Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Learning Apatani language : an easy way to memorize nouns

I don’t speak Apatani, nor do I belong to the Apatani community. But I have recently become interested in the NE language issue as a social anthropologist. Being a stranger to ‘Tanii agun’, I am in a perfect position to apprehend the difficulties of this language as soon as I try learn a couple of sentences… Incidentally I have found that the word structure itself (what is called ‘morphology’ by linguists) can help beginers in the learning process. I hope this post will be useful to others too.

In Tanii, most nouns have 2 syllables : a-ki (dog), ya-ru (ear), etc. The second syllable is considered as the root of the word, and the first syllable as a prefix. In Tanii each root is necessarily preceded by a prefix.

prefix

root


a

ki

dog

ta

bu

snake

men

dii

buffalo

ya

ru

ear

A most interesting feature of Tanii prefixes is that they tend to function as classifiers. It means that a same prefix will apply to words which belong to the same ‘family’

Example :

The most common prefix for four-legged animals (quadrupeds) is SII-.

siibi

monkey

siibin

goat

siibo

bull

siichu

stag, antelope

siidin

small deer

siigun

sheep

siire

boar

siirin

otter

siiti

elephant

siitin

bear

siimyo, siiso, siiyin

3 wild cat species

It does not mean that ALL names of quadrupeds use the prefix SII-. There are in fact many ‘exceptions’ such as ami (cat), patii (tiger), hoggya (clouded leopard) etc. But as a rule a majority of them will do so.

Similarly, the most common prefix for birds is PA-

paje

duck

pakan

swan, goose

paku

pigeon, dove

pamu/pamii

hawk

pari

sparrow

parii

jungle fowl

parsin

jungle fowl (diff. species)

paro

chicken

The ‘exceptions’ are : puha (crow), miichie (kite), pesu (hornbill), etc.

The most common prefix for fishes is NGI- or NGII- (from ngiiyi/ngihi : fish), with very few exceptions

ngilyan

Schizothorax sp.

ngipapi

weed fish (Dorikona)

ngiira

unidentified species

ngiime

unidentified species

A most common prefix for small terrestrial animals such as insects, molluscs, worms, etc. is TA-

tagya

wasp

takhe

tick, flea

takhii

head lice

tami

housefly

tanogogo

snail

tape

leech

tapin

maggot

tarji

centipede

ta:ru

ant

taru:

mosquito

ta:ti

cockroach

tatii

frog

Exceptions : poper (butterfly), gonchi (dragonfly), kowa/kuha (grasshopper), nyanyi (honey bee), rimi (spider), dorgi (earthworm)...

A common prefix for trees, parts of trees, or pruducts obtained from trees is SAN- or SEN- (from sanii = tree), which becomes SAM-/SEM- before m, b, or p letters

sembo

Prunus nepalensis

semmo

Indian wild pear (Pyrus pashia)

sanji

Rhododendron arboreum, a rhododendron species

samper

a wild tree species whose fruit is used as spice

sampe

a tree species of ritual importance during Myoko

sankhii

a tree species whose leaves are used as natural dye

sanko bacho

a tree species

sambii

branch of a tree

sampo

log

santa

plank

sanye

timber

The prefix for words which depict parts of the arm or hand is LA- (from ala = hand)

lapo

upper arm

ladu

elbow

lasin

forearm

langa

wrist

lapu

fist

lachi

finger

lanii

thumb

lahi/layin

finger nail

lapyo

hand palm

lapin

knuckle

Similarly, the prefix for words depicting parts of the leg or foot is LII- (from ali = leg)

liiban

knee

liige

back of the knee

liipya

shin

liinga

ankle

liipyo

foot

liidu

heel

liipyo

sole

liichi

toe

liinii

big toe

liihin/liiyin

toe nail

Note that there is a correspondence between terms of upper and lower members. Thus :

langa (wrist) corresponds to liinga (ankle)

lachi (finger) <=> liichi (toe)

lanii (thumb) <=> liinii (big toe)

lahin/layin (finger nail) <=> liihin/liiyin (toe nail)

lapyo (palm) <=> liipyo (sole)

It means that by knowing the words related to the hand and arms, corresponding terms for leg and foot can be easily deduced.

