Arunachal Pradesh, the northeastern most state of India, is a land of extremes. Extreme terrain in the form of a territory dominated at lower elevations by densely jungle-covered mountains where slash and burn agriculture locally known as jhum cultivation is practiced. Extreme also is the diversity of languages and cultures found in this region of some three million people, representing over 100 languages. Almost all are at some stage of endangerment.
Apatani [apt] is a member of the Tani family of the Tibeto-Burman language phylum. Apatani is spoken by between 12,000 and 24,000 people in a small number of densely settled villages in Subansiri District of Arunachal Pradesh, a figure that represents between one-third and two-thirds of the ethnic Apatani population, and few young people regularly use the language. Thus, despite being one of the larger language groups of the region, Apatani is nevertheless to be considered an endangered language. It is a fairly typical Tani language grammatically with a complex tense/aspect system and several morphological cases for nouns.
Apatani culture centers around rice cultivation, bamboo groves and small scale pisciculture. The Apatani traditionally were followers of the Donyi-Polo (Sun-Moon) religion and these traditions remain relatively strong. In the past, Apatani women adorned themselves with elaborate facial tattoos and characteristic large wooden nose plugs covering half the surface of the nose. Today these adornments are found mainly only among the older generations of Apatani women, having fallen out of use for the most part among younger Apatani women.
Living Tongues Institute visited the Apatani in March 2008 to assess the current vitality of the language. Language shift is unfortunately clearly underway in the area around Hong village. Our main consultants for Apatani are Vijay Punyo and Puya Punyo.
Hill Miri Language
Hill Miri is a variety of the Miri language spoken by some 10,000 people in the hilly area of central Arunachal Pradesh. Hill Miri [mrg] is widely spoken by all but the school-age generation of children, who appear to have abandoned the language in at least some villages. Thus Hill Miri must be considered at best threatened, and in some areas, to already be an endangered language.
A small sample of Hill Miri, another member of the Tani language family of the Tibeto-Burman phylum was collected in Dokum village by Living Tongues Institute during our 2008 survey of Arunachal Pradesh, with Maga Tebe as our primary consultant.
Nishi [dap], formerly also known as Bangni or Dafla is another language of the Tani phylum spoken in Arunachal Pradesh. Nishi is the largest of the indigenous languages of Arunachal Pradesh, and while it is thriving in some communities, in others young children are rejecting the language so Nishi too must be considered to be an endangered language, or at least threatened. We recorded a small sample of Nishi representing the variety of this language spoken in the village of Boa Simla in March 2008.