From oral tradition to written language: The Patsho Khiamniungan and Mongsen Ao dictionary projects

Authors: Alexander R. Coupe (Nangyang Technological University)
T. Temsunungsang (EFL University, Shillong)
Speakers: Alexander R. Coupe, T. Temsunungsang
Topic: Linguistic Anthropology
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


This talk describes two dictionary projects undertaken in collaboration with two minority linguistic communities of Nagaland, a hill state of Northeast India sharing an international border with Myanmar.

Northeast India is a linguistic hotspot with scores of underdocumented Tibeto- Burman languages, many of which are predicted to become endangered in the current century. An effective response to impending language shift and loss is to develop new domains of use that will guarantee the continuing relevance of these minority languages in an increasingly globalized world. With this goal in mind, the talk discusses the methodology used in two intensive workshops that were run in the Patsho Khiamniungan and Mongsen Ao communities of Nagaland, the aim being to develop the first orthographies, dictionaries and pedagogical materials for their oral languages.

An additional focus of this ongoing research project is to record and annotate narrative texts, particularly folklore. Such data not only provides the basis for grammatical descriptions and insights into culture, but is also valuable for creating materials aimed at developing reading habits in children from an early age. In a collaboration with an artist colleague and students at Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media, a sample of folk tales were modified and rendered suitable as children’s reading books with the help of native speaker consultants. It is anticipated that such materials will help to familiarize native speakers with the new scripts, and the high quality of the student’s artwork will enhance the attraction of the books to a young audience. Drafts were also used to test the intuitiveness of the newly created orthographies, and problematic aspects of the scripts were modified as required, based on native speaker feedback.

The paper will discuss the methodology used to collect a large corpus of data with the help of the linguistic communities in a relatively short period of time, the challenges encountered in doing this kind of anthropological linguistic research, and how problems were resolved.