In Chapchar Kut (2019), a spring festival which is most celebrated by the Mizo people, the theme ‘Zofate Inpumkhatna’ (Integration of the Mizo ethnic groups) was explored which stresses on and ignited awareness of the importance of unity of all the tribes of Mizoram. The theme refers to the unification of all tribes that belongs to or was once a part of Mizoram. In light of this event, it dawned on me that language could be one element that plays a detrimental role to achieve such goal. It is a known fact that inventing a new language and having different tribes use it is a nearly impossible task and even if it were possible it would entail a long and tedious process, which in contemplation is something that is unlikely to happen. With that being said, there are currently more than twenty dialects in use by various tribes of Mizoram. These dialects are still very much in use and unless the speakers die out, it is unlikely that they would suddenly disappear or die out. However, it is to be noted that there are also some dialects (like Ralte) that are bordering on becoming endangered. Since, it is my belief that language is central for the unity that we are seeking, we must utilize it in ways that contributes to our goal. This belief has also brought me to a realization that protecting and preventing all dialects (endangered and not endangered) from death is of utmost importance.
Keywords : Native language, mother tongue, integration, ethnic, tribes, dialects, culture, heritage, dying language, eighth schedule, recognition, Mizo subject, literature etc.
What Languages Should We Use?
On 19th February 2019, I had the honour of being invited to give a special lecture in Govt. Churachandpur College. I was deliberating whether I should be giving my lectures in English or Mizo, as I was aware that the students are from various tribes of Mizoram and that of Manipur speaking with varying dialect. I voiced my concern out loud as I wanted my lecture to be understood by the masses. The reply I received was something that not only astonished me but reinforced my belief that language can unite. This reply was that regardless of what language I chose to give my lecture with, I will be understood.
As Christians we dream of a Paradise where people of all races interact using their own language and is understood by everyone. I was reminded of this is the paradise we long for when I was told that I would be understood regardless of what language I chose to speak with. I was overcome with relief that in Churachandpur, in the presence of intellectuals and academicians, I can make a pick of whatever language I am comfortable in to give my lecture. With this assurance, I gave my lectures in Mizo and was indeed understood. And then I spoke in English and was also understood. Each person I spoke with uses whichever language he or she prefers. This was nothing short of the Paradise that I seek.
The experience left a lasting impact which led me to contemplate a world where various tribes of Mizo- Lusei, Hmar, Vaiphei, Zomi, Gangte, Kuki, Joute, Duhlian understood each other without having to debate which of the dialect should be popularized and used as a common dialect. What if we create this Paradise where each tribe speaks their own dialect but is understood by every other tribe?
Language is an Integral Part of One’s Culture and Heritage
The importance our native tongue is given has gone through tremendous changes over the years. Aware of the declination in status and the importance of Mizo/Lusei language to our culture and heritage, a three-day Mizo Literature Festival titled “Thu Hla hril kutpui” was conducted from 6th-8th June 2018. It was a successful event and a step towards native language awareness as it opens a discussion of the importance of our own native tongue. Following the success of the ripples that this previous event created, a seminar was organized, in the same year, inviting not only locals but intellectuals and academicians from outside of Mizoram. The two-day seminar titled “International Festival commemorating the Birth Centenary of the first Mizo novelist” was conducted on 18th & 19th October at Saitual College. The seminar celebrates novels, poetry, songs as well as dances of the Mizo people. Although it was an exciting event renewing our sense of Mizo language, culture and heritage, it should not end with a mere celebration of the literature and dances but rather it should create more awareness and further widespread of its discussion.
