Friday, July 10, 2015

Apatani Alphabet

The Apatani Alphabet or Tanw Kennanw saw the light of the day when its first chart was released simultaneously at Supuñ Dree and Hong Dree at Ziro on July 5, 2015 by Dr. Hage Lodor, President, Tanw Supuñ Dùukuñ (TSD) and Bamang Felix, Parliamentary Secretary (Education), Government of Arunachal Pradesh respectively. 

The Apatani language was written using Devanagair Script in the 1960s but later, Roman letters became more popularly used to write the language. Early writers struggled with the problem of representing some sounds which are specific to Apatani and are not available either in Roman or Devanagari script. For a long time, individual authors followed their own innovations to address this issue. As a result, however, there was no uniformity in how the words were spelt.

In view of this, the Apatani Cultural and Literary Society (ACLS) organized a symposium at Ziro to standardize the writing in Apatani. Two-days deliberations resulted in a recommendation which has been followed for more than a decade. In the meantime, the Apatani was approved by the Government of Arunachal Pradesh to be taught as the third languages in the schools of Ziro valley. The primer for teaching the middle classes were prepared by the Popi Sarmiñ Society (PSS) using the recommendations of the ACLS symposium.

With the advent of social networking sites, many youngsters attempted communication in Apatani. Sure enough, they felt the need to review the 1997 ACLS recommendation to make the writing more accurate. In 2012, NgunuZiro and the Apatani Teachers’ Welfare Forum (ATWF) collaborated to organize a workshop to explore means to improve teaching of Apatani in the schools of Ziro.  Of the many recommendations, one of them was to constitute a language development committee to review the 1997 ACLS script. The task was entrusted to the ACLS. Accordingly, the ACLS constituted the Apatani Language Development Committee (ALDC) in August 2013. The mandate of the ALDC was to review the 1997 ACLS script and submit the report in a year’s time.

After a year-long discussions and study, the ALDC submitted the report in a public workshop organized by the ALCS on November 30, 2014. The participants recommended that the ACLS accept the report, study it and give their opinion within two months. The ACLS gave technical approval to ALDC recommended script on January 12, 2015 and forwarded it to the Tanw Supuñ Dùukuñ (TSD), the apex body of the Apatanis, for administrative approval. The TSD gave the formal administrative approval and entrusted the task of promoting the script and the Apatani language to the ACLS.

The publication of the chart, accompanied by a pamphlet entitled “AN INTRODUCTION TO APATANI ALPHABET” by the ACLS is the beginning of its attempt to promote the Apatani language.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions on Apatani Alphabet

Q: Do you like the Apatani language to develop like English, Spanish, Hindi or Assamese?
A: Yes.

Q: But why is Apatani language not developing like other languages?

A: It is because it is not widely used for daily communication. Many of the young Apatani people are not able to speak their own language properly. Even elders have to depend on English for most communication (the one you are reading now is an example!!).

Q: The younger people are not able to speak Apatani because of many factors, some of which are beyond our control. But why are the elder ones not using Apatani in writing as well as spoken communication?

A: Elder people do mostly use Apatani in spoken communication. But almost none is seen using it for written communication.

Q. Why? If the elder people can speak Apatani, they should use it for written communication as well. Why are they not using it?

A: Because it is very difficult to write in Apatani in the absence of a script of its own. For the same reason, it is very difficult to read the language written using the English alphabet.

Q: Why is it difficult to write and read the Apatani language?

A: Because we use the English alphabet to write in Apatani. As all the Apatani sounds are not available in English, the English alphabet do not have all the letters needed to write the Apatani words. So, it cannot be written as accurately as it is spoken by the native speakers.

Q: Why is it difficult to read Apatani though everybody is so comfortable reading foreign languages like English?

