Nagamese: Pidgin, Creole or Creoloid?
CLN 24/2 (1994)
Handout for SARS 523, Multilingual Education in South/Southeast Asia
Bh. starts by reviewing the claim of Sreedhar (1974) that Nagamese is a stable pidgin for some people in Nagaland, and a Creole for Kacharis living in/around Dimapur. Ferguson used the term creoloid; others have said it is imperfectly-learned Assamese or Bengali, or Bengali as a second-language. Bh. wants to show that N is an expanded pidgin which is starting to creolize in some parts of Nagaland, and is already a creole (but not a creoloid) in Dimapur.
Bh. reviews the various claims stated in the abstract, especially the claims that N might be a post-creole continuum , or a creoloid, meaning a language that superficially resembles a creole, but doesn't seem to have undergone creolization (or pidginization), and/or decreolization. Others have also claimed that it is imperfectly-learned Assamese or Bengali. His conclusion is that it is an expanded pidgin which is starting to creolize in some parts of Nagaland, and is already a creole (but not a creoloid) in Dimapur. The paper examines all these hypotheses in detail and gives reasons for the conclusions offered.
Nagaland has 20 or more indigenous ethnic groups (Nagas) and other immigrant groups, speaking different languages. The Nagaland government has recognized 14 as distinct ethnic groups; some groups share a language. AIR broadcasts in 16 languages. The Kacharis, an indigenous non-Naga, are concentrated in Dimapur, and have lost their indigenous language (once a variety of Dimasa dialect of Bodo, an immigrant language from China) and now speak creolized Nagamese. Other immigrant groups include Assamese, Bengali's, Oriyas, Biharis, Nepalese, Marwaris, Malayalis; Garo also spoken on plains. Various classifications for these (other than the Indo-Aryan and Dravidian immigrants): Tibeto-Burman? Indo-Chinese?
Immigration may have come from China [and Indonesian islands?], prior to 13th century? Entered through Burma. Seems that all Naga languages can be related to one proto-Naga; some says close affinities with literary [i.e. an archaic form of] Tibetan; also some affinities with Burmese. But Naga languages have been mutually unintelligible for at least a century; McCabe (1887) describes this. Some chains of mutual intelligibility may exist, but it is rare.
How did this divergence come about? Bh. says mountainous territory, mutual hostility, isolation, inter-communal feuds and head-hunting expeditions. Each village was a little kingdom.
But intergroup communication was necessary, so in barter with plains of Assam, there was need for interaction; also during Assam rule, both historically and during British period, needed Assamese or something like it, as lingua franca. Example of Ahom (Tai-speaking, closely related to Shan of China) who invaded Assam (1215-1228) and ruled part of area (though not Nagaland). Sent punitive expeditions to Nagas. Lingua franca and communication was needed; sometimes the Nagas helped the Ahoms, and vice versa. Blend of enmity and friendship.
Naga-Assamese contact was regular, for barter. Reported as early as 1839. Seems to be the origin of Nagamese, the pidginized form, which was reported a century ago and probably existed 2 centuries ago. Von Haimendorf reported knowledge of fluent Nagamese even by children in 1936. Nagamese was thus stabilized by that time.
Modernization of Nagaland since statehood: roads built, need for hospital care, more contact between Nagas and Assamese; more employment not in the villages; state government.
Education: has to take place in some language. Officially, English is the language of education but actually, teachers use Nagamese to explain things, for classroom interaction. Most children are fluent, so this is no problem. Naganese is therefore the language of explanation.
Religion: many Nagas are Christian (67% of population), so in mixed congregations, Nagamese is the language of worship. Also used in homes of mixed backgrounds, on the floor of the Legislature many use Nagamese, so do many state agencies; rural programs, agriculture, children's programs on AIR etc. Can also be written.
Nagamese developed under conditions atypical of pidginization/creolization, with no plantations, no conquests, no colonialism, no unequal power relationships. In structure, it is also much more complex than other kinds of European-based pidgins. It has not undergone decreolization, though it has coexisted with its lexical donor for 2 centuries. Was it ever stabilized as a pidgin? It does not have the characteristics of a pidgin, but are our criteria for defining these things perhaps based on Atlantic and Pacific based creoles/pidgins? Should be noted that all other Indian-based pidgins also have inflectional morphology (pidgins don't; and creoles usually don't), and retain the copula, traits that European-based pidgins always lack. So definitional problems here.
Nagamese is a contact-induced language with eighteen overlapping dialects, each associated with a group. Their lexica are same, but morpho-syntactically they differ. Sreedhar subcategorizes these into three dialects:
Nagamese is "reduced in structure" but not as much as many pidgins: it has two cases (Assamese has 6); it has two tenses, and three aspectual distinctions. Gender (which Assamese has) is lacking. Naga languages themselves are monosyllabic and non-inflectional. Is Nagamese therefore really a pidgin? Has it been arrived at by some process other than the cycle of pidginization/creolization/decreolization?
Calling Nagamese imperfectly-learned Assamese Bh. characterizes as linguistically naive. True, some Nagas have learned Assamese as a second language, both in the past and recently. But most of the time, Nagas avoid Assamese, and do not seem to wish to learn it. Nagmese is therefore something else. As factor arguing for pidgin origin is the contact language situation, which has always been multilingual in the area. Imperfect second-language learning occurs in simply bilingual contact situations, but this is not Nagaland situation. Dimapur has always been a multilingual area (Kacharis, Nagas, Angamis, Semas, Kabuis, Marwaris, other Indians.) A contact language was always needed, but none existed. As Whinnom says, this is conducive to Pidginization and creolization.
If the N's were really learning A, varietal differences in N would not have arisen. Such variations as tense and aspect, are marked morphologically in some dialects but not in others. Though the lexicon of Nagamese is almost all from Assamese, the microphonetics is mostly from Naga and adstratal languages. And there are other features not found in any of the contact languages of the area! Not surprising that people consider this to be so; most creoles/pidgins are European-based, so the idea of an Assamese donor language and Naga substrate is strange to some.
Decreolization also does not seem to have taken place; most creoles/pidgins over time move toward their donor base, and decreolize; but N has not done this very much, because of resistance. But more similarities may develop.
The idea that Bengali may also have been involved is derived from the fact that Nagamese, Bengali, and Assamese all share striking similarities, especially morpheme-to-morpheme syntax. (See examples p. 39) And most of the lexical items come from Assamese or Bengali. But most local Naga languages also show this same syntactic structure. (Examples p. 39-40). Much similarity is predictable. Some Bengali dialects were cut off from Bengali and the territory was in Assam off and on, e.g. Sylhet, and Assamese have also always gone to Bengal for education etc. These could just be Sprachbund features. But the same objections to having Nagamese as imperfectly learned Bengali are those adduced for objecting to Nagamese as imperfectly learned Assamese. One other is that donor lexicon has different meanings than in Nagamese. Also, Nagaland is much further from Bengal than from Assam.
Bh. prefers the 2nd scenario: it allows for slower development of the creole, and it accords with the socio-cultural history of the Kacharis.