Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Loan Words In Mizo From English - Sian Lalchhandami

(Blog owner's note: While this blog primarily focuses on literary writings, I have noted from the web counter that a number of visits have been made in an attempt to know something about the Mizo language. I hope this blog post will go some way in being of help for such users.)

Loan words can be defined as words that are ‘borrowed’ from another language. The word ‘borrowing’ has been defined as the incorporation of foreign elements into the speaker’s native language by Thomas and Kaufman (1988).

Language contact has taken place in many parts of the world due to migration, trades, colonialism etc. which often leads to borrowing of the languages from the immigrant languages to the native language which is a case with the Mizo language also known as 'Duhlian.'

Mizo is one of the dialects of the Tibeto-Burman language. There were many dialects spoken in different regions of Mizoram such as Lai, Mara, Hmar, Ralte etc. and linguistic diversity has always been embedded in space/time and group but it has been reduced over the last hundred years with the arrival of the British. ‘Mizo-Duhlian’ gradually developed as a means of communication for Mizos between people of different clans/lineages/sub-groups and it is now the dominant language of the Mizos, an important marker of identity for all ‘Mizo tribes’ irrespective of their kin group/clan/lineage/sub-group.

Before the advent of the British in 1870, the Mizos did not have any written record since they had no script, and verbal language was their only means of communication. There is a myth that the Mizos had a written document on the skin of an animal but a dog ate it up and so they lost their only piece of written material.

The first written document about the Mizos and their language was written by Tom Herbert Lewin who worked in the Chittagong Hill Tract for 9 years. The Mizos called him ‘Thangliana’ and in his book ‘Progressive Colloquial Exercise in the Lushai Dialect’ (1874), he transliterated the Mizo words using the English alphabet. His book served as a chief guide for the missionaries who later came to Mizoram in learning the language of the natives.

With the coming of the British missionaries, written language was introduced in 1894 in Mizo by two Welsh missionaries, Rev.D.E.Jones and Rev.F.W.Savidge, who created the Mizo alphabet based on the Roman script around March1894, four months after they reached Mizoram. The letters of the Mizo alphabet are:–

a      aw b     ch d e     f ng     h     i     j     k l    m    n    o p r     s    t t     u     v     z

The first written book in Mizo was ‘Mizo Zir Tir bu’ (Learning Mizo), published on 22nd October 1896.

The continuous contact with the British, especially the missionaries, had a strong influence on the Mizo language especially in word construction and coinage of new words.

Many words were borrowed from English and eventually accepted as a part of the Mizo language. The borrowed words are mainly names of things (nouns), where some words are used without a change while some others are used in the ‘nativized’ pronunciation. The main reason for the borrowing of English words in Mizo is because they represented objects that were unknown to the Mizos, in their native language, before the advent of the British and since they had no names for such object, they ended up using the English word.

The earliest example of loan words from English would be the names of books from the Bible. The missionaries translated  the English Bible to Mizo where the names of the books such as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Chronicles etc. remain the same, while some books such as Mathaia (Matthew), Marka (Mark), Luka (Luke), Johana (John) etc. were written in a nativized or ‘Mizo-ized’ form.

Gradually, many other words were borrowed and some examples of directly borrowed words are:
1) Names of fruits and vegetables:
                     apple, grape, tomato, pear, carrot, bean.
2) Names of objects:
                      pen, pencil, slipper, bucket, fan, blanket, cushion.
3) Names of places:
                   sitting room, college, restaurant, hotel, office, police station.
4) Names of professions and designations:
lecturer, police, pastor, driver, peon, chairman, secretary.
5) Names of musical instruments:
guitar, keyboard, violin, drum-set.
6) Names of clothes:
                   jeans, t-shirt, jacket, coat, pull-over, pyjama.

Apart from the above examples, we also find many loan words for the names of sports, flowers and food items.

There are other words which are borrowed and then nativized in phonology. For example:
Doctor = Daktawr
Kettle = Ketli
Office = Awfis
School = Sikul
Rucksack = Rawk sai
Cartridge = Kartut
Company (East India Company) = Kumpinu
Lantern = Laltin

There is also a process of hybridization in compound formation where at least one component of the compound word is from English. Examples:

Water pipe = Tui pipe
Electric wire = Electric hrui
Flower pot = Pangpar pot
Gas stove = Gas thuk
Note book = Note bu

In these examples, an English and a Mizo word are put together to construct a hybrid compound.

With regard to science and technology, the Mizos use English words to express those terms and concepts where there are no equivalent words in Mizo. Such examples are plug, refrigerator, television, computer, tape, video, car, truck etc. However, these kinds of words are also used in most Indian languages. The use of these terms as  part of their own language only shows that the Mizos are greatly influenced by the global power of English and English speaking countries in the process of their development.

With the passage of time, English became the second language for the Mizos and a large section of the population is often found using the lexical items of English instead of the original first language. Examples:

Scale = Rin ngil
Lipstick = Hnawih sen
Towel = Hruk puan
Mattress = Awng phah
Bag = Ipte
Step = Kailawn
Bicycle = Thir sakawr

The second language, English, is more commonly used though there are equivalent words for them in the native language and this is known as ‘Nonce Borrowing’. According to Poplack and D.Sancroff, ‘Nonce Borrowing’ is clearly a route for the later adoption or integration of these lexical items as loan words in the minority language. This prediction of Poplack and D.Sancroff seems to be very true with Mizo, especially among the younger generation who prefer to use an English word instead of its Mizo equivalent. Examples are: chair instead of thutthleng; bathroom instead of bualin; plate for thleng; paper for lehkha; bag for ipte etc. The English word is therefore being used as though it is a Mizo word and there has been a continuous debate over the continuous use of English words for the native language.

English has gained a dominant influential role in Mizo mainly due to the wide and non-resistance acceptance on the part of the natives. The Mizos have borrowed many words from English for their own convenience but this has affected the growth and development of the native language. Language is an intrinsic expression of culture. It is a means by which culture and its tradition and shared values may be conveyed and preserved. It is fundamental to cultural identity and for this reason it is important that people keep their own language alive. Since the Mizos have borrowed a large number of words, it is now difficult to communicate even for an hour without using at least one English word. What makes it more alarming is that we do not seem to realize the critical stage in which we have put our language. As language dies, culture also dies and even if we are a part of the global culture, we should remember that the use of community language is important both for individual and for group identity and for communication across generations. It would be best to try and coin a new word in the native language to replace the borrowed words and return them to the rightful owner once its equivalent words are coined in the native language.

1) G.A. Grierson, Linguistic Survey of India, Vol-III, part III, (reprinted), Motilal Banarsidan, Delhi 1967.
2) Zo Kalsiam; Mizo Academy of Letters, Mizoram, Aizawl (1997)
3) Linguistic Outcomes of Contact.

Sian Lalchhandami completed her Masters in English at Hyderabad University and is now working at the District Institute of Education and Training (DIET), Mizoram.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Always on the outside, looking in - Baruk Feddabon

Always on the outside,
looking in.
Nose flat against the window pane
fogging it up till each
little breath becomes a

round and cold, and often
in to and out of
and in to
and out of

round and round the merry rascals ran
all around the (bloody) mulberry bush
uphill and downhill and inmylady's chamber

passing car lights
reveal a startled reflection,

Nose flat against the window pane
fogging it up till each
little breath becomes a
Always on the outside,
looking in.

Baruk is of Mizo blood on the maternal side, his mother being the much-admired Malsawmi Jacob. Born in Mizoram and brought up in Shillong, he now lives in Auckland, New Zealand, all of which should immediately explain where this poem comes from.