with whom to identify; expressed by one’s ethnicity, language, religion and cultural heritage. The depth of community-based knowledge of nature, about medicinal plants, nutrients from local shrubs and trees, and the habitat and habits of endangered wildlife are all trapped in the language. Language is intrinsic to one’s cultural identity as the unique ecosystem where one exists are expressed in one’s own language.
According to Ganesh N. Devy, Chairperson of Peoples Linguistic Survey of India (PLSI) under the auspices of an NGO called the Bhasha Research and Publication Centre, in India; “Currently as many as 780 different languages are spoken and 86 different scripts are used in the country. While it surely is a fact to celebrate the diversity of the country, the sad part is we have lost nearly 250 languages in the last 50 years or so.” Further, speaking about West Bengal, Devy said, 38 different languages are spoken in the State and is the richest in the country in terms of number of scripts used, as many as 9 (nine) different scripts and efforts are on to develop several other scripts.
According to UNESCO there are roughly 6,800 spoken languages in the world today. However, about 2,000 of those languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers. The most extensive catalogue of the world’s languages, generally taken to be as authoritative as any, is that of Ethnologue (published by Summer Institute of Linguistics International), whose detailed classified list as of 2009 included 6,909 distinct languages. But half the planet speaks the big 11 as per the 2010 edition of the Nationalencyklopedin: Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, Japanese, Punjabi and German. There are 955,000,000 people in the world who speaks the Mandarin Chinese language.According to S.R. Tohring (2010), Nagas are divided into 65 tribes within India and Myanmar while the Naga National Council (NNC), holds that there are 77 tribes. So it implies that the Nagas have 65 to 77 dialects/mother tongue or first languages but the actual number may vary and climb up counting some dialects previously unrecorded. However, are the Naga’s doing enough to preserve the first languages, our cultural heritage and identity? Proficiency in first language skills need to be maintained for self-enrichment and cultural identity. The Hornbill festival is indeed an attempt towards the preservation of our cultural heritage by practicing and making them part of our lives and language is one aspect of culture. Department of Arts & Culture and Information & Public Relations in consonance with the Tribal Hoho’s as guardian of Naga culture must initiate to bolster the preservation of every single first language. For instance, projects can be explored to produce documentary films or short films in each respective Naga dialects /first languages to be screened during the Hornbill Festival.
To walk the talk, it augurs well to mandate the NSF and ENSF for the mission to conduct a linguistic survey to map each first language spoken by the Nagas and the languages digitized and documented. In addition, the NSF and ENSF may also be endorsed to develop the Naga script. The exercise can be undertaken by collaborating with NGOs, Universities and Institutes within the country and abroad. Language Division of Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner of India and also the charitable Trusts established by various corporate houses may be approached for funding the project.
Second Language or Common Language:
“Understanding others makes possible a better knowledge of oneself: any form of identity is complex, for individuals are defined in relation to other people – both individually and collectively – and the various groups to which they owe allegiance, in a constantly shifting pattern.” – UNESCO, Learning: The Treasure Within, 1996.
For the major part, there are 2 principal roots for languages in India: Aryan, also known as Indo-European, which is common for the languages in the north (Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali, etc.) and Dravidian, with predominant presence in the South (Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil, etc.). There are also other languages with Sino-Tibetan and Austro-Asiatic roots. However, in the Indian Constitution, English and Hindi are recognized as official languages in the national level, while 22 official languages are recognized as a part of eight schedule and each state sets its own, plus their dialects.
Australia is also known to be one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse nation in the world. Over 200 (two hundred) languages are embedded in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies other than the Standard Australian English spoken in Australia. Besides the Standard Australian English, Aboriginal English developed as a means of communication between the Aboriginal people of different language groups and non-Aboriginal people. Further, Torres Strait Creole is used as a common language among speakers of different Torres Strait languages. Both Aboriginal English and Torres Strait Creole are spoken as a first or second language by many indigenous Australians.
Much had been deliberated over the newsprints, for and against Nagamese as an official language. Besides the first languages spoken by each Naga tribes /community as well as other diverse Indian community first languages, English and Hindi are formally forced to settle in education for children across India. However, imposition of English and Hindi languages doesn’t make one any less a Naga or a Bengali or a Malayali. Many dreads that recognizing Nagamese as official language will be at odds against the Naga roots and origin amounting to neglecting the traditional culture. The fear of the farcical Nagamese emerges to be hypothetical. Nagamese is truly an ever budding, hitherto lingua franca for Nagas but will remain a fourth language for some and third or second language for others and for insignificant few as first language.
Practically, every first languages in India or so in Nagaland cannot be made official languages. At the National level English and Hindi are official and common language likewise undeniably Nagamese is the unofficial common language for the Nagas. Nagas, need to be realistic and therefore work out strategies to develop the farcical Nagamese into a standard official common language. It may possibly entail a new script or a borrowed script similar to English which surprisingly doesn’t have its own script but uses Latin script. Manage it to depend on the understanding of the Naga languages, the adaptation of its elements as its strengths for social integration, as well for educational, economic and political advancement. Thus, the Naga society must brace up to swim towards refinement and not strive against the evolving trend.
“There is nothing permanent except change” – Heraclitus
Cultures and languages are not static but develop and change as the belief systems and the progressively evolving ways of life. The cultural identity adapts, becomes more complex and fluid over time under other cultural influences in the course of interactions with surrounding community and the broader society. People develop allegiances to different tastes through exposures and the influential mass media viz., TV /Movies (Bollywood /Hollywood etc.) as well as the popular culture of the existing era. To sum up with an analogy, the writer sees in the NNC as the first Naga languages and the NSCN as the budding language Nagamese. The Naga heritage is the NNC with the Naga Shawl (cloak) to preserve the cultural heritage passed on to the NSCN for continuity. However, two contradicting Naga DNAs are found in Genesis 11:9, the DNA (A) = one speech and the DNA (B) = confused tongues. The Naga society at large including the NNC and NSCN need to ponder and decide which DNA to opt for: One Speech with Modesty or Confused Languages with Egotism?

V.T. Chakhesang (
Nagaland, Kohima.

By EMN Updated: Feb 14, 2016 10:03:13 pm