Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Socio linguistics studies of Zo language

By Philip Thanglienmâng

M.A (Linguistics) Annamalai University


It is the study of language and society. Socio-linguists try to analyze the social factors which lead to this diversity. They are interested in language differences esp. in variation within a particular language. Socio-linguists prefer to start with the notion of a Speech community rather than a ‘language’. They define a speech community as any group of people who consider that they speak the same language. All Zo dialects must be classified as one language, because, in spite of differences in accents and terminology, their speakers all consider they speak Zo tongue.
Dialect and Accent
Language variation within a speech community is due to many factors, including geographical location, age, occupation, socio-economic status, ethnic group and sex. Dialect is usually associated with a particular geographical area such as Hâidawi, Thangkhâl, Khuongnung, Lamka, Sugnu etc of Zo language. However, the variations (if any) among these dialects are very insignificant that it is often difficult to identify or classify them as separate dialects in the true sense of definition of dialect. Examples: 'Hang pei in' in the Standard Zo(Hâidawi) is ‘Hing pei in’ as in Khodâi, ‘Hung pai in’ in Thangkhâl and Khuongnung, 'Hong pai in' as in Paite, Tedim-Chin. Tam, tanah, tami in Zo(Hâidawi) their equivalents are hi, hiah, hiai ah, himi, in Khuongnung, Thangkhâl dialects etc. But for, these few grammatical words(determiners) we may say that there is no other significant variations amongst these dialects. Here, comes the importance of analyzing what Accent means to the sociolinguists. Rather, it is the Accent that is often confused with dialect. In fact, Accent refers to way of pronunciation and difference pronunciation.


Register: Several language styles within the speech of a single person and variation between people.Language styles may be High or formal; low or informal. Knowing what to say when sometimes known as communicative competence. Native speakers just know that it would be odd to say ‘kindly refrain from smoking to a 10 year-old child puffing a stolen cigarette or rude to say ‘put that fag out’ to a Princess. Both utterances are equally inappropriate. Sometimes, inappropriate use of language or register becomes the source of good humor. Javanese aristocrats, townsfolk, and farmers each speak in a distinct style of speech associated with it. Among the Zo community as a child grows up it automatically picks up certain formal way of addressing its relatives such as the gang(husband of father’s sister), Pu (father’s father or mother’s brother), mou(sister-in-law), Pa(to father’s brothers or husbands of mother’s sisters),U(to any elder person). Failure to follow these terms in an appropriate register brings displeasure to the speaker.

Phonological variation:

