ELL: To M. McDaniel

Matthew McDaniel akha at LOXINFO.CO.TH
Sat Aug 25 03:00:54 UTC 2001

> >The Italian Catholics developed a script around 1917 for the Akha.
> Do you mean a new script (i.e. not Roman script), or an orthography?

I should have been more clear.  They developed a script that made use of
the Roman letters by special arrangement according to Akha language, the
pronunciations were very hard to figure out if you spoke english, and
few could explain why they arrived at such a script. (orthography,
though no one here uses that word.)

> >Paul Lewis made a different script.
> Again, a different script, or a different orthography?

Roman letters, again, different arrangement of those spellings.


Akha Law:

Catholic: zang

Lewis: zah  (pronounced as commonly said in english this would say the
word "pig" not the word "law"

New: zauh  (as the same pronunciation as used closely to "taught" in

> >As a result the Akha asked me if I could help work on a script and
> help get
> >Bibles published in this script so that they could have access.
> Same question. Since what you have now is Roman script, I take it you
> mean a new orthography.
> BTW, I'm just curious: the online texts didn't include any Biblical
> portions in this orthography. Has there been progress on that during
> the seven+ years you mentioned?

The group that I worked with felt that the Bible was a highly political
issue here and that missions were using it to undermine and destroy the
culture in a similar way as it might be applied in a partisan fashion in
Ireland for instance.

There are few to no books on traditional Akha culture.

The book that we have placed on the web is the most extensive Akha book
in existence.

Upon converting the NT into the new style of writing, the editors stated
that the Paul Lewis New Testament had many factual errors and also was
prejudiced against the culture of the people.  These Akha were Christian
Akha I should mention.  Therefore they felt it should be corrected and
since the work was substantial it was reserved for a later project.

However, there are many Akha who want this revised edition.

It is strictly a matter of funding.  We felt that people should be able
to get copies of any book they wish, just accurate copies.

> >Numerous Akha have complained that the religious proprietary scripts
> have been
> >used to divide their people and have not been used for the promotion
> or
> >preservation of their culture.
> Which makes me surprised that the group you are working with wanted to
> develop yet another orthography.

Why is this surprising?  The two groups were partisan, and the people I
worked with wanted a non partisan writing method with NO religious

The third method gave them this option, it is used by various groups,
and presents information on the culture that was heretofore not

There are also two other versions.  A culture version in Thailand that
was not well done and stopped.  A second version that is still being
worked on but is difficult to use.

> >NO religious organization has made any attempt to answer their
> concern
> >regarding this matter.
> Well, I question whether expat missionaries weren't interested in
> promoting unity among the various groups -- my impression is that they
> would have, based on what I heard from those that I met when I lived
> there, but that the Akha Christians themselves are divided. I recall
> hearing of that happening among the Lahu and other groups as well.
> They adopt a religion that emphasises mutual love and unity, but they
> remain divided or new divisions arise due to rivalries that follow
> their social organisation or ethnolinguistic subvarieties. At least,
> that's the impression I've gotten.

Akha has no important ethnolinguistic subvarieties.  Not important in
the sense that they disagree over any major pronunciation divide.

However, the ethnolinguistic subvarieties for instance among the Chin
were created by the missions, not the other way around.

The missions have carefully used the religious issues to divide the Akha
and their families.  This is carefully documented here and will not wash
off the hand readily.  There are the normal divisions in any society.
Akha is closer than most.  But Akha was not designed to be a "United"
culture.  This is a western fantasy.  They are independent villages,
independent leadership and answer to no one.  That is their life, they
live it.  This has worked for many years so why change it?

However the mission process is to use the word unity when
"collectivization" would be the better word I think.

The emphasis of the missions has been for one group to want to grab off
villages before or from another group.  Paul Lewis was extensively into
this himself.

Therefore these groups use many methods to grab a village, really don't
care about the means.  I have seen it first hand.  So the missions are
not interested in unity, it is a word of convenience when one finds no
proof of it actually being done with that means and process in mind.

You can't destroy a people, divide them, conquer them and then wonder
where the unity has gone.

OMF paid Yot, an Akha man, extensively, and he is seen as an elite
mission man here.  How does that promote unity. The Akha have unity in a
particular village by their judication system, so it would be logical to
work along that line rather than create a mission elite, which is not

As well, the missions have not addressed major concerns that the Akha
have about problems that they the missions created, leaving greater

It is not right that the missions should come wallowing in here,
completely oppose and villify their culture and then say they some how
had no hand in the discord?

> >The Akha now have numerous prototypes of this book and find that the
> script
> >system is very fast and very easy to read and that it also is very
> useful if
> >one is trying to learn english.
> If so, then it sounds like a very practical and viable orthography. If
> there is any way to promote a concensus on orthography among the
> various Akha factions, that would be in the long-term interest of
> their viability as a distinc culture and language. In fact, I would be
> inclined to be willing to make some compromises in orthography if it
> would achieve concensus. It is primarily literature that has kept the
> English world from becoming fragmented into distinct languages over
> the past 500 years of Anglo dispersion. The anglo population is large
> enough that, if there had been fragmentation, most of the distinct
> language varietiew might have remained viable. The Akha are not so
> many in number, though. It isn't necessarily the case that a common
> literature would be *the* key factor in cultural survival in their
> situation, but it can certainly contribute to cultural survival.

I would agree with this.

I was not part to the mission haggling here and have only addressed the
mission issue where I thought it was not consistent with the teachings
of Jesus and where I thought that it was not getting the job done

Our only concern was, since the missions didn't answer to anyone, was
that the new method would be exploited by the missions themselves to
teach things to the Akha which were not true which is what they do now
with their own romanized versions.

However, Akha who have learned the system found a number of things.

Tone marking is easy and absolutely clear, typed or hand written.
Tones can be typed easily and sensibly on the computer without
programming a font.
If you know Akha writing already, easy to move to the new system.
If you don't know Akha writing, easy to learn the new system.
If you don't know english, easy to learn english when you know the new
system because english is coveted by the Akha for a human rights

> >The Akha who learn english are better able to communicate their human
> rights
> >needs to outsiders.
> Naturally. There's no question that learning an external language can
> be important to their economic welfare, and you point out that it can
> also contribute to their political welfare and self-preservation. I
> would think that keys for minorities to preservation of their language
> include positive attitude toward their language, and the ability to be
> functional socially with that language. A common literature can be a
> contributing factor to the latter.
> Keep up the work in literature development. I'd also encourage you to
> do what you can to promote orthography standardisation. If they can
> agree to differ on other issues (and, hopefully, accept one another in
> spite of those differences) but come together on this, that will be of
> significant benefit to them, I think.

Our goal is a 101 books in Akha language, journals, comics, and other

We have numerous books in rough draft now but lack the funds to print

We have built schools in the villages, as well the new writing system is
very much based in a "keep the Akha alive" project so that they Akha
know that it is no abstract matter but very entwined with concern for
all their conditions in the village.

Of course, this has made the process more slow, and we do not get much
funding, and so we live with the pace that we have.

Thankyou for your comments and questions, I also hope that partisan
issues can be set aside, and people can see that if the Akha knowledge
system is preserved, it helps keep them alive.


> Regards,
> - Peter
> -
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Peter Constable
> Non-Roman Script Initiative, SIL International
> 7500 W. Camp Wisdom Rd., Dallas, TX 75236, USA
> Tel: +1 972 708 7485
> E-mail: <peter_constable at sil.org>

Matthew McDaniel
The Akha Heritage Foundation
Maesai, Chiangrai, Thailand

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