Another notable event was a visit by our respected Vice President Venkaiah Naidu on May 2018. During this visit, he stresses on the importance of knowing one’s own language and to be well versed with it before acquiring any other language. He relays the intricate connection between our language and culture and mentions that instead of taking a step to study other languages like English (one of the widely spoken languages in the world and in India), he advises that we take steps to know our own mother-tongue better. But his advice, although it piques the interest and is well accepted by the Mizo language researchers, seem to have fallen on deaf ears of the public. In recent years, the number of students admitted to Mizo medium Schools has drastically declined whereas there is a high demand for English medium schools. Instead of instilling the knowledge of our own Mizo language, parents are eager for their kids to be fluent in English and admitting them to costly English medium School while struggling to make ends meet. Instead of learning our own Mizo songs, they are eager for them to sing “Jack and Jill & Baa Baa Black Sheep”, instead of our own folktales like “Chhura” and “Arpui sent te” they are eager for them to know of English fairy tales and instead of our own alphabet A-AW-B, the kids today have taught at a very young age to learn the English alphabet A-B-C. This is the mindset that contributed to the declination of our Mizo language, a mindset that is instilled in the youth at a very young age. It is a mindset that shows disrespect towards one’s own language and culture that was taught not in words but rather through action. For this reason, the pillar of our tribe, our culture and heritage has been shaken.
Mizo is a Dying Language
Since the acquisition of Statehood by Mizoram in 1987 i.e. thirty years ago, the declination of our own mother tongue has reached its peak where it is now-a-days common to find people commenting that “some things are clearer or better described in English”. Government and political officials include English terms and phrases in their everyday discourse as if implying that similar terms are not available in our Mizo tongue. Even the general public has unconsciously adapted this attitude and often replace Mizo terms with that of English. For example, instead of ‘Choka’ we tend to use ‘kitchen’, ‘thuk’ is replaced with ‘Gas stove’, ‘bel’ with ‘pot’, ‘chhuar’ is no longer in use instead ‘shelves’ is commonly used. Likewise, common household items like spoon, plate, chair, room, curtain, pillow, bed room, living room etc. are replacing their Mizo term ‘fian’, ‘thleng’, ‘thutthleng’, ‘pindan’, ‘parda’, ‘lukham’ ‘mutna pindan’, ‘thutkhawmna pindan’. In addition, English terms like fridge, cabinet, washing machine, tap, fork, tray, cup, mug, saucer, food warmer, cooler, bowl etc has been used and adapted as they are.
This attitude towards English by the general public has elevated its status, endangering the status of our own mother tongue. With its speaker not that many in number and their attitude towards Mizo language, one is left to wonder why Mizo has not yet been included in the list of endangered languages by UNESCO.
Mizo Language as an Official Language of the State
Where and when the term ‘Mizo’ originated from is debatable and many researchers have varying opinions. In 1946, when the Lushai Hills were still under Assam jurisdiction, a patriotic organization called the Mizo Union was formed with a purpose of popularizing ‘Mizo’. Further in 1947, UMFO (United Mizo Freedom Organization), was again formed and in 1961 MNF (Mizo National Front) was formed, both for patriotic purposes. Rajya Sabha member R. Thanhlira raised his voice and took action to get ‘Mizo’ recognition. Finally, in 1972 when Mizoram was declared a Union Territory, Mizo District became ‘Mizoram’, the term ‘Lushai’, often used academically, was replaced with ‘Mizo’ to describe the people and their language. Following this, even in census readings the term ‘Mizo’ was used solidifying its status as an official term for denotation.
Prior to this, the use of the term ‘Mizo’ can be seen in various printed works. One of the earliest records of its use was ‘Mizo leh Vai’, published in November 1902. Other published works includes, a hand written work titled ‘Mizo Chanchin Laisuih’ in mid-1898, ‘Mizo Zir-tir-bu’ in 1896, ‘Mizo Chanchin’ by Liangkhai in 1926, in 1903 Zosapthara and Thanga were recorded to have used the term and in 1935 an organization of students Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) was formed. R.B. Mc Cabe, a Mizoram Political Officer, in his book Our Relation with Eastern Lushais published on 1st March 1892 wrote ‘Lushais call themselves Mizo or Mizau’. Since the time of T.H. Lewin there have been records of use of terms like Dzo, Mizo, Mizau, Mizou in reference to the natives and language of Mizoram. Since the term ‘MIZO’, phonemically transcribed to /mizou/, it may be more appropriate to correct the spelling of the term ‘Mizo’ to ‘Mizou’ to avoid unnecessary misperception.