A: We all are educated in English medium schools. So, when we read English, we basically read the “words”. That means, when we see the word “emancipation”, for example, we can immediately read out aloud “emancipation” because we are already familiar with the spelling and our mind recognizes the word. We don’t have to look at all the letters – e, m, a, n, c, i, p, a, t, i, o and n separately; we look at the word “emancipation” as a single unit and immediately recognize it. When we see the word "church" we immediately read चर्च, but when we see "chemist" we read केिमस्त not चेिमस्त. It is because we are already familiar with each of these two words. However, those who are just starting to learn English have to look at each letter separately. They have to see “e-man-cipa-tion” and then only read “emancipation”.

When we read Apatani, we are always like the beginners – starting with letters, syllable and then only the word is read. It is because Apatani language still don’t have standardised spellings for their words. To write, “year” for example, I may write “anyañ”; you may write “anyang” and somebody else may write “aniang”. So, we cannot look at the “word” as we do when reading English, but we have to look at it letter by letter and then only we form the word. Therefore, it is cumbersome every time we try to read what is written in Apatani.

Q: So, why can’t we have standard spellings for all the Apatani words?

A: Because we don’t have an Apatani Alphabet.

Q: Can’t we use the English Alphabet?

A: We can, but as pointed out earlier, we cannot write Apatani language accurately using English alphabet. In such situation, everybody will continue to spell a word as she/he wishes and so, no standard spelling can be developed for any word. If somebody write “amee” for “ami” or “amoo” for “amu” they seem right because they are right as per the rules of English phonetics. Similarly, I may write “apu” for arrow in one page and “afu” in the next page. Though both would be right as per the rules of English phonetics, it creates confusion.

Q: So, developing the standard spellings for the Apatani words is the key to popularizing the language?

A: Yes.

Q: And, having a distinct Apatani Alphabet (NOT English Alphabet) is the key to developing standard spellings?

A: Yes.

Q: So, why can’t we have a distinct Apatani Alphabet then?

A: We sure can. We’ll have to modify the existing Roman letters a bit to suit our needs. It is because there are letters in the English alphabet representing sounds we don’t have, whereas there are no letters to represent some sounds we need. And we should open up our mind to accept those minor modifications.

Q: Is anything being done to have a distinct Apatani Alphabet?

A: Yes, many young Apatanis realized that Apatani cannot be written accurately using English alphabet. When such views were shared in the social network sites like Facebook some four to five years back, the Apatani Cultural and Literary Society (ACLS) took note and constituted the Apatani Language Development Committee (ALDC) in August 2013. The mandate of the ALDC was to review the present writing system of the Apatanis, explore ways to more accurate writings and make necessary recommendations. The ALDC submitted its report in a language workshop organized by ACLS on November 30, 2014. Subsequently, the ACLS gave technical approval to the recommendation and the Tanw Supuñ Dukuñ (TSD) gave administrative approval.

Q: What does the report of the ALDC contain?

A: ALDC recommended an Apatani Alphabet using Modified Roman Script (MRS). It also recommends various follow up steps to develop Apatani as a language.

Q: What modifications of the Roman script is recommended by the ALDC?

A: The ALDC recommendation is made with the objectives of keeping the writing system simple, user-friendly and consistent. So, attempt is made to retain as many letters of English Alphabet as possible without modification since all educated people are familiar with English. But some modification in usage is suggested for letters which are not needed to write in Apatani. In addition, two additional characters, needed to write in Apatani, are suggested.

Q: What are the additional characters?

A: First is a symbol to signify glottal stop which is a prominent feature in Apatani language. Apostrophe (‘) after the syllable on which glottal stop is identified is suggested. This is selected because it is available on any keyboard and not needed to write Apatani. Examples of glottal stop are tako’ (dirt), la’ko (button), paro’ (hen).

The second symbol is (–ñ) to signify nasalization of a vowel preceding it. This is selected because it has already been in use since late 1990s when some Apatani writers started using it and ACLS formalized its use in a symposium in 1997. Examples of its usage are yasañ (fuel), takuñ (peach), paiñ (liver).

Q: How many vowels are there in the proposed Apatani Alphabet?

A: Seven vowels. A, e, i, o and u are used as in English. In addition, v replaces e (ACLS, 1997) and w replaces ii (ACLS, 1997).