Phonological variation,both between speakers and within a single speaker, is immensely important as a reflection of various social factors. Speakers of a language alter their phonology to suit a particular situation,often without realizing it. For example, a Zo speaker from a interior village, when he/she comes in contact with a Zo speaker of a semi-urban areas like Lamka without realizing he/she alters his/her phonology to communicate with a Zo speaker of Lamka vice versa. Another way of explaining is that, A rural Zo speaker from interior village usually uses ‘tami’ to mean 'this' whereas when he comes in contact with the Lamka Zo-who may happen to use 'himi=this', the hill/rural Zo subconsciously and unknowingly changes his/her phonology using ‘himi’ for 'this'; often without realizing it. Similar, phonological variation takes place for words such as hing, pei, di aw, khunah etc into hung, pai, duoh, duah, huah as a person comes in contact with a Lamkan or townsfolks. Phonological variation also often occurs due to the wrong usage of spelling system among the Zo, Simte speakers etc. Here, let me define a new terminology known as ‘Faithful phonology’ or Native Phonology. Native phonology or faithful phonology means the phonology used originally used by the illiterate or rustic Zo native speakers and the usage of correct phonetics and spellings. For example, the word ‘stone’ when pronounced by an illiterate Tedim, Paite, Simte or Zo native speaker he/she would pronounce it as ‘/suo:ng/’ or ‘/suaw:ng/’ faithfully, but when it is written down its spelling becomes ‘/suang/’. Later on, when students or literate persons see the spelling or word they tend to read or pronounce it as ‘suang as /su+ang/’ as per the spelling and phonetics attached to it, and not in the original faithful phonology of ‘suawng’ as used by the illiterate folks. Similarly, words such as diai, pia, sia, chiang, chiat, siang, piang, liang, suah, tuah, suak, thuah, thuak etc. when read or pronounced by literate persons they tend to follow the spelling and phonetics and in the process the faithful phonologies are lost, thereby making them sound as if they are completely new types of morphemic shapes or words very different from the original native or faithful phonologies such as diei, pie, sie, chieng, chiet, sieng, pieng, lieng, suoh, suok, tuoh, tuok, suok, thuoh, thuok, etc.
Code-switching: In some cultures a changed social situation is marked by a change in the actual language spoken, this phenomenon is known as code-switching. Socio-linguistically, this is not very different from stylistic variation within a single language. For example, in Churachandpur, the Zo community are adept at code-switching. They can use 7 different languages in the course of their everyday life: Zo, Paite, Thadou, Hmar, Meitei, Mizo, Simte. Zo is the language of the church(religion) and home. Paite, Thadou, and Hmar are the languages used by men and women in the bazaar and market places and in the offices. When a Zo comes in contact with a Meitei say in the Metei Leikai, he/she changes his/her language into Meitei. In Hmarvêng, he/she speaks in Hmar. In Simvêng he/she switches over to Simte(Khuongnung). In Tuibuong area he/she changes over to Thadou-Kuki and so on. In Mizo area of Thingkângphai he/she switches over to Mizo. In a multilingual societies like Churachandpur most of the speakers are proficient in all the languages spoken. However, the tendency is that some larger communities do not wish to speak in the languages of the smaller communities even if they are fully proficient and conversant with them, this leads to a situation wherein, the smaller communities subconsciously, develop inferiority complex that their language is not known by them; thus a sort of fear psychosis about loosing their language identity creeps in, therefore, they often loath to use the language of the larger communities. This is the main factor which hinders the development of a common language; lingua franca. Perhaps,it may take another 50 years to develop what we may call it ‘Lamka hâm’(Lamka dialect) which may serve one day as the lingua franca or pidgin of the district.


Children of the pidgin speakers speak creole. Thangkhâl dialect, Gângte etc may be classified as Zo creole.


1.Human tendency: Humans have the tendency to imitate the speech of a particular native speaker in a village in order to sound like the true native villager and to gain acceptance of that particular villagers. This is true, more so, amongst the mutually intelligible dialects. For example, when a Zo speaker visits or settles in a Sizang or Teizang or Tedim-Chin, or Paite or Simte etc speaking village, he/she consciously tries to imitate the speech of that particular community in order to gain acceptance into that village/community. Over the years as he/she settled in that village, he/she adopts the language of that village discarding his original native/mother tongue/language, at the same time,he goes on unconsciously adding some more vocabularies to his/her own mother tongue which he/she brought along with his/her native village. Thus, he gradually, develops a new dialect slightly or more divergent from his/her parent language. This imitation of the local speakers must have been the most powerful natural process by which the various languages such as Tedim-Chin, Paite, Simte, Thangkhâl, Khuongnung etc, must have developed from the original Zo language. Examples: Hing & hang must have changed into hung, hong in course of a century or so. Tam, tami, tanah, etc must have changed into hi, himi, hiai, hiah, etc. Sih must have changed into hih, suh, kei due to geographical isolation of the native Zo speakers, along with them the velar stop ‘k’ must have been incorporated at the end of a word in place of the nasal stop ‘h’. Thus, suh becomes suk, thuoh becomes thuok,suoh becomes suok and so on. A Zo inhabitant of Sugnu Town and a Zo inhabitant of Lamka town both speak consider and profess themselves to speak the same Zo language, which is quite true, but on actual analysis, they both speak with different accents. Much of the Zo original language has been diluted over the years covering a period of 30 years, today we find that there is another Zo dialect in Lamka areas which is a combination or mingling of Simte, Paite, Lushei(Mizo), Khuongnung dialect and also Zo(Hâidawi); which is the original standard Zokam or Zohâm as employed in the Holy Bible in Zo and Holy Bible in Zomi. Subconscioulsy, human beings imitate those people or society they admire,or desire to be associated with, thus affecting language changes. Some changes occur ‘from above’ meaning ‘from the level of consciousness’, when people consciously imitate the accent of others. For example, the word ‘fel’ is a Mizo/Lushai/Lusei word, in course of their interactions with the Mizos directly or indirectly through religious literature, the Zo speakers consciously picked up this word to substitute approximately for ‘taima’, in their day to day speech. Now, the word ‘fel’ has become apart and parcel of their speech by way of borrowing of words or what is known as using loan words. So also, the words such as tawmngaina, lungngâina, mangai, tanchin, theibufâi, mamaw, emaw etc have crept into their vocabularies.