The Mizoram Official Language Act 1974 was passed, according to which “… Mizo language shall be used for all the official purposes of the government of Mizoram at all levels..”. The Act was scheduled to be implemented from 15th August 1987 according to The Mizoram Gazette, Extra Ordinary, Aizawl, Friday 14.8.1987, Sarvana 23, S.E. 1909 Issue No. 84 (B) Published by Authority. However, over thirty years since the Act has been passed, English have been used as an official language at all levels of Government and Educational institutions. Till today, no apparent action has been made to put this Act in motion and the Government seem content in the official use of non-native languages like English and Hindi in all important institutions. This subsequently results in the native tongue being pushed behind in status and consequently affects the attitudes of the public towards Mizo language. If, at an official level, Mizo language is discarded it could create a sentiment that Mizo is not as relevant and as important as that of English and Hindi. However, I find the need to stress that we the people of Mizoram, our culture and our heritage is intertwined with our language and it is also one of the things that makes us Mizo. We must not disregard our-self to seek inclusiveness by trying to master another language.
Mizo Subject in Central Universities
The inclusion of Mizo subject in higher education is a huge step towards the preservation and protection of the language. On 12th August 1997, Mizo (Language and Literature) was included as a permanent subject for Masters Degree in NEHU, Mizoram Campus producing several Post Graduates in Mizo Subject by July 1999. When Mizoram University was established on 2nd July 2001, Mizo Subject was one of the first seven courses offered. Today, there are over 500 students who have graduated with a Master degree in Mizo. In addition to MZU, other central universities like Guwahati University, NEHU and Manipur University also offer Mizo Subject. Also, there are other universities like Tripura University and Calcutta University (previously called) offering the subject as MIL Subject in one of their courses.
As a result of steps that has been taken, in 2001 MZU introduced its first Ph. d programme for Mizo Subject thus creating opportunities for native researchers to investigate and analyse their own literature and language. An M. Phil (Master of Philosophy) programme was also introduced in the same university in 2012. Today, there are countless students who have received their M.Phil. or PhD degree, with thesis written in Mizo language. Further, in 2018 Pachhunga University College and ICFAI University Mizoram also introduce a Post Graduate Course in Mizo creating opportunities for more students to study Mizo subject.
It is indeed a feat to have Mizo Subject included in Central and State universities. However, there is a huge demand of Research Centre for Mizo language as there is a driving need to have many burning questions answered. Mizo is a language that is unexplored by researchers unlike English or Hindi and it is an untrodden fertile land for native researchers.
Is There a Need to Create a New Script for Mizo?
My answer to this would be a ‘No, there is no need for a new script’. Mizo uses a Roman script that was given by the British missionaries in late 19th Century after a proper study of the language and the phonemes the native speakers use. That Mizo language uses Roman script, which is one of the widely used and easy to read script, holds many advantages.
A special guest of Mizoram University once remarked ‘So, Mizo does not have a unique script of its own’ in a mocking undertone. My reply was ‘We are using one of the most widely used Roman script which makes our language easily accessible to non-native speakers. And we have no intention of landing in a similar situation with those of the people in Manipur”. As it so happens that recently in Manipur there was an eruption of outrage to use ‘Meitei Mayek’ rather than the ‘Bengali Script’ that has been practised for a long time. The Government was pushed to a corner to restart a movement, to re-awaken the use of their unique ‘Meitei Mayek’ and to undo what has been in practise. However, since they were unable to comply, the enraged public burn down their State Library on 19th April 2005 in their attempt to remove all traces of works written in Bengali Script. It was no doubt a huge loss. As an observer, it is apparent that suddenly changing a script and expecting the general public forget the old script and to accept and use a new script is logically unrealistic. Although it is not impossible, changing one’s script requires time and consistency and is a long and tedious process. One cannot easily break one’s habit that has been formed, especially one that has been practised since childhood. To give a metaphorical example for comparison, a heavy smoker cannot suddenly quit smoking, it takes a long and arduous practise and getting used to to finally quit smoking.