Q: Many people are more comfortable using e and ii. Why is it necessary to replace them?

A: Vowel e is replaced because it is cumbersome to type it in mobile handsets and tablets. In addition, the underlined symbol gets lost when a word or a sentence has to be actually underlined. And v is not needed in Apatani and available in all types of keyboards.

Vowel ii is replaced because vowel lengths have to be addressed and use of double vowels to represent vowel lengths are most promising. So, we will have to write “aato” (come) in contrast with “ato” (owner). Similarly we can write “twwrw (forehead) in contrast to “twko” (money). If we retain “ii”, we would have to write “tiiiirii” (forehead), which does not look good. Even for words like fish, for example, we would have to write “Ngiii”. As with v, w is not needed to write in Apatani and so its usage is modified as it is available in all types of keyboards.

Q: Which consonants are modified to Apatani Alphabets?

A: The following consonants are not needed to write in Apatani and so their usages have been modified to represent sounds available in Apatani but not in English:
C = (previously written with “ch”);
F = ल्य (previously written with “ly”);
Q = (previously written with “ng”);
X = (previously written with “kh”);
Z = (previously written with “ny).

Q: What is the problem in retaining ch, ly, ng, kh and ny?

A: It is to follow the one sound-one symbol principle, which is the basic principle of alphabetical writing system. It also makes the writing more consistent. The symbols used – c, f, q, x and z are not needed to write in Apatani and they are already available in all kinds of keyboards. In addition, there is something called gemination which means consonant lengths. For consonant length also, we have to write double consonants. For example, if we have to write the word for fish trap, we will write “taxxuñ”. If we follow the old system, we would have to write “takhkhuñ” which does not look good. Letters like c and x are already familiar with the linguists to represent and respectively because they are used for them in International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

Q: But use of q for , z for , etc. looks very unusual. It will be very confusing. Why confuse the users?

A: It is not unusual. Just to give an example, Spanish uses letter J to signify ‘h’ and “LL” to signify ‘y”. While reading in Spanish, Julia is read as “Hulia” (हुलीया) and “Llama” as ‘yama’ (यामा). We have made similar modifications only. So, while reading in Apatani, we can always read ciru as िचरु and hixu as िहखु. It is just the matter of remembering in which language we are writing/reading.

Q: Will Ziro be spelt as Jiro and Chatung be spelt as Catuq?

A: No. Proper nouns will be left alone and not be tampered with. Proper nouns like Ziro, Chatung, Ngilyang, Hongkong, Finland, etc. will continue to be spelt as it is now. It is because proper nouns technically do not belong to any particular language. In addition, deciding on the spelling of a proper noun is the prerogative of an individual or a community and not much to do with language.

Q: What if somebody read Ziro as िञरो or Finland as िल्यनलेन्द?

A: This should not happen as the proper nouns will be written with initial capital letters (as we do in English). They can easily be identified as proper nouns and will be read as such.

Q: In that case, we will have to learn Apatani from the beginning. Is it fair?

A: It is quite fair. Since we learnt English or Hindi from the beginning (A for Apple and अा से अाम), it is only fair that we start learning Apatani also from near-beginning with “A lo Aki”, “Q lo Qwi” and “C lo Ciru”.

On the other hand, if we expect to know Apatani just because we know English, that would be unfair to Apatani.

Q: Ok, I can learn but what about the non-Apatanis?

A: It is only fair that the non-Apatanis who are interested in Apatani language also learn like we do. Though we are non-Hindi or non-English, we had to learn English and Hindi from the beginning.

Q: How will the letters be named?
A: They will be named as in Devanagari script. So, a will be अा (aa), b will be (ba), c will be (cha), x will be (kha), etc.

Q: How will the letters be arranged?
A: The letters will be arranged as in English alphabet (a to z), followed by (‘) and “-ñ”.

Q: Once we formally adopt the Apatani Alphabet, what are the next steps to develop the language?

A: Yes, the first step is to have a set of letters with names and arranged in a particular order. That will be the Apatani Alphabet. Once we have that, more difficult but important tasks lay ahead:

1. We have to work on tones as Apatani is a tonal language. ALDC has identified seven tones in Apatani but of the opinion that three tones need to be represented.