1. Regularity of sound change:-

If one sound changes, the alteration does not only occur in an isolated word. It affects all similar words in which the same sound occurs. So, among the Zo speakers of Sugnu-Singtom-Sachih areas of Chandel district in Manipur state of India and also in the adjoining areas of Myanmar, we find that during the 1990s there were sound changes in some of the words like:- ung into vung, ua into vua, uh into vuh, un into vun. Here, we see that there is regularity of sound change by addition of the phoneme ‘v’ before the morpheme ‘u’ in these words. However, the original words ung, ua, uh, un, affected by these changes coexist with the new words vung, vua, vuh, vun, alongwith the associated new pronunciation in the process known as lexical diffusion. In the same way, in Zovêng Lamka village in Churachandpur Town, we find sound changes among the Zo speakers during the the same period, words such as; diei into diai, pei into pai, pie into pia, sie into sia, suong into suang, puo into pua, huo into hua, chieng into chiang etc, due to the influence of the A, AW, B, CH.. Z system of spelling usage and other factors. In the early stages of the process, many words may be affected and in the long run the changes may peter out, never catching on some words. It is not yet known at present which one will prevail; the old pronunciation or the new pronunciation; only time will tell.

2. Natural tendency-Social factors:

Most of the Zo dialects have developed by a process of natural tendency in which the ends of the words are replaced by a new phoneme/letter or they disappear. The changes are affected predominantly by the replacement of phonemes h(nasal stop) & a by phoneme k(velar stop) or by prefixing k before h in the beginning of a word. Let us examine some of the Zo words such as: âh, awh, beh, boh, bûh, buh, buoh, chih, deh, dêh, êh, eh, gâh, guh, gûh, guoh, hah, ha, hâ, hâh, hapi, hou, jâh, kawh, keh, kêh, koh, kûh, kuoh, lah, lâh, lih, lihleh, luh, luoh, mah, mâh, mawh, mêh, nâh, nêh, pâh, pêh, phawh, pua, puoh, sah, sawh, suh, suoh, tah, thah,thuh, thûh, thuoh, uh, ûh, vua, vuoh, zâh, zuh. When we consider the replacement rules as stated above, we obtain the following corresponding words as given below: âk, awk, bok, bûk, buk, buok( buak), chik, dek, dêk, êk, ek, gâk, guk, gûk, guok (guak), hak, kha, khâ, khâk, khapi, khou, jâk (zâk), kawk, kek, kêk, kok, kûk, kuok(kuak), lak, lâk, lik, liklek, luk, luok(luak), mak, mâk, mawk, mêk, nâk, nêk, pâk, pêk, phawk, pûk, puok, sak, sawk, suk, suok, tak, thak, thuk, thûk, thuok (thuak), uk, ûk, vûk, vuok(vuak), zâk, zuk.The variation in the vowels ‘o’ and ‘a’ in between words such as suoh and suah(suak) etc is brought about by introduction of A, B, C, D, E...Z system of spelling usage by educated class of Zo community and by the earlier European missionaries who introduced the Roman Alphabets in the form and usage of A, AW, B, CH,....Z. The problem with this A, AW, B, CH,.........Z, is that most of the pronunciations of the Zo words are in a way found to be distorted or changed into completely different pronunciations through the adoption of this system.For example, when a illiterate Zo speaker pronounces the words such as bieng 'cheek' , chieng 'stick', hieng 'relative', lieng 'shoulder', muol 'hill', nuol 'reject', puo 'carry', suong 'stone', the vowel e sounds as in the word ‘length’ and the vowel o sounds as in old. Whereas at a time when the A, AW, B, CH, .. Z system was in vogue, the literate Zo speaker used to write the above words as: biang, chiang, hiang, liang, mual, nual, pua, suang, etc. However, in the true sense of phonetics these words do not convey the true sounds or pronunciations as spoken amongst the native Zo speakers. It was found that there were many anomalies in respect of the spelling usages and the actual pronunciations. For example, the words hill and reject are pronounced more closely to the spellings of muol and nuol than the spelling of mual and nual by a native speaker. However, those who are accustomed to the A, AW, B, CH .... Z system used more frequently the latter spellings, which are, of course, not very much favoured by the modern English educated new generation of Zo community. Secondly, the word ‘to carry' is written and sounds as ‘puo’ as a pronounced