Taking this situation into account, forcing a new script for Mizo language would be an arduous and meaningless task which may result in huge losses. I believe it is wise to be content with the script that we have with improvements. There is a need to clarify the use of ‘o’ and ‘aw’ and ‘J’ and ‘G’. B. Chamhlira had, in the past, mentioned that since ‘o’ is pronounced as ‘ou’, hence there is a need to correct ‘Mizo’ to ‘Mizou’ reinforcing my earlier observation. There is also ambiguity with regards to the use of ‘G’ where arguments have been made to accept ‘G’ to denote the sound ‘Ge’ as in Gawl (goal), gei gui, and ‘gan gan a che’.
Recently, there have been rumors that it is almost impossible for a language to be listed under the VIII Schedule if the said languages use a script other than Devanagiri. However, it is my opinion that in a diverse country as India, languages should not be limited and that embracing other scripts into our Schedule would only enrich our culture and heritage. As a Roman script user, we should strive to be included in the VIII Schedule as there have been other script users like Bengali, Persian (Kashmiri) and Arabic script (Sindhi) users who has also been listed under the VIII Schedule.
The Need to Include Mizo in the VIIIth Schedule
There are twenty-two languages under the VIII Schedule (Article 344 (1) and 351) which includes- Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarathi, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Maithili, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Panjabi, Sankskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telegu and Urdu. The user of these languages has advantage that non-Scheduled language users do not have. The most notable one is the protection of the Scheduled language from eventual death, consequently protecting the culture and heritage of its speakers. This is a much-needed insurance that would benefit the people of Mizoram.
In India, attempts have been made to elevate the current status of Hindi and various actions have been taken to ensure its Official status. I came across a copy of Annual programme 2006-2007 for Implementation of Official Language Act-1963 which was distributed by the central government in Mizoram University. It was mentioned that Hindi should be used in all Official business of the Government and “. that Hindi only be used for original noting and drafting. with the spirit of the Constitution. of India”. In addition, the President of India decreed that Hindi should be used in Ministry, Department and Office, Computer-Email-Website and all Scientific and Technical Literature should be written in Hindi. Further, typing boards supporting the Devanagari script should be used and even Stenographers are expected to write in Hindi. Ministry and Departments should also take ardent steps to organize Seminar/ Workshop to promote Hindi. These steps taken by the Government and the President have indeed improved the status of Hindi language which as a consequence can have a detrimental effect to languages like Mizo. If the current situation continues, Mizo language may one day be pushed to a corner by English or Hindi, where the speakers are in existence but the language is no longer spoken. There is an immediate need to take measures to protect the suffocation and finally death of Mizo as a language. The inevitable first step should be to urgently and strongly push forward the proposal to include Mizo in the 8th Schedule.
In 1997, one of the biggest NGO organization of Mizoram, Young Mizo Association (YMA), in their meeting in East Lungdar have agreed that the proposal for the inclusion of Mizo language in the 8th Schedule should be pushed forward by the State Government. They submitted a letter to the State Government stating their concerns and plea the following year. Central YMA and other NGO leaders on two occasions, spoke with Prime Ministers I.K. Gujral and A. B. Vajpayee during their visit to Mizoram.
The Mizo Academy of Letters (MAL), an organization of learned men, have often discussed the need for including Mizo in the 8th Schedule in their Annual meetings and Seminars. On 23rd April 1998, the organization on their Foundation Day, carried the theme 8th Schedule and discuss the importance and steps to be taken to set this goal into motion. On 29th January 1999, an official letter was sent to the Chief Minister of Mizoram relaying the importance and urging him to take necessary steps.
In the State election 2003 Mizoram People’s Conference and Zoram Nationalist Party included 8th Schedule in their manifesto. Prior to this, R. Romawia, a Minister from an opposing party MNF, on 26th February 1991 brought forward this issue in the Mizoram Legislative Assembly requesting the ruling party to ask the Central Government to include Mizo language under the 8th Schedule languages. Lalthanhawla, the leader of the then ruling party, Congress, did not argue nor rebut his request and readily accepted his proposal (Ref: R. Romawia:26.2.91- Admitted 22.3.91. Passed. Copy of passed Resolution forwarded to Chief Secretary, Govt. of Mizoram, Aizawl vide Letter No. MAL 2/90-91/84 dt 2.4.1991). It was an act of a ruler that thought of his people before his own party. Aside from the aforementioned, other organizations like MUP, MHIP, MILLTA and MWA and various other departments including the Department of Mizo under MZU advocates the pushing forward of proposals to include Mizo in the 8th Schedule languages.