2. Work out a guidelines for identifying word boundaries.

3. Standardize spellings of as many Apatani words as possible. The issue of vowel lengths and gemination will come up at this stage. One major challenge at this stage would be to address the issue of difference in accents in different village clusters. We have distinct accents among Hong, Hari, Bulla, Hija, Dutta and Bamin Michi/Mudang Tage clusters.

4. Develop a lexicon using the words whose spellings have been standardized.

5. Develop various learning aids so that the standardized words are used as frequently as possible. This will be followed by Apatani literature, the quality of which will determine how popular the language can be made.

Q. What makes the present proposal special?

A: If the present recommendation of the ALDC is accepted, the Apatanis will have an Apatani Alphabet with following features:

1. Simple and user-friendly, with no diacritics. All the letters are available in all kinds of typewriters.

2. It utilizes all the letters in English alphabet. It is important because if we leave out some letters, they are susceptible to be inadvertently misused. For example, if we leave out f, it may be used in place of p. That will hinder standardization of spellings.

Q. How does the Apatani Alphabet look like?
A. This is the Apatani Alphabet chart:

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Apatani Cultural Landscape

It was the year 2000. My friend, Omak Apang, was the Union Minister of State (Tourism), Government of India. He took the initiative to propose Ziro as a World Heritage Site. A meeting of community leaders was arranged in the Hotel Blue Pine at Ziro to discuss about the proposal. All of us present in the meeting opposed the proposal on the ground that this is a conspiracy to keep Ziro as a 'museum piece'. We were under the impression that recognition as heritage site means full stop to development.

In the following years, a UNESCO-funded research project was carried out in Arunachal Pradesh and the Apatanis, the inhabitants of Ziro was one of the subjects. This created a lot of international attention. A presentation of this project was organized in 2008 in NERIST, Itanagar. One of the recommendations of the project was to enlist Ziro as a World Heritage Site. A renewed interest was created. There was a feeble attempt to initiate the application process, but it never took off.

In late 2012, there was a newspaper report about a workshop in Guwahati in which Ziro was shortlisted as a potential World Heritage Site among many sites in the north-east India. A Facebook discussion on the topic resulted in a loose group of volunteers who took interest in pushing the initiative forward. A hectic follow up of the process ensued. The volunteers prodded a sluggish system to submit the proposal in time. This was followed by a visit of Ziro and Talle Valley by a team from the Department of Cultural Affairs, led by the Secretary and the Director in January 2013.

By late 2013, we came to know for sure that Ziro has been shortlisted for the Tentative List. This finally was confirmed when a team from the Advisory Committee on World Heritage Matters (ACWHM) visited Ziro in February 2014. A presentation of the site was made and they were taken around the area. It was a successful visit. The result was drawing up of a tentative roadmap to take Ziro to the coveted WHS. We reviewed the initial proposal as per the inputs from the ACWHM members and submitted it to the concerned authority in time.

On April 14, 2014, the Apatani Cultural Landscape appeared as a Tentative List of India in the UNESCO's website. Ziro is in the Tentative List now but it is to be seen if the Government of Arunachal Pradesh takes a proactive role in preparing the arduous task of dossier preparation and the volunteers who have been pushing the project till now can hold themselves together. In addition, ACWHM members pointed out to many aspects that need to be reversed and others that need to be taken up to meet the global standard to qualify a place as a heritage site.

Fingers crossed, hoping that developments in the coming days will be positive.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bidï - Ritual Hunting of Monkey

Abotani and Swki were best friends. There was, however, always the games of one-upmanship in those days.

“Let us see who can climb higher up in that tree”, Abotani challenged Swki.

“Fine,” Swki accepted the challenge.

Up and up climbed the two friends. Abotani tried his best to beat his friend, but Swki turned out to be a better climber. He was much higher up in the tree.

Swki looked down at Abotani and mocked, “Try and climb up here!”  