by a native speaker, where as, pua means to collapse; buol means to wallow or linger on, where as bu-al means a rooster, chia means mole where as chie means size, dia means infertile, unhatched, where as die means to soak; hia means to drive or turn, where as hie means it is(indeed); jie(zie) means manner, whereas jia(zia) means abstention, taboo or forbidden rule, kia means to return where as kie means to fall, lia means to roll, lie means to overshadow, pie means to give where as pia means to move, sia means iron, strike with foot, where as sie means bad, tua means that whereas tuo means to fit/match,vua means snow/to fill where as vuo means to thrash/beat. Some vowels like a undergoes change into o due to system of spelling usage as in suah into suoh; and suoh into suok and many more words need such differentiations, here lies the phonological anomalies because, Zo language is a tonal/phonetic language unlike the English language. The Zo Cultural-cum-Literature Society India has already adopted the A,B,C,...Z system following the system which is used in the Zo Holy Bible, which will bring more changes in the Zo language.
In recent period of history, the social and political factors of language changes might have resulted in the evolution of new dialects or languages such as Tedim-Chin, Thangkhâl, Gangte, Vaiphei, Paite, Hmar(?) etc, in course of a period spanning roughly 150 years of intermingling and inter-tribe migration within groups of ethnic hill tribes. Simte dialect may have been perhaps branched out from the base language Zo. Simte is also often called Khuongnung in Zo realm. Here, the political and social factors of language changes might have played a major role in the language changes by considering that they are different from the Zo community the Simte community has hung onto the A,AW,B,CH...Z system of spelling usage with slight modifications of the long sounding vowels. Some vowels like ‘i’, ‘o’ changed into ‘a’ ‘o’ or ‘u’ in course of time. For example, hing has changed into hang,ang,hong,hung among the Zo speakers. Sound changes also occur when certain vowels in some words in a particular position are affected due to the usage of different spelling system although the pronunciation may not have changed drastically among the native speakers, for instance; the vowel sound of ‘o’ undergo a change(mutation) into the vowel sound of ‘a’ due to system of spelling usage as in suoh into suah, tuoh into tuah, tuot into tuat, luo into lua, suo into sua etc. In other cases,the vowel ‘i’ and ‘u’ ‘g’are totally omitted from some words such as lien,suoh,hing etc., thus they become len,soh,hin etc.as in Thadou-Kuki dialect. Likewise, many changes in the sound patterns and written forms have been affected in this manner, for example,the accepted spelling for the word rich is ‘hâu’ at present; earlier it was written as hao,therefore,words like pao, jau, kao, lao, mao, nao, zao etc. have been now changed and written as pau, jau, kau, lau, mau, nau, zau respectively.Nevertheless,the ‘o’ending is still popular among the Thadou-Kuki writers. The plural form of words in Zo are haw,hon, adjectives of numbers, and te. Due to the influence of other language, the educated class among the Zo community have started using the plural form ‘te’ more often than the plural form ‘haw’. Thus, words such as ‘amahaw’ becomes amaute, ama uh becomes amaute, ‘kouhaw’ becomes koute, ‘nouhaw’ becomes noute, ‘khumhaw’ becomes khumte, bawnghon becomes bawngte,tahaw becomes tate, tamhaw becomes tamte.

In this manner, sound changes also follows alongwith the changes in the plural forms. The use of analogy has led to changes in the sequence of the words and sound patterns of the Zo language. For example, the poetic form of vaphuol is written as phuolva; in a similar manner words like Zomi is written as Mizo, phalbi is written as biphal, zusa is written as sazu, sakol is written as kolsa, the syntax and the phonology has changed but the semantics remain the same. By this method, most of the words of ‘R’ group of languages are easily identifiable with the words of ‘G’ group of languages.For instance, the R-group of languages have words such as ram, Zoram, ramhuaisia,rûn,etc and in the G-group of languages the corresponding words are gam, Zogam, gamhuoisie, gûn etc vice versa.

