UO Abroad: GTF Krishna Boro preserves endangered language of India
1. Where in the world are you?
I am in a small village in northeast India called Malugaon. The village is located in Assam, one of the seven states, also known as Seven Sisters, of northeast India. The village falls under the Margherita subdivision of the district of Tinsukia.
2. What work are you doing there?
I am trying to describe as well as document as much as possible one of the endangered languages of the world called Tangsa, also known as Tangshang or Tase, a language spoken both in northeast India and Burma. Tangsa has at least 32 varieties. I am working on the variety called Hakhun. My work will eventually produce a descriptive grammar as well as audio-video recordings of various speech events, such as stories, songs and conversation.
3. What does this work mean for your students, peers and/or the university?
This work will be useful, directly or indirectly, to different audiences – linguists, especially Tibeto-Burmanists, and the speech community.
The study of Hakhun will add to the existing knowledge of how language works, especially the knowledge of Tibeto-Burman languages. There are 150 to 200 languages in northeast India, most of which are Tibeto-Burman languages. Although the Tibeto-Burman languages outside northeast India are reasonably well studied, the ones in northeast India are not. Only a few languages spoken there are reasonably described so far. Consequently, we have little knowledge of those languages. Tibeto-Burmanists have not been able to make a convincing genetic classification of the Tibeto-Burman languages due to this lack of study of the languages spoken in northeast India. Thus, study of any Tibeto-Burman language there is very significant for the development of Tibeto-Burman studies.
The speech community will also benefit from my study of Hakhun. The Hakhun community, and the whole Tangsa community for that matter, still does not have a writing system. Once we figure out how the language works, especially the sound system and the grammar, it will be helpful in devising a writing system. This will enable the speech community to write down their oral tradition that they have been carrying for hundreds of years. Moreover, the material that my work will produce, such as the grammar and the audio-video recording, will be a great resource for the community, present and future. In case this language ever goes extinct, my work will preserve some instances of the language.
4. Tell our readers something they should do if they ever visit this locale.
The part of Assam, where I am working, is famous for tea gardens. There are lots of tea gardens. Another attraction in this part of Assam is the Kazironga National Park, which is famous for wild animals like tigers, elephants and rhinos.
5. What has been the most memorable experience on your trip?
My most memorable experience, while working with the Hakhun community, was a trip to the paddy/rice field of the Hakhun people. They grow their rice and vegetables in the hills. They cut down all the trees and burn them in order to clear land for cultivation. They shift their land for cultivation every year.
We took a trip to their rice field, which was very far away from where they lived. We had to cross a couple small hills to reach the paddy field. We set out in the early morning. We walked through thick jungles, crossing water streams on our way. We walked for around an hour. As we reached the field, people started working on their cultivation. It started drizzling soon. I just sat in a small hut and enjoyed the beauty of the place. There I was in the middle of rice and vegetable fields surrounded by jungle all around, in the middle of hills. At noon, people collected vegetables and made lunch, which I enjoyed a lot. We returned home in the evening after spending a very beautiful day in the field.
UO Abroad is a recurring feature in Inside Oregon that spotlights UO professors, staff and GTFs whose work takes them overseas. If you or someone you know is traveling abroad, contact Communications Specialist Matt Cooper at email@example.com.