Apatani is an amazing language. Several times I have heard people from NE say that their languages are ‘poor’ because they have no ‘gender’ nor ‘grammar’. It is true that most of them lack grammatical gender (as in Japanese, Chinese and in fact most East Asian languages) and that as a rule gender distinction is made when necessary, not systematically. It is true also that most of them don’t have a conjugational system equivalent for eg. to English tenses and moods. But it certainly DOES NOT mean that these languages are less elaborate !!!
As a matter of fact the subtlety of these languages lies elsewhere. Let’s consider for eg. the verb ‘TO CUT’ in Tanii. To denote an action which, in English, is rendered by only one word I have counted no less than…. 16 distinct verbs !
PA : to cut with a machete (dao, ilyo in Tanii)
TA : to cut with axe or spade
CHE : to cut with scissors
PI : to cut by razor or knife
O : to cut/till with spade
TII : to cut trees
PHO : 1. to cut logs; 2. to cut/chop bamboos to make containers
NI : to cut tree branches (in order to make trees grow straight and tall, esp. pine trees)
PI-I : to cut ears of corn for harvest
GYA : to cut stalks of millet for harvest
RII : 1. to cut into very small pieces (mince or powder); 2. to cut longer leaves of fully grown millet plants at the time of their transfer from nursery to fields.
PO : to cut bamboo stems into smaller sections
NYAR : to cut bamboos to make them sharp and pointed
KHEN : to cut someone else's bamboos as an act of revenge.
KHU : to cut legs of slaughtered animals
PIPHO/ MIIPHO : to cut oneself accidentally with some sharp material (knife, razor, bamboo splits, cane wickers, etc.)
Thus, using one syllable words, Apatani language is able to express :
1/ what is actually cut (trees, logs, branches, bamboos, bamboo sticks, ears of corn, millet stalks, millet leaves, legs of killed animals …)
2/ the tool that is used for cutting (dao, blade, knife, razor, axe, spade…)
3/ the way it is cut (accidentaly, intentionally as an act of vengeance, into small pieces, into shorter sections, as to make sharp and pointed items …)
It does not end here. For each of these verbs or verbal roots, a more specific meaning can be conveyed by adding appropriate suffixes. For eg., with the verb PA (cutting with dao) :
PATU-PAPO : to cut sth/sb (with dao) into pieces
PAMII : to cut meat (with dao) into small pieces
PAKHII : to cut meat with bone (with dao) into small pieces
PACHE : to cut something (with dao) so as to divide it
PALII : to cut something in
PAKUN-PAMU : to cut (with dao) hurriedly
PASU : to cut oneself (with dao)
PALO : to cut sth down (with dao) (for eg. a branch)
PADU : to cut sth down so as to destroy it (with dao)
Who said these languages are poor ?