3. Chain shifts

Earlier we saw the changes in the ends of the words as in the changes from

(i) h endings words into k endings words and

(ii) a ending words into k or h ending words and

(iii) o ending words becomes u ending words by replacement method.;next we find that because of the system of spelling usages further changes occur in the vowel like(iv) i changing into either a,or o,or u vowels;(v) also the vowels o nd a interchange their positions vice versa due to the system of spelling usage.

Let us examine them one by one below:-

(i) Examples of h into k ending words are:- âh into âk,bûh becomes bûk; chih into chik, deh into dek, dêh into dêk, êh into êk, eh into ek, guoh becomes guok, luoh into luok, puoh into puok, phawh into phawk, suh into suk, suhte into sukte, suoh into suok, thuh into thuk, thûh into thûk, vuoh into vuok.(ii) Examples of a ending words into k or h are: hua into hûk, hûh; mua into muh; pua into pûk, pûh; phua into phûk, phûk; thua into thûk, thûh; vua into vûk, vûh.(iii) Examples of o ending words into u ending words are: hao into hau, jao into jau, mao into mau, nao into nau pao into pau, sao into sau respectively.

(iv) Examples of the vowel i changing into either a, or o, or u vowels are Hing into hin; hing into ang; hing into hang; hing into hong; hing into hung.

(v) Examples of o and a interchanges are:-For example, we find that the word ‘suoh’ becomes suah, suak; phonologically, then at later stage as the written form, due to the system of spelling usage.The words suoh and suah, suak although are similar in their morphology but are quite different in their phonology.Thus, we may conclude that the overall changes is that the syllable/the morpheme ‘oh’ is changed into ‘ah’ or ‘ak’ as in:- luoh into luah,luak puoh into puak suoh into suah,suak thuoh into thuah,thuak tuoh into tuah, tuak vuoh into vuah,vuak.oi into ai as in:- buoi into buai, duoi into duai, guoi into guai, huoi into huai, kuoi into kuai; luoi into luai; nuoi into nuai; phuoi into phuai; suoi into suai; tuoi into tuai; vuoi into vuai;ol into al as in buol into bual;guol into gual,huol into hual; luol into lual; muol into mual,nuol into nual;phuol into phual;suol into sual; tuol into tual; zuol into zual;om into am as in duom into duam; guom into guam;huom into huam; kuom into kuam;muom into muam; nuom into nuam; puom into puam; suom into suam; thuom into thuam;on into an as in buon into buan;guon into guan;huon into huan; kuon into kuan;luon into luan; muon into muan; puon into puan;suon into suan; tuon into tuan;vuon into vuan;zuon into zuanong into ang as in buong into buang; duong into duang;guong into guang; huong into huong; juong into juang; kuong into kuang; luong into luang; muong into muang; nuong into nuang;phuong into phuang;puong into puang; suong into suang; zuong into zuang;op into ap as in:- duop into duap; huop into huap; thuop into thuap;tuop into tuap;ot into at as in:- duot into duat; guot into guat; huot into huat; luot into luat; muot into muat; tuot into tuat;