In order to save his face, Abotani had to do something.

“Ok friend, if you can just grab that branch, I will accept defeat,” Abotani said.

Swki looked at the branch Abotani was pointing and jumped to grab it. As he grabbed the branch, it broke and he fell down. Swki ended up in a deep gorge called Swki Bwdä.

It took no time for Swki to realize that Abotani had tricked him into the gorge. He was deeply humiliated.

“Come up, my friend,” Abotani tried to help Swki out of the gorge.

“I don’t wan to come up,” Swki said, sulking.

Abotani apologized and tried to cajole Swki back. Swki would not listen. He was offered several rewards but all in vain.

The time for Myoko ritual was near. It is the festival of friendship. So, it could not be performed if the dearest friend Swki was absent. Getting worried, Abotani asked Swki to come out of the gorge.

“My dear friend, Myoko is coming. I cannot celebrate it without you,” Abotani said. “I beg you to come back.”

After a prolonged negotiation, Swki agreed, “Fine, I will come only for Myoko, but what will you offer me?”

Swki agreed to come for the Myoko if he is offered a mithun along with other items. He would, however, return back after the festival. Since Abotani was in no position to bargain, he decided to agree and make best use of the situation.

“I can offer you mithun,” Abotani said, knowing full well that offering a mithun every Myoko would be a costly affair. “But I want to offer you something more useful.”

“And what is that?” Swki asked.

“A swbi bidw would be so useful,” Abotani said. “I will send him to fetch you here.”

Swki thought for a while and agreed.

Since then, the Apatanis hunt a bidw swbi as the first step in the preparation of the Myoko festival. The monkey is used to entice Swki on the second day of the Myoko inaugural ritual - sama pinï.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Of Nose Plugs and Tattoo of the Apatanis

Ami Nwdo Bwnyi was the most beautiful woman of her time. She was also the most virtuous and skillful. She excelled in the art of weaving and making intricate designs; she was expert in cultivation and other household works. So immersed was she in her daily works that she did not have time to enjoy life.
One fine morning, she suddenly realized that all her friends have been married off and she is getting past her age for marriage. She got worried and decided to consult the God for advice.
“I have lived a virtuous life and have been a good daughter to my parent and a good sister to my brothers. But alas! I have remained unmarried while all my friends are enjoying their conjugal life,” Ami Nwdo Bwnyi said. “I wish to get married too and lead a normal life of a woman. But I am getting old and my beauty is deserting me. Pray, my God, advise me.”
“Your life will not go in vain,” the God said. “You will get the best husband on earth.”
“I am getting old and no longer pretty,” Ami Nwdo Bwnyi asked sadly. “Who will marry me now?” 
“I will tell you the secret of remaining ever youthful,” God said. “Twpe on your face, hulo on your nose and huxo with rutiñ yarañ on your ear will keep your beauty and youth for ever.”
Ami Nwdo Bwnyi got her nose and ear lobes pierced and put on yapiñ hulo and yaru huxo. She further decorated her ears with rutiñ yarañ. She then tattooed her face, the design of which was copied from that found in the pine trees.

One day, a young man saw Ami Nwdo Bwnyi and fell in love with her. He was Mwdo Jiñdo Tajiñ. He asked the beautiful woman with twpe and yapiñ to marry him.

Ami Nwdo Bwnyi and Mwdo Jiñdo Tajiñ got married. They gave birth to various xalos – the races of the world. They were able to raise lots of livestock’s which are the birds and wild animals that we see today. Pine trees, which inspired the facial tattoo design is considered sacred by the Apatanis.

So, it was after the mother of all xalos that the Apatanis came to tattoo their faces and put on nose plugs to beautify themselves. In the olden days, more prominent the twpe (tattoo) and bigger the size of the yapiñ hulo (nose plug), more beautiful a woman looked. The more prominent the twpe and bigger the pwdiñ (hair knot), more handsome a man was considered.

Twpe and yapiñ are no longer practiced today and will become things of the past. However, they will remain the characteristic features of the Apatanis forever.

(Adapted from here)