October 24, 2013, 9-11 am. It's the first technical session of the first day. Originally, Dr. Rochunga Pudaite was slotted to be the first speaker in Technical Session-1 on 'Hmar trong chungchang (Ziek dan le Spelling inang hmang a poimawna). I was slotted to be the speaker at Technical Session-2 on "Hmar Trong Ziek Dan Chungchang (Thluk Sinsiena, hyphen, apostrophe, 'aw' aia 'o', 'tr' le thr' etc). I felt very sad to see the way my topic was put; it showed lack or absence of technical knowledge on the subject. Possibly, they wanted me to talk on Hmar phonemes and the need to develop diacritic signs or marks as also the need to learn correct usage of our adopted alphabets. When Dr. Rochunga Pudaite confirmed his inability to attend the Retreat due to family indisposition, my slot had to come to Technical Session-1. It was at this juncture that I asked the organisers to change the topic assigned to me to 'The Structure of Hmar Language' which I thought was more relevant and appropriate for the occasion. For I felt that we need to start from the start before we could be able to discuss objectively such technical subjects as Hmar linguistics.
I like the word 'technical' even though I didn't know the import of the term intended by the organisers. The word to me carried some elevated status, a pedestal where experts of some sorts sat down to deliberate on issues somewhat technical beyond common knowledge of the masses. It also, I presumed, drew a line between the mundane and the spiritual and I came for the former and not the latter. The big question bothering me was and still is: Are we prepared or ready to discuss the topic on the basis of our study and findings on the intricate subject that requires not only theoretical knowledge but also practical experiences on day- to-day encounter with the language? How many of us know that linguistics is a vast and highly technical subject requiring deep study?
My personal experience in the past had been that most of us came to a seminar with little or no preparation and harangued undigested opinion picked from the hall itself for self-pontification. In reality, such self-glorifying exercise as mentioned is sterile. It doesn’t work. It produces only rhetorics but no tangible results. Many of us talk about literature without knowing what literature really means. Some of us, including our so-called degree holders, are prisoners of our preconception or misconception of what literature is. We cannot distinguish the tree from the wood. Whenever we talked about development of literature and language, they thought that we talked about the need for revision of our borrowed alphabet which they opposed tooth and nail for no rhyme or reason. Perhaps we do not know that language is only the vehicle of literature and alphabet is a set of letters or symbols in a fixed order used when writing a language. A literary piece remains a literary piece in whatever language or alphabet one may transcribe.
The present rudimentary alphabet used in writing Hmar language with only one diacritic mark or sign (^) is highly inadequate and needs revision and reform without adding or substracting the English alphabet or the Roman alphabet but in a modified form as, for example, the Italian or Spanish speakers did, as our language is mono-syllabic and phonetic. Hunterian system of orthography adopted by J.H.Lorrain while modifying our alphabet adding aw, ch, ng and a dot under t (tri) which might seem adequate at our level of development then, more than a century ago, but not now. This is a task linguistic experts have to work out.
If papers presented by resource persons at linguistic seminars on Hmar language in the recent past were of any indication, we have a long way to go. Apart from subscribing the concocted history of the so-called ‘Hmar’ tribe which was based mainly on misconception, self-imposed deception, and to a great extent, intellectual corruption, none of the contributors dared to dig deep into the crux of the problem. Earlier, some even went to the extent of discovering the Sinlung site from Reader’s Digest World Atlas and one maverick pastor recently claimed to have visited the concocted Sinlung and our respected cultural organisation invited him and honoured him with ‘Thangsuopuon’ plus cash reward. To add more salt to the festering wound, one of our elite member hailed him in writing with a coveted title ‘The first Christopher Columbus of the Hmars’! What a fall! We should hang our heads in shame! If the so-called elite members could stoop so low as mentioned above, what would be the condition of the common people? Misguided patriotism is a dangerous illness.
The need to admit wrongs
Now, the big question standing before us is this: Are we really ready to discuss our problems objectively and without demur? If yes, we have to admit two fundamental facts. One, that the origin of the ‘Hmar tribe’ as claimed by some to be very old is flawed as it is not supported by any historical evidence. Second, we also have to admit that Hmar Trong is also of recent origin, stemming from years of interactions between speakers of Dulien/Lusei and the dialects of the tribes identified and clubbed together by Grierson as Old Kuki Group who remained for long under the rule of the Lusei, primarily the Sailo chiefs. Remnants of them migrated in hordes towards the north during and after the Sailo fratricidal wars known as Sim le Hmar Indo (1849-1856) and Sak le Thlang Indo (1877-1880) in Mizoram. They were the group who earned the name ‘Hmar’ and used the terminology as identification of their group. Conjecturally, this happened after 1800 AD.
The two facts mentioned above stand diametrically opposite the commonly held belief in the concocted Hmar ancient roots. This is the war zone between those who chose to hang on the branch of mythological history with pants down and those who chose to respect and uphold evidential historical truth. The great majority of us has been trapped unaware in this make-believe history and live in a world of deception like, for example, the Meitei Hindus who were cheated by one Hindu priest Shantidas Gosain that led to the burning of their holy books (Puyas) in 1729 AD and the Sanskritisation of the Hindu Meitei society through concoction of their history. The consequence of such deception is long and damaging.
Despite the short notice given, all the resource persons were expected to prepare a seminar paper for circulation during the session and for publication later. Since my topic ‘The structure of Hmar language’ was so vast and embracing, I decided not to write the paper but to face the audience without a paper and speak whatever my inner voice directed me to do so after reading their faces.