The consonantal and vowel to consonantal shifts are summed up as below:-
The symbol --> denotes 'becomes'
a or â --> h, k as in Thuâ-->Thuh, Thuk,
a or â -->ah, âh, ak, âk as in Da-->Dah, Dâ-->Dâh, Thâ-->Thâh, Thâk,
ang--> ing, ong, ung as in Hang-->Hing, Hong, Hung
e becomes a as in Chien-->Chian, Khie-->Khia, Lien-->Lian, Nieng--> Niang, Sieng-->Siang
g-->r as in Gam-->Ram, Gou-->Ro, Rouh
h-->k, r as in Tah-->Tak, Sah-->Sak, Uh-->Uk, Zieh-->Ziek, Suoh-->Suok, Pâh-->Pâr i.e Zozâm pâh-->Zozâm pâr
i-->ih as in hoi-->hoih, koih, Nui-->Nuih, Sui-->Suih(Simte, Tiddim-Chin, Paite)
s-->h as in Sih-->Hih-->C, Ch as in Teng-->Cheng, Ceng Tûn-->Cûn, Chûn, Chieng-->Tieng, Teng, Tem-->Chem,Cem
Negative markers: Lou-->Lo, Loh; Sih-->Kei, Puai, Puoi, Poi, Noh
Proposition markers: Ni-->Vâ’i, Ni’ng-->Va’ng
In some instances the phoneme o-->a, Uo-->Ua as in Puo-->Pua, Suo-->Sua(Paite,Tiddim-Chin, Mizo, Vâiphei)
Omission Rules as in Thado-KukiI is omitted as in Lien-->Len, Chien-->ChenU is omitted as in Suopi-->Sopi, Suong-->Song H(Zo)-->hl(Zo), kh(Tiddim-Chin, Paite, Vâiphei, Th(Gangte), Thl(Hmar,Mizo) e.g; Ha-->hla,kha,Tha,Thla Hl-->Lh(Thadou-Kuki),Thl(Mizo).
The demonstrative pronouns in other realms are ; hi,hih,hiai,himi,he,hiche whereas in the Zo(Hâidawi) the demonstrative pronouns are ; ‘ta,tam,tami,tammi’; perhaps a feature of its antiquity.
The adverbs of place in other realms are; hiah,huah,huai ah,hu, but in Zo(Hâidawi) realm the adverbs of place are ; tan, tana, tanah, khunah, khum, khumnah.


In modern times, the tribal dialects of Zo, Tedim, Paite, Simte, Gangte, Vaiphei etc should have been amalgamated or standardized by this time-a span of say 5o years or so, due to the influence of the printing press just as the dialectical differences in English language was arrested by the printing press, but the trend among these dialectical tribal groups is leading towards pronounced differences amongst the dialects instead of unifying their dialects into a common language. It is this mistaken analysis of these speech communities that has turned them to think that they seemed to belong to different ethnic groups or dialectical groups. This false notion of dialects as the basis of ethnic polarization amongst these speech communities instilled in their mind a false sense of ethnic identity based on dialectical identity and often leads to disunity among them in the field of religion, politics and social milieu. The simple reason can be traced to the early missionaries who introduced Roman script for writing(Roman Orthography) which some groups have accepted in toto without verifying and justifying the phonetical sounds,structures,grammar and usages. Some groups have been trying to streamline their language as per IPA system whereas other still carry on with their old missionary gifted system of writing which are quite full of anomalies with what is actually spoken and written. Actual spoken sounds and phonetics are not attuned to the written structure leading to the development of new way of pronouncing the words by younger generations who come to study this missionary gifted Alphabets and Sound structures.

About the writer

The writer was posted at Churachandpur(Lamka) as SO and AE for nearly 3 years during that period he had made extensively observations of the various languages of Churachandpur/Lamka.*The writer is Civil Servant belonging to Delhi, Daman & Diu, DNH, Andaman, Nicobar Islands Civil Services(DANICS) of UT Cadre in the Government of India,Ministry of Home Aff airs. He is presently posted with the Government of Delhi as Deputy Commissioner(Trade and Taxes).*Prior to this,he was posted in Delhi from 1997 till 2005.*He completed his Class X from Loyola High School, Jakhama, Nagaland securing 10th rank in Nagaland State.*He completed P.U.Science from St. Edmund’s College, Shillong,Meghalaya.*He completed Bachelor of Civil Engineering from Saurashtra University,Rajkot,Gujarat with distinction.*He completed M.A(Linguistics) in 2006 from Annamalai University, Annamalainagar, Tamilnadu.*He has authored/compiled 5(five) books in 2006 they are;1) Zo Lahâmtengte,Kigêntênate leh Kitêkâhnate Hâmbu Vol.I(Dictionary of Zo poetic words, metaphors and similes Vol.I),2) A Brief biography of Subedar Peter Thangkhokam3) Ka hinkhuo tomkim by Mari Lienzanieng4) Ka Katekizam Masapên5) Katholik Zailate leh Mass Lamzûina6) Global Warming (Leitung Satna) 2008 A.D*He is the editor of a quarterly journal ‘ZOTONGDAM’ published by ZCLSI. He is doing his own amateur research on Zo language.

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