Tanw Agun (Apatani language)

The Apatani or Tanw is one of the major tribes of the north-east Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh in the Eastern Himalayas. Most of its estimated 60,000 population inhabit the Ziro valley in Lower Subansiri district, where they are said to have settled down at least 500 years back. Their oral history narrates their migration from somewhere in the north, crossing some snow-covered mountains and along the banks of the mighty Kuru and Kwme rivers.

Today, the Apatanis are known for their sustainable land use pattern, their expertise in natural resources management and their highly productive way of indigenous agricultural system. The village settlement patterns, the traditional village councils called ‘Bufan’ and their strong customary laws have kept the Apatani sociey close-knit for centuries.

The Apatani language or Tanw Agun belongs to the Tani sub-group of the Tibeto-Burman family of languages. Linguists identify many special features of the language and describe it as a relatively “aberrant” member of the subgroup, classifying it as an early-branching member of the Western Tani branch.

The modified Roman Script (MRS) is used to write in Apatani. While most letters are used as in English , some have been modified to represent some Apatani-specific sounds. Two additional special characters are added to ensure writing of Apatani as accurately as possible.

The Apatani alphabet is based on Roman Script, recommended by the Apatani Language Development Committee (ALDC) which was constituted by the Apatani Cultural and Literary Society (ACLS). The use of the alphabet has been approved by the Tanw Supun Dukun (TSD), the Apatani Apex Council. One major objective of this project is to standardize the spellings of the Apatani words. However, this is an ongoing project and so, improvements, rectifications and modifications will continuously be incorporated till they are perfected. Therefore, suggestions from native speakers as well as linguists working on the language are solicited.

The UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger estimates some 35,000 speakers of the Apatani language and classify its vitality as “vulnerable”. The fluent speakers of the language could be even less. As more and more young people prefer other languages for everyday use, many Apatani words are feared to be getting lost.

Click here to learn Apatani language.

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