According to a study by the New Delhi MZP, the number of Mizo speakers in Mizoram, Bangladesh and other places in the world totals to 26, 38, 518 number of speakers. In India, there are 16, 81, 188 number of people that can speak Mizo, Myanmar boast of 8,37,542 number of speakers, in Bangladesh 74,789 speakers and 26,38,519 number of people that can speak Mizo language in other parts of the world. Out of these, 10,12, 463 use it on a daily basis since birth. The Bible Society of India in 1989 has stated that there are 6,00,000 number of Mizo language speakers. According to the census of 2001, there are 8,91,508 number of people residing in Mizoram which has increased to 10,97,206 in 2011. This shows that there is a gradual increase in the number of speakers each year. The study of the census readings has brought to attention that there are Scheduled languages whose number of speakers are lesser than the number of speakers of Mizo language. The list of Scheduled languages with fewer number of speakers listed in accordance with census 1991 are Kashmiri (56,639), Sanskrit (49,736) and Dogri (89,681). According to the census of 1991, there were 5,38,842 number of Mizo language speakers. It is evident from this that Mizo speakers are not too few in number to shy away from a fight to be included in the 8th Schedule.
It is the responsibility of all organizations and Government and Political officials to seriously consider this issue and work in unity for its success. Central YMA and other NGOs should work to pressure the State Government into taking necessary steps. Students and academicians should be woken from their stupor and speak out. Student organizations should realize the importance of being included in the 8th Schedule and step up in however way they can. The most important step is for the State Government, with its might, pushes the Central Government to include our Mizo language in the 8th Schedule.
It is of utmost importance to be aware that inclusion in the 8th Schedule would allow the advantage of the inclusion of Mizo as an optional paper in All Competitive Examination conducted in India. As a result, the youth of Mizoram will have the comfort and advantage of taking competitive exams in their own native tongue. This will consequently allow the youth to progressively thrive which will subsequently result in a progressive State. Alternatively, if we continue as we are and our Mizo is not included in the 8th schedule, we could face the threat of being dominated by other languages like English and Hindi. Since, language is a core part of one’s culture and heritage, the loss of it could result in the loss of one’s heritage and culture.
Enriching Mizo with Languages from the Same Family
Mizo belongs to the Tibeto-Burman family of languages. In India, there are twenty-two languages belonging to the TB family which includes languages spoken in the North East like Mizo, Manipuri, Adi, Anal, Kuki, Missing, Garo, Angami, Ao etc. If researchers from these languages were to work hand in hand and compile a Dictionary/Thesaurus, it would not only enrich the language but would prove as a useful handbook for non-native researchers as well. Organizing Poet’s meet, Scholar’s meet or Conferences and Seminars would be a step towards achieving such goal.
Interacting with other TB family language speakers would indeed enrich our mother tongue but an important first step would be to learn from other dialects in Mizoram. In this age, there is an increase in number of loan words, borrowed from English, which in a way has enriched our language as we adapt these loan terms by nativizing them and thus absorbing them into our existing linguistic system. Also, we can further enrich our system by learning and interacting with speakers of our sister dialects such as Hmar, Kuki, Lai, Paite, Mara, Ralte, Thado, Vaiphei and Laizo. If borrowing words from English (belonging to a different family) could enrich our system, one can only imagine the linguistic wealth that would erupt through the interaction and concurrence of these dialects.
Books like ‘Samaw Mizo’ by Lalchhanhima Zofa and ‘Mizo-Lai Dictionary’ by MC Lalrinchhunga are two important cross-dialectal books that have taken positive steps towards dialectal interaction and concurrence. Ardent steps should be taken to publish books like Mizo glossary and Dictionary-cum-Thesaurus by language researchers, and the State Government should consider its importance and provide funds and resources for such purpose.
