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Documentation of a local archive for Milang, an endangered Tibeto-Burman language of North East India

 

Language Milang
Depositor Yankee Modi
Affiliation James Cook University
Location India
Deposit ID 0230
Grant ID SG0088
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle http://hdl.handle.net/2196/823dd5fc-965a-4613-bbaa-db965b358cb6

 

Summary of the deposit

This collection documents Milang, a highly endangered and virtually unknown Tibeto-Burman language spoken by around 2,000 people in the far north-east of Arunachal Pradesh State in north-east India. During a six-month fieldtrip to Arunachal Pradesh, a rich video- and audio-based corpus of texts was collected, and a local language archive was established for the benefit of Milang people.

 

Group represented

This collection represents members of the Milang (Malaa) Tribe of the Adi people in Assam, India.

At present Milang speakers are primarily settled in three main villages: Peki Modi, Milang (the only village connected by vehicle road to the outside world), and Dalbuing. These villages are among the most isolated, remote and least advanced in terms of modern development in the area. To the north, south and west is the massive Siang river (known as Brahmaputra in Assam) valley, which is mainly inhabited by the Padam tribe, the major tribe of the immediate region. To the east there is a high, almost impassable range of mountains, beyond which lie villages of the Idu (Mishmi) tribe. In terms of sociocultural contact situation, the most enduring cultural contacts have been with the neighbouring Padam tribe. It is interesting to note that Milang songs and rituals are typically conducted in Padam, and the vast majority of Milangs are bilingual in Milang and Padam.

Unlike most other Tani groups Milang people have been unable to expand their area of settlement. Eastward expansion was impossible due to severe mountain terrain. Expansion in any other direction was impossible due to wide spread settlement of the Padam tribe. Therefore, Milang have continuously migrated out of Milang area in large numbers especially in search of fertile lands. When they do, they remain Milang but lose their language and a certain amount of their cultural identity within one or two generations.

Many of the old Milang people are concerned about the state of their language. Yankee Modi’s grandfather, who is the Village Head, was very firm when he mentioned that one day Milang villagers will speak only Padam. The growing need to speak Padam rather than Milang is becoming a must for all Milang people due to regional integration and outward migration. Apart from the need for a contact language, socioeconomic factors play a role in Milang language endangerment. The only three villages of Milang speakers are the least developed and most remote and isolated villages of Arunachal Pradesh. The village Peki-Modi, with thirteen houses and about 150 inhabitants, takes eighteen hours to reach on foot, there are no paths or bridges to reach the village, no electrification, and the village school only has a single room.

At the time of data collection, the majority of Milang speakers in Peki-Modi were monolingual in Milang; there was no difficulty in finding expert speakers. The Milang Welfare Society supports the documentation of Milang in its most traditional and authentic form while it is still possible, and the preservation this documentation for the benefit of Milang people by establishing a local archive which they can access.

 

Language information

Milang is a highly endangered and virtually unknown Tibeto-Burman language of north-east India spoken by around 2,000 people in the far north-east of Arunachal Pradesh State. The name “Milang” itself is in fact a term generally used by outsiders, in reference to a small tribe inhabiting a relatively small area in the Upper Siang District of Arunachal Pradesh. The speakers themselves however most commonly refer to themselves as “Malaa” or “Holon”. Milang currently lacks an ISO639-3 code due to the almost complete absence of existing documentation and description of this language.

Milang is classified as a Tibeto-Burman language under the Tani subgroup, as a dialect of Adi. It has a unique status in this branch as is the only Tani language which is mutually unintelligible with every other Tani language and its speakers are surrounded on every side by speakers of mutually unintelligible languages. This is very unusual in the context of the Tani dialect chain, in which a certain amount of mutual intelligibility among neighbouring languages is the overwhelming norm (Sun 1993).

The exact genetic position of Milang has been a subject of some interest and much uncertainty. Although Sun (1993) tentatively classified Milang in the Eastern Tani group, Post (2009) reclassified Milang as descending from a Pre-Proto Tani position. Therefore, the documentation of Milang language will make a clear contribution toward research into the prehistory of the region.

So far, there has only been a small cultural description (Modi 2008) and a very small linguistic description (Tayeng 1976) conducted by local researchers. This research will contribute to the study of the population and migration history of Eastern Himalayan peoples, which is until now little known (van Driem 2001).

Milang have imported numerous loan words from Padam. A comparative study of Milang language with neighbouring languages and cultures, especially Padam will be of utmost significance. Through comparison, it will be possible to establish features which are unique to Milang, whether because they were inherited from an earlier ancestor or because they are innovated by Milang (as is usually assumed in the Tani area). This comparison will be aided by Yankee Modi’s intimate knowledge of Adi culture and language. In addition, this research will contribute to the typologies of language contact, genetic linguistics and anthropological linguistics by demonstrating specific ways in which culture and environment can influence language.

 

Special characteristics

Yankee Modi is a member of the Milang community, understands the language well and has rudimentary skills in speaking the language. Yankee Modi’s experience in growing up in a village and intimate knowledge of local ethical norms added invaluable insight, especially in participating in and observing the village social system.

 

Deposit contents

When completed, the collection will include

  • high-quality video and audio texts from various natural settings, including spontaneous conversation, narratives and folktales as well as culturally significant activities such “deca” (an event associated with the collection of aconite arrow poison), “raace” (a gathering place in the village for young men and women for recreation, usually translated into English as “dormitories”), “rayel” (community-based reciprocal labour), “kiiru” (a hunting custom), and “ragma” (preparation of a flour-like substance from sago palm)
  • time-aligned IPA transcriptions and translations, with interlinearisations using Toolbox
  • metadata
  • a detailed descriptive grammar of Milang
  • a trilingual dictionary in Milang, English and Pasi (the variety of Adi which functions as a lingua franca in the region)
  • a PhD thesis on the cultural and environmental shaping of the Milang language

 

Deposit history

In October 2008, Yankee Modi went to Milang village for a preliminary field trip and recorded a small number of audio texts.
The core of the materials in this collection was gathered between 2010 and 2011 during fieldwork supported by a Small Grant from ELDP.

 

Other information

A copy of the materials has also been presented to the Milang people to be held at a local archive which they can access.

 

Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Modi, Yankee. 2015. Documentation of a local archive for Milang, an endangered Tibeto-Burman language of North East India. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: http://hdl.handle.net/2196/00-0000-0000-000F-B654-E. Accessed on [insert date here].

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