Saturday, May 9, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions on Apatani Alphabet

Q: Do you like the Apatani language to develop like English, Spanish, Hindi or Assamese?
A: Yes.

Q: But why is Apatani language not developing like other languages?

A: It is because it is not widely used for daily communication. Many of the young Apatani people are not able to speak their own language properly. Even elders have to depend on English for most communication (the one you are reading now is an example!!).

Q: The younger people are not able to speak Apatani because of many factors, some of which are beyond our control. But why are the elder ones not using Apatani in writing as well as spoken communication?

A: Elder people do mostly use Apatani in spoken communication. But almost none is seen using it for written communication.

Q. Why? If the elder people can speak Apatani, they should use it for written communication as well. Why are they not using it?

A: Because it is very difficult to write in Apatani in the absence of a script of its own. For the same reason, it is very difficult to read the language written using the English alphabet.

Q: Why is it difficult to write and read the Apatani language?

A: Because we use the English alphabet to write in Apatani. As all the Apatani sounds are not available in English, the English alphabet do not have all the letters needed to write the Apatani words. So, it cannot be written as accurately as it is spoken by the native speakers.

Q: Why is it difficult to read Apatani though everybody is so comfortable reading foreign languages like English?

A: We all are educated in English medium schools. So, when we read English, we basically read the “words”. That means, when we see the word “emancipation”, for example, we can immediately read out aloud “emancipation” because we are already familiar with the spelling and our mind recognizes the word. We don’t have to look at all the letters – e, m, a, n, c, i, p, a, t, i, o and n separately; we look at the word “emancipation” as a single unit and immediately recognize it. When we see the word "church" we immediately read चर्च, but when we see "chemist" we read केिमस्त not चेिमस्त. It is because we are already familiar with each of these two words. However, those who are just starting to learn English have to look at each letter separately. They have to see “e-man-cipa-tion” and then only read “emancipation”.

When we read Apatani, we are always like the beginners – starting with letters, syllable and then only the word is read. It is because Apatani language still don’t have standardised spellings for their words. To write, “year” for example, I may write “anyañ”; you may write “anyang” and somebody else may write “aniang”. So, we cannot look at the “word” as we do when reading English, but we have to look at it letter by letter and then only we form the word. Therefore, it is cumbersome every time we try to read what is written in Apatani.

Q: So, why can’t we have standard spellings for all the Apatani words?

A: Because we don’t have an Apatani Alphabet.

Q: Can’t we use the English Alphabet?

A: We can, but as pointed out earlier, we cannot write Apatani language accurately using English alphabet. In such situation, everybody will continue to spell a word as she/he wishes and so, no standard spelling can be developed for any word. If somebody write “amee” for “ami” or “amoo” for “amu” they seem right because they are right as per the rules of English phonetics. Similarly, I may write “apu” for arrow in one page and “afu” in the next page. Though both would be right as per the rules of English phonetics, it creates confusion.

Q: So, developing the standard spellings for the Apatani words is the key to popularizing the language?

A: Yes.

Q: And, having a distinct Apatani Alphabet (NOT English Alphabet) is the key to developing standard spellings?

A: Yes.

Q: So, why can’t we have a distinct Apatani Alphabet then?

A: We sure can. We’ll have to modify the existing Roman letters a bit to suit our needs. It is because there are letters in the English alphabet representing sounds we don’t have, whereas there are no letters to represent some sounds we need. And we should open up our mind to accept those minor modifications.

Q: Is anything being done to have a distinct Apatani Alphabet?

A: Yes, many young Apatanis realized that Apatani cannot be written accurately using English alphabet. When such views were shared in the social network sites like Facebook some four to five years back, the Apatani Cultural and Literary Society (ACLS) took note and constituted the Apatani Language Development Committee (ALDC) in August 2013. The mandate of the ALDC was to review the present writing system of the Apatanis, explore ways to more accurate writings and make necessary recommendations. The ALDC submitted its report in a language workshop organized by ACLS on November 30, 2014. Subsequently, the ACLS gave technical approval to the recommendation and the Tanw Supuñ Dukuñ (TSD) gave administrative approval.

Q: What does the report of the ALDC contain?

A: ALDC recommended an Apatani Alphabet using Modified Roman Script (MRS). It also recommends various follow up steps to develop Apatani as a language.

Q: What modifications of the Roman script is recommended by the ALDC?

A: The ALDC recommendation is made with the objectives of keeping the writing system simple, user-friendly and consistent. So, attempt is made to retain as many letters of English Alphabet as possible without modification since all educated people are familiar with English. But some modification in usage is suggested for letters which are not needed to write in Apatani. In addition, two additional characters, needed to write in Apatani, are suggested.

Q: What are the additional characters?

A: First is a symbol to signify glottal stop which is a prominent feature in Apatani language. Apostrophe (‘) after the syllable on which glottal stop is identified is suggested. This is selected because it is available on any keyboard and not needed to write Apatani. Examples of glottal stop are tako’ (dirt), la’ko (button), paro’ (hen).

The second symbol is (–ñ) to signify nasalization of a vowel preceding it. This is selected because it has already been in use since late 1990s when some Apatani writers started using it and ACLS formalized its use in a symposium in 1997. Examples of its usage are yasañ (fuel), takuñ (peach), paiñ (liver).

Q: How many vowels are there in the proposed Apatani Alphabet?