Popularizing Mizo Language
As mentioned before, there are 10,12, 463 number of speakers who uses Mizo as their means of communication and considers it their native tongue. In order for the number of speakers to increase, interest should be created towards the language. For that, books, newspapers, comics and songs of Mizoram should be widely distributed. Further, with developments in technology, now-a-days it is easier to distribute visual and audio recorded documents and we must make use of such to our advantages. These should be made easily accessible and reasonably priced bearing in mind that it is a tool for popularizing Mizo language.
Another way to popularize a language is translation. Translation of great classics and other famous works into Mizo is paramount. If these are made available in Mizo language for the Mizo locals, there would be no need to learn a different language to understand them. For reference, the Bible, the most translated book in the world, since it is made available in Mizo language it is accessible for even laymen. Similarly, it would be beneficial if other classics like Quran, Ramayana, Mahabharata etc. are also translated. Further, we should take steps to translate our own Mizo literature, songs and popular works into other languages like English, Hindi, Bengali and others. Translation of local works would create interest towards the language and its people and thus, would subsequently be beneficial in the popularization of the language and the State.
Broadening of Perspective in Research
It is no secret that there has always been an ongoing debate in relation to the grammar, the morphology, the phonetics and other areas to which no conclusion has been drawn as yet. There is a pressing need for Linguists who can give logical and technical explanations to these unanswered questions.
Mizo grammar and other related linguistic research have always been conducted using English language as a model. It is indeed alright to make a comparative study but it is not logical to conform and limit our findings with that of English language. Mizo is of a different branch in the language family, and so restricting our study and modelling it after English is a wrong approach and a flaw. Mizo language should be studied and researched on as it is, meticulously analysing its own unique structure and functions. Rather than English, it would be more fitting to look into researches that has been conducted on other Tibeto Burman languages. Furthermore, native researchers should take step to investigate their own literature and language, introducing them to other non-native academicians in Literary Conferences, Seminar, Poets meet etc.
It can be observed from the above discussion that the inclusion of Mizo language in the 8th Schedule is paramount for the survival of the language and its people. The State Government should take active steps for Mizo language to be included in the Scheduled languages as well as the implementation of the Mizoram Official Language Act-1974. Many tasks have been discussed aiming at popularization and survival of our mother tongue. Some of these can be easily achieved while there are some that requires patience and hard-work. Suggestions have been made to interact with speakers of other dialects of Mizoram and through this, take steps to enrich each dialect. Such active interaction could in turn result in the ability to comprehend each other and thus resulting in the unification of the different tribes of Zohnahthlak.
The speaker of Mizo language should value and cherish their mother tongue above every other language. If the native themselves do not cherish their own language, the chance for its survival is low. Consequently, since language is also an identity and intimately connected with culture and heritage, its death would result in the loss of our culture and identity. In order to protect and preserve our identity, native researchers, intellectuals and academicians should work hand in hand towards popularizing our language and literature. If there are more speakers or more people who speaks and understands the language, we would not be in danger of language death and loss of identity.
- Chhangte, Ralluaii, Mizo Tawng Chikna, Copyright ©2001, Aizawl.
- Editorial Board, Chapchar Kut Souvenir-2019, (Govt. of Mizoram) Aizawl : 2019.
- Khiangte, Laltluangliana (Edited), Mizo Tawng Zirzauna Bu Thar, Aizawl : 2012.
- Khiangte, Laltluangliana, Literary Trends and Mizo Literature, Aizawl : 2006, 4th. Edition.
- —. Tribal Culture, Folklore and Literature, A Mittal Publication, 2013, New Delhi
- —. (Edited) Tribal Languages and Literature of North East India, Felfim Computer, 2010, Aizawl.
- Liangkhaia, Mizo Chanchin, (History of the Mizos) LTL Publications, Aizawl : 2002.
- Mizo Academy of Letters, (Ed.Board) Zo Kalsiam, The RTM Press, Aizawl : 1997.
- Mizo Academy of Letters, (Ed.Board) Kum Za Lamtluang (Mizo Literacy Centenary Souvenir) Aizawl : 1994.
Cite the original source:
Khiangte, Laltluangliana. “Language for the Unity and Survival of the Mizos.” Mizo Studies, IX, no. 1, Mar. 2020, pp. 79–94.