But I did not go to the seminar empty-handed. I took with me seven spiralled-bound collection of my articles on various topics concerning Hmar language and literature which I carefully selected from the many pieces I wrote during the past several years. I did this as a token testimony that I came to the seminar well prepared. To discuss threadbare these articles alone would take several months. They were the fruits of my constant engagement with the Hmar language and literature since my boyhood.
As I was not preparing my paper, a thought came to me that I should instead write an article entitled ‘HMAR TRONG SEMINAR THLIRLAWKNA’ (Preliminary Survey on Hmar Language Seminar) on October 5, 2013 to highlight the importance of organising such Retreat as also the important issues that I considered the Retreat should focus. Some of these are:
The Structure of Hmar language
The first thing one has to know in order to promote, develop, protect and preserve Hmar language is its basic structure which is mono-syllabic and phonetic. Mono-syllabic language is a language having only one syllable as opposed to polysyllabic having word of several (usually more than three) syllables. Chinese and other kindred languages are mono-syllabic whereas English, Hindi etc are polysyllabic. Phonetic language is also called tonal language in which each syllable pronounced produces sound with different meanings. Unless one knows this basic structure which governs its grammar, it is difficult to write Hmar correctly. Amongst people who have learnt English which is a polysyllabic language, there is a tendency to write Hmar in the pattern of English and therefore combine words in a polysyllabic way which is wrong. Generally, Golden Rule No. 1 is to write each syllable or word separately. However, combination of more than one syllable to form a noun etc has to be written together and not separately. That is Golden Rule No. 2. There are many more but we will stop at that.
The most important thing to remember is that Hmar Grammar has to be based on the structure of Hmar language and any attempt to do otherwise will ultimately kill the Hmar language itself. I have been engaging myself in trying to find out the structure of Hmar language since my impressionable years, composed more than 150 songs and poems, wrote several short stories and novels, translated Gitanjali and the Holy Bible and many hymns in English and Hmar and scripted and produced so far more than a dozen books and wrote articles and essays in excess of 1000 pieces. Hmar language is a very complicated and sometimes very unscientific language in a sense that one word carrying the same meaning can be pronounced in different ways depending on the sound of words used and the construction of sentence preceding it. In some cases, there are patterns but in others, none. The pattern of tense indicating future tense in the form of adding ‘ng’ to a verb is intriguing and challenging. Many double words which we believe are double adverbs are plural indication. Some full sentences have no verbs at all. In other words, we can say that some sentences contain in it ‘imbedded verbs’ or expressions which only cultural eyes or ears could read, hear and understand. Many expressions carry culturally clear and deep meanings which are beyond description in word sound and symbols.
Why? Because language is a reflection or image of culture. It is not a static material. It keeps on changing and evolving with the change of cultural pattern, better and more useful. No fullstops. But it cannot develop beyond the height of its users. Because, language is developed by human beings. It is not a God-given material offered on a platter. Not like the head of John the Baptist offered to a girl by Herod as a gift. God has no language. God speaks to people in a voice that they understand in their respective language. Jehovah spoke to Moses and people of Israel from Sinai mountain in the form of thunder which they understood in their language. God’s technology is beyond measure. The level of cultural growth that the users of Hebrew language in the Old Testament could be guessed from the writings they left behind, some of which were compiled in a book form called the Bible.
While translating the Bible into Hmar, I often thought about one thing which is: Had God revealed creation and all that followed now to a new Moses in this digital world, what would be the new transcript in google terminology? How would the Big Bang theory fit into it? May be there is no change in the language or the linguistic description is changed so much that you and I who are hanging between tuthlaw (hoe) and laptop civilization could not understand anything at all.
I say all these to try to explain how language can evolve so much in a few years. If you read the Old English of the Chaucerian time (c.1343-1400 AD), you will hardly understand any of it. You may not even think that it is English. But he was called Father of English literature and the language he used was called ‘Middle English’ and not the Old English. The English language grew beyond recognition in a matter of a few hundred years and has become a link language of the world. Our forefathers had already settled in the Chin Hills during Chaucer’s time and some of the Old Kuki tribes had already moved into Mizoram and were about entering Tripura.
I wrote a few novels and short stories composed about 40 songs and translated Gitanjali between 1970-76. On returning to India in 1997 after 21 years interrupted postings abroad, I started digging out those writings from the old dusted files for reviewing and editing. That’s the time I discovered the many flaws in my writings thirty years ago and I had to rewrite many sentences while editing for publication. That’s also the time I realized that I have grown along with the growth of Hmar language and this is reflected in the Delhi Version of the Holy Bible in Hmar. It is far removed from the previous translations in style and language and is to my understanding free from grammatical mistakes and twisted and incomprehensible sentences. The point I want to make is that, when I finished the translation and publication, I found a much better way to translate the Bible to make it simpler and easier to understand for the younger generation. There is no end to making it better. As I grow, my knowledge of Hmar also grows.
If one restricts its movement or growth of language and thought within a vacuum, it becomes stunted, gradually rots and dies a natural death. The development and growth of a language needs a free space and spirit and congenial environment and any attempt to control and restrict its growth is detrimental and suicidal. There is endless room for its improvement. Its greatest enemy is a wrong assumption that language is a God-given gift in a well-structured form which should not be disturbed or changed. Truth is the opposite. Language is developed by human beings and the more the users grow in thought and action in keeping with the pace of time, the more it flourishes.
(To be continued)
(Sunday, December 15, 2-13)