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Title: The Tibeto-Burman Languages of Northeast India
Contributor(s): Post, Mark  (author)orcid ; Burling, Robbins (author)
Publication Date: 2017
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Abstract: 'Northeast India', or '(the) northeast' as it is usually called in India, primarily refers to the 'seven sister' states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura. These seven states are relatively small in area and low in population, but very high in ethnolinguistic diversity. Northeast India is comparatively isolated from the rest of the country, connected as it is only by a narrow (20km wide) strip of land bordered on three sides by Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. Northeast India as an ethno-political region is a recent construction. Prior to Indian independence in 1947, administration of most areas within this region was slight, as was post-independence administration, at least until the 'Chinese aggression' of 1962 (GuyotRechard 2012 ); the state of Arunachal Pradesh was inaugurated as recently as 1987. Its geopolitical borders are similarly recent, and in some cases (for example, between Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet) remain disputed. Many ethnolinguistic groups of our region also live in neighbouring states; for example, Tshangla speakers are in Arunachal Pradesh and in Bhutan, Garo speakers are in Meghalaya and in Bangladesh, Idu speakers are in Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet, and Tangkhul speakers are in Manipur and Myanmar. Nevertheless, geography, history and geopolitics have conspired to endow our region with a sort of 'unity in diversity', such that, with the above caveats regarding its recent origins and porous nature in mind, Northeast India can nevertheless be usefully studied as a whole. And it is in the Northeast Indian region that we find the epicentre of phylogenetic diversity within Tibeto-Burman, at a scale which is perhaps only now beginning to be truly appreciated. Northeast India has traditionally been host to three major language families other than Tibeto-Burman: Austroasiatic (Khasian, three to six languages ), Tai-Kadai (Southwestern Tai, three to four varieties) and Indo-European (primarily Eastern Indo-Aryan, two to four languages). In recent years, this list has grown to also include Hindi, Nepali, English and Dravidian languages. In addition, we find a handful of Indo-Aryan-based creoles (at least Nagamese and Arunachali Hindi, and there may well be others) and a handful of possible language isolates, about which more later. However, this already substantial phylogenetic diversity is overshadowed by the extraordinary diversity of Tibeto-Burman in our region, with perhaps 20 independent subgroups, and anywhere from I 00 to 300 individual languages (depending on definitions) spoken here. Geographically, Northeast India centres on the Brahmaputra River, which begins as the Tsangpo in Tibet, descends through the Eastern Himalaya as the Siang, and finally carves out the massive, fertile floodplain of Assam before turning southward and draining into the Bay of Bengal. Surrounding Assam arc six 'hill states'- a modest way to describe the often towering peaks that rise from the Assam plains to divide India from Myanmar and Tibet at altitudes ranging from 2,000 to 6,000 metres. Geography thus neatly divides our region into 'hills' and 'plains', a distinction with important, if sometimes imprecise, ethnolinguistic consequences.
Publication Type: Book Chapter
Source of Publication: The Sino-Tibetan Languages, p. 213-242
Publisher: Routledge
Place of Publication: Abingdon, United Kingdom
ISBN: 9781138783324
Field of Research (FOR): 200406 Language in Time and Space (incl. Historical Linguistics, Dialectology)
Socio-Economic Outcome Codes: 950201 Communication Across Languages and Culture
HERDC Category Description: B3 Chapter in a Revision/New Edition of a Book
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Series Name: Routledge Language Family Series
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Appears in Collections:Book Chapter

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