The creole language of Nagamese

nagamese creole

The barrier of communication that language proves to be many a times in the interaction among people of different origins, ethnicities and regions the world over, the more prominent modes of communication have very long been practising a crossover amongst languages. Because the native tongue often only appeals to those who owe an emotion to it, outside communication is hardly possible in a singular language which explains why there have emerged a wide variety of languages that spell out terms that are a portmanteau of two or more linguistic distinctions. That itself manifests in various categories of developing a proper language or coming close to it- whether it be emerging as a pidgin and remaining stuck at that or whether it evolved further to be a creole language or whether it only resembles the creole as in a creoloid or even as the umpteen hybrid languages that are but only a matter of languages being ‘invaded’ with unnecessary proliferations, the language of languages indeed is a whole subject in itself to deal with.

The most ‘dignified’ of all such languages as named above, the creole language however is one that rests in a significance exclusive to its own. While a pidgin is a grammatically simplified language that exists only as a mode of verbal, often informal conversation, a creole is much ‘developed’, to the extent that it manifests as a stable natural language and over the course of time even evolves enough to be a mainstay native language. The elevated significance of such creole languages dwell mostly in its dual premises- of being a language that two or more groups can partake of to start up conversations and even sees wide usage as an official language, without therefore having to brush it of as yet another local dialect. In their stemmings from a necessity that have rendered them all the more essential, creole languages abound throughout the world with Haitian creole being the most spoken as some ten million native speakers go about their communicational chores through its deliverance. A creole language is by no means an universal language but most such languages still are based on the comparatively global language of English. While different parts of India see the prevalence of some few creole languages, the most distinctive among them is the Nagamese creole prevalent in the north eastern state of Nagaland in the country.

Surprisingly however, even with English as the official language of the state, the Nagamese creole is not one based on it. The lingua franca of the state and the native mother tongue of the Dimasa community in its largest city, Dimapur, Nagamese derives it linguistic basis from the Assamese language. Emerging from the very need that is the essence of all creoles, Nagamese developed particularly as a means of common verbal communication not just between the Nagas and the Assamese but also within different Naga groups, that all spoke languages somewhat different from each other. For close to a century and a half now, this creole language has been dominating the linguistic scene of the state even as just about some thirty thousand Naga people speak the language regularly, a meager number for a state with a population of about 2 million.

How Nagamese stemmed as the language of communication for a state sharing its borders with Assam isn’t a surprise by any means. But even in its evident connections, there is no definite theory that explains the origin of the Nagamese creole from its nascency. Believed to have come into existence in the communication that entailed between the Naga people and the Assamese at the barter trade centers on the plains of Assam, Nagamese soon came to occupy place of prominence in also the dealings of the Ahom rulers with various Naga groups. Either way though, it is unlikely that either the British colonization or the Ahom subjugation would have been responsible for the birth of Nagamese. That indeed is quite a diversion from the characteristic trait that creole languages encompass, with no evidence of it being derived as a means of conquest or colonialism or even as an unequal power relationship making it substantially different from other developed European creoles. Equivocally therefore, it can be claimed with certainty that as a language Nagamese developed way before the times of the British in north east India. But it is indeed during the British era when the entire north east region, much like almost the whole of India, was under a common rule that interactions between the Nagas and the Assamese was more frequented making Nagamese a more prevalent language in those times.

Historically though, the prevalence of Nagamese as a language adhered it a status that equated it with pidgin Assamese and further propagation of the Nagamese creole has been only a recent matter, with it being accorded greater distinction in the period following the 1930s. Particularly when Nagamese continued to gain ground even after the introduction of English as the official language that this ‘pidgin Assamese’ transcended barriers to emerge as a creole, and a true native language at that.

The standardization of Nagamese as a language took place a few decades later during the 1970s, when the Roman script was chosen for the standardization process, in an attempt to neutralise the language and distance it from further association with Assamese. In its present form therefore, it is structurally reduced in comparison to Assamese even when the language itself boasts a large lexicon with defined grammatical categories and clear inflectional morphology. Apart from Assamese however, Nagamese also exhibits influence of the Hindi, Bengali and English languages in its prevalent usage. Officially used also in state-regulated domains and even taught as a part of academics, Nagamese is however more Assamese and Bengali and Hindi than it is about the Naga language. Even a quick look into the many prevalent phrases will suffice to establish that this indeed is a language that has only been ‘enriched’ by the incorporation of words from many native Naga languages- the most prominent perhaps being akhuni or axone that which is one of the most identifiable cultural aspects of Nagaland. Besides Nagamese, of course.