A: Seven vowels. A, e, i, o and u are used as in English. In addition, v replaces e (ACLS, 1997) and w replaces ii (ACLS, 1997).

Q: Many people are more comfortable using e and ii. Why is it necessary to replace them?

A: Vowel e is replaced because it is cumbersome to type it in mobile handsets and tablets. In addition, the underlined symbol gets lost when a word or a sentence has to be actually underlined. And v is not needed in Apatani and available in all types of keyboards.

Vowel ii is replaced because vowel lengths have to be addressed and use of double vowels to represent vowel lengths are most promising. So, we will have to write “aato” (come) in contrast with “ato” (owner). Similarly we can write “twwrw (forehead) in contrast to “twko” (money). If we retain “ii”, we would have to write “tiiiirii” (forehead), which does not look good. Even for words like fish, for example, we would have to write “Ngiii”. As with v, w is not needed to write in Apatani and so its usage is modified as it is available in all types of keyboards.

Q: Which consonants are modified to Apatani Alphabets?

A: The following consonants are not needed to write in Apatani and so their usages have been modified to represent sounds available in Apatani but not in English:
C = (previously written with “ch”);
F = ल्य (previously written with “ly”);
Q = (previously written with “ng”);
X = (previously written with “kh”);
Z = (previously written with “ny).

Q: What is the problem in retaining ch, ly, ng, kh and ny?

A: It is to follow the one sound-one symbol principle, which is the basic principle of alphabetical writing system. It also makes the writing more consistent. The symbols used – c, f, q, x and z are not needed to write in Apatani and they are already available in all kinds of keyboards. In addition, there is something called gemination which means consonant lengths. For consonant length also, we have to write double consonants. For example, if we have to write the word for fish trap, we will write “taxxuñ”. If we follow the old system, we would have to write “takhkhuñ” which does not look good. Letters like c and x are already familiar with the linguists to represent and respectively because they are used for them in International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

Q: But use of q for , z for , etc. looks very unusual. It will be very confusing. Why confuse the users?

A: It is not unusual. Just to give an example, Spanish uses letter J to signify ‘h’ and “LL” to signify ‘y”. While reading in Spanish, Julia is read as “Hulia” (हुलीया) and “Llama” as ‘yama’ (यामा). We have made similar modifications only. So, while reading in Apatani, we can always read ciru as िचरु and hixu as िहखु. It is just the matter of remembering in which language we are writing/reading.

Q: Will Ziro be spelt as Jiro and Chatung be spelt as Catuq?

A: No. Proper nouns will be left alone and not be tampered with. Proper nouns like Ziro, Chatung, Ngilyang, Hongkong, Finland, etc. will continue to be spelt as it is now. It is because proper nouns technically do not belong to any particular language. In addition, deciding on the spelling of a proper noun is the prerogative of an individual or a community and not much to do with language.

Q: What if somebody read Ziro as िञरो or Finland as िल्यनलेन्द?

A: This should not happen as the proper nouns will be written with initial capital letters (as we do in English). They can easily be identified as proper nouns and will be read as such.

Q: In that case, we will have to learn Apatani from the beginning. Is it fair?

A: It is quite fair. Since we learnt English or Hindi from the beginning (A for Apple and अा से अाम), it is only fair that we start learning Apatani also from near-beginning with “A lo Aki”, “Q lo Qwi” and “C lo Ciru”.

On the other hand, if we expect to know Apatani just because we know English, that would be unfair to Apatani.

Q: Ok, I can learn but what about the non-Apatanis?

A: It is only fair that the non-Apatanis who are interested in Apatani language also learn like we do. Though we are non-Hindi or non-English, we had to learn English and Hindi from the beginning.

Q: How will the letters be named?
A: They will be named as in Devanagari script. So, a will be अा (aa), b will be (ba), c will be (cha), x will be (kha), etc.

Q: How will the letters be arranged?
A: The letters will be arranged as in English alphabet (a to z), followed by (‘) and “-ñ”.

Q: Once we formally adopt the Apatani Alphabet, what are the next steps to develop the language?

A: Yes, the first step is to have a set of letters with names and arranged in a particular order. That will be the Apatani Alphabet. Once we have that, more difficult but important tasks lay ahead:

1. We have to work on tones as Apatani is a tonal language. ALDC has identified seven tones in Apatani but of the opinion that three tones need to be represented.

2. Work out a guidelines for identifying word boundaries.

3. Standardize spellings of as many Apatani words as possible. The issue of vowel lengths and gemination will come up at this stage. One major challenge at this stage would be to address the issue of difference in accents in different village clusters. We have distinct accents among Hong, Hari, Bulla, Hija, Dutta and Bamin Michi/Mudang Tage clusters.

4. Develop a lexicon using the words whose spellings have been standardized.

5. Develop various learning aids so that the standardized words are used as frequently as possible. This will be followed by Apatani literature, the quality of which will determine how popular the language can be made.

Q. What makes the present proposal special?

A: If the present recommendation of the ALDC is accepted, the Apatanis will have an Apatani Alphabet with following features:

1. Simple and user-friendly, with no diacritics. All the letters are available in all kinds of typewriters.

2. It utilizes all the letters in English alphabet. It is important because if we leave out some letters, they are susceptible to be inadvertently misused. For example, if we leave out f, it may be used in place of p. That will hinder standardization of spellings.

Q. How does the Apatani Alphabet look like?
A. This is the Apatani Alphabet chart:

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