Most prefixes are of this type, i.e. they give us some clue to understand the meaning of the word to which they are attached. The only prefix which gives no information, hence called ‘neutral prefix’, is A-. It is however a widespread one. It applies in particular to kinship terms (aba, ama, ate, ata, abang, anu, aku, ato, ayo, etc..) or words related to body parts (anying, alyo, ami, amu, aha, etc.), but not only. That is the reason why, in a Tanii dictionary, words whose first letter is A are the most numerous.

I have found that this peculiar feature of Tanii language helps to memorize a great deal of words. We can first get familiarized with the various families, then learn the exceptions. Knowing the most common prefixes also help to grasp the meaning of an unknown word when heard for the first time. But in order to avoid confusion it implies that, once identified, prefixes must be written in various words always using the same spelling.

P. Bouchery, University of Poitiers, France

16 comments:

Man from Ziro said...

Thats a quite impressive work by non Apatani speaking people on the tanii language. pls keep up ur work....well done!!!!!

PB said...

Thanks, Ziro man...

chobin said...

@ pb,
Bonjour. Your work on Apatani dialect et al is highly commendable. And I can’t help myself from asking you this: Have you ever been to Ziro? If the answer is ‘no’, then you deserve a second round of applause.

Hope to see you someday when you will include Ziro in your itinerary. And we (my friends and I) would be delighted if we get acquainted with people like you.

PB said...

@ chobin
Thanks for your compliments. Your guess is right : I haven't been to Ziro yet... but I'm planning a visit in coming months and I too will be delighted to see you there.

NPR said...

@Prof. Pascal,
I can't stop appreciating this French man...though he is not born in India, he is very much concerned with the people of India and of NE-India in particular. The very first day when he pinged me in internet, i thought it's anotherkind of crap internet story. But,later on i learnt that he is a real genuine in his interests on the peoples of NE-India and that way we share lots of similar interest in preserving and saving the ethnic cultures.Today, we are no more strangers though we have never meet in person. He will be visiting India very soon....we are eagerly waiting for you. May God bless you!!!

Govind said...

That will of some help for sure!!
all the best!

PB said...

Thanks Govind.

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Phangcho said...

Monseir Bouchery is really a great man. He is really very much interested in the social and cultural anthropology of the North East India.

just like you, he contacted me and has contributed many article ...

Morningkeey Phangcho
www.karbi.wordpress.com

NPR said...

@Phancho,
Hi buddy!
you are very much correct here...indeed Mr Pascal is a great human in general and very much concerned anthropologist in professional way.

PB said...

Hmm… thanks a lot NPR and Phangcho. But to me the only persons who deserve compliments are rather those who, like both of you, though they are involved in other professional project or career, still find time and energy to do something useful for their community.

BMB said...

Please contribute Tanii language words to - www.xobdo.org, an endevour to document 12+ languages of the North-East India.

Best Regards,
Bikram M. Baruah (bikram98@gmail.com)
for XOBDO.ORG

PB said...

@ BMB
Thanks for showing interest in this blog, and congratulations for Xobdo website. But Tanii as a language hasn’t got a standard writing system yet, and the transcription we are using here is only provisional. Therefore it would not be advisable to use these words in a dictionary unless further research is carried out in a more systematical way.

Sindhu said...

My sincere and great appreciation to Prof. Pascal and NPR.

I am a similar blogger like NPR. But my area is a little wider. I am covering India as a whole. I landed up here when I was trying to learn more about Apa Tanii people and culture.

You are doing a great Job NPR. I appreciate Prof.Pascal for his wonderful contribution.

I should be posting an article on Tanii People very shortly in my blog.

Cheers!

Keep up the great work!

NPR said...

@Sindhu,
Thanks for your valuable comment.It's nice to learn that there are many more people like you -who cares for the people and society.I am eagerly waiting for your post on Taniis,do inform us when its published.May god bless you!!

PB said...

Thanks Sindhu for appreciating NPR’s blog. I also visited http://flowergirlindia.blogspot.com/ and found it very well documented as well as nicely designed. Your idea of dedicating a website to rural India is a great one. All the best.