Assam’s Haflong Hindi, a fluent example of give and take

Of 19th century vintage, Haflong Hindi has Tibeto-Burman grammar and includes Bengali, Nepali words

May 04, 2022 02:29 pm | Updated May 05, 2022 04:35 pm IST - GUWAHATI

Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi

Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi

A ‘nativised’ Hindi associated with Assam’s only hill station is trying to hold its own amid a row over the Centre’s move to make the ‘standardised’ form of the language compulsory in high schools across the northeast.

Hindi reached Dima Hasao – a district formerly called North Cachar Hills – in the late 1800s primarily through merchants and construction workers who worked on a mountain railway system. By the time the railway line was completed in 1899, the non-tribal settlers and diverse indigenous communities across the hills had developed a pidgin to communicate among themselves.

“Haflong Hindi follows the Tibeto-Burman grammar, not the Hindi grammar and has lexical additions from Nepali and Bengali. It has a generic plural marker and does not use numbers as in Hindi,” Monali Longmailai, who teaches linguistics at the Assam University in Silchar, told The Hindu.

The origin of Haflong Hindi

It came to be known as Haflong Hindi, named after the headquarters of the district where the Dimasa people are the dominant community. The other tribes are Hmar, Kuki, Zeme (Naga), Biate, Vaiphei, Hrangkhol, Khelma, Rongmei, Karbi and Jaintia.

For instance, the plural of ladki (girl)in Haflong Hindi is ladkiluk or ladkilukun and not ladkiyaan (girls) as in “mainland” Hindi. Likewise, a tree in Haflong Hindi is gachchhi borrowed from Nepali and not ped as in Hindi, while most sound changes follow the Bengali form, she explained.

“The problem now is that with so much of migration and immigration, the younger generation of locals and Hindi-speakers from outside are mixing it up. They assume it is a wrong form of Hindi and needs to be corrected. So, instead of humra and aatae or aatehi, they insist on using mera and aa raha hai,” Ms. Longmailai said.

Although Haflong Hindi has not found its way into literature, she has been researching on a project to be published.

Lost primer

More than four decades ago, a Hindi teacher named Somnath Upadhyaya had attempted a Haflong Hindi dictionary that is no longer in circulation. Educationist Vanlal Bapui had brought out a Haflong Hindi primer for the Education Department of North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC) in the early 1990s, but it was shelved.

NCHAC chief Debolal Gorlosa declined to comment on the status of the primer.

Nandita Gorlosa, the BJP legislator representing the Haflong Assembly constitution, said there was never an initiative to promote Haflong Hindi as a written form. “It is for verbal communication and will never cease to be spoken because it has become the lingua franca in the region it represents,” she said.

Subimal Bhattacharjee, a New Delhi-based cyber security policy expert who has his roots in Haflong, said it was crucial to preserve the pidgin through films and videos besides print. “Haflong Hindi is a great unifier, bringing so many disparate communities together. And it has a distinct flavour, sweetly different from the official Hindi,” he said.

A grammatically simplified form of a language, some elements of which are taken from local languages, used for communication between people not sharing a common language. - Oxford English Dictionary

Some linguists feel pushing the standardised Hindi as a compulsory subject in school could affect the “earthiness” of variants in the northeast such as Shillong Hindi, which is not pidgin but informal Hindi, and the “purer” Arunachalee Hindi with tribal intonations.

“The urge to correct or find fault with the local Hindi is like tutoring a Naga person to speak more of Assamese than Nagamese,” Ms. Longmailai said.

Unlike Haflong Hindi, Nagamese has become a Creole (spoken as the first language) in Nagaland. Assamese is the dominant language in the Nagamese mix with sprinklings of Hindi, Bengali, Nepali and some local dialects.

In 1985, the Assam Sahitya Sabha published Nagamiz Kothalaga Niyom, the first primary grammar on Nagamese by Bhimkanto Boruah.

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