ELL: To M. McDaniel

Matthew McDaniel akha at LOXINFO.CO.TH
Sat Aug 25 17:31:25 UTC 2001

(Sorry for the very long very detailed reply.  I hope it is however
I also apoligize if it appears that there is "sentiment" in the email,
however I would be more than glad to illustrate upon enquiry what this
sentiment comes from in factual cases of incidents which would have made
this email ten times longer.)

I work with several thousand Akha.

No "linguists" by training work on this project.

So we don't hear them use it. (orthography)

More roughly we refer to it as your below mentioned writing system.

All use Roman script.

1. The written language uses Roman letters or English letters as the
Akha are more likely to say.
2. The written language has different spelling systems depending on who
made it.

This is how we refer to it here, so I refer to it on this list how I
hear the discussion occur most often.

It would not be logical for me to use a new word that no one here
understood and for which I don't have sufficient number of dictionaries
to know exactly what it means.

The Akha themselves refer to the way the language is written as the
letters being the "mother of words"

All these mother's of words give birth to the word in each case.

One mother of words is of a different design than another mother of
words, in the same way as a corn field is not a soy bean field.

> No one where? On this list, or in your offices in Chiang Rai? It is
> common usage among most people I interact with to use "script" to mean
> collections of characters of common origin and characteristics,
> whereas the application of a script to a particular system for writing
> a particular language is commonly referred to as an "orthography" or
> "writing systsem". ("Orthograph" differs slightly from "writing
> system" in that it also includes spelling conventions, whereas
> "writing system" generally is not understood that way.)
> So, using the way that I think most participants on this list use
> terminology, you are talking about orthographies, not scripts. All of
> the things you referred to apparently used Roman script.
> >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
> english)
> These are orthographic differences, not script differences.

Well, that may be how you refer to it with dictionary present.
Since no one that I know who is a linguist works on the Akha language in
Thailand, and many people talk about the language in written form, we
generally all say, "this or that script".

We generally know what each other is talking about within the context of
the work here.

> >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.
> I understand. It sounded from your earlier message that you had made a
> commitment to assist some group in publishing the Bible, which they
> apparently wanted. I gather from the additional info you've provided
> that you're now working with a different group. Is that right? If so,
> what connection is there between these groups as far as desire to work
> with the new orthography is concerned?

Well, yes there are many groups.  However they really aren't in

One group felt that there were no books that were sympathetic to their
culture.  They thought these should be written first to help preserve
and promote the oral traditions.

Secondly all people felt that there needed to be a non partisan Bible,
and accurate, but it is a big project so this was put off till some of
the other processes got done.  As the Bible was a translation and the
writing of oral traditions were not.

> >>>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
> overtones.
> >
> >The third method gave them this option, it is used by various groups,
> and
> >presents information on the culture that was heretofore not
> available.
> It was surprising to me because creating a third orthography is
> potentially just as partisan as the others. This is not at all
> uncommon: faction B doesn't like the orthography that faction A
> developed, so they create a new one. Then faction C doesn't like
> either, so they create another. And so on. In the end, each new
> orthography only serves to divide rather than to draw people together.
> That's not to say that new orthography work can't be uesd to unite. It
> can, if careful effort is made to draw the different parties together.
> I get the impression that in the Akha situation, though, that the
> group you are working with did something new and hoped to see
> consensus from the other groups follow, rather than building the
> consensus at the same time. Is that correct? If so, then they probably
> will face an uphill battle in trying to gain acceptance for this
> orthography from the other groups.

Well, the Baptist script was designed to be different from the Catholic
script, you see, I'm using the word we all use here, or as you say
orthography, a much longer word.

Now there is a good precedent for the use of a new script to make a
seperate religious group, such as what happened with the Chin and all
the missions working with them.

The Akha I worked with felt that the language should accurately describe
the culture without prejudice, as what was used in Paul Lewis's work,
and not sure on the catholic work since the NT from then is only out two

Otherwise their only concern was that it should be accurate in spelling,
tone, and fact described.

Since the history of carefully using the language, its translations, its
presentation here to promote protestant religion is very well known, it
does not automatically mean that another script will write falsehoods
about the culture to promote it as something it is not.  Since there are
ample cases to check the culture against the written statement it will
be easy to confirm.

This is also easy with the Paul Lewis translation, you can compare it to
the facts and find out that it is wrong.  Paul Lewis was excellent at
disparaging the culture in his written work to the great anger of many
Akha, as he only showed "part of the fact".

So far no one has found any agenda or disagreement with the script, and
unlike the protestants or catholics we solicit recommendations for
correction of accuracies of discriptions used, events, stories told.  We
have found that the religious versions not only don't solicit, but they
refuse to respond or change.

> >However, the ethnolinguistic subvarieties for instance among the Chin
> were
> >created by the missions, not the other way around.
> Sorry, but that's not the case. There are several distinct Chin
> languages. As in many places around the world, these language
> distinctions arose over the course of time as peoples migrated and
> became socially or geographically segregated. Missionaries had little
> to do with that.

Well then you need to talk to a Baptist Chin man who specifically
describes these events and printed his report on the Baptist Publishing
House Press in India.

He sites all the missions by name, when they came and the dialect that
they capitalized on to create a distinct group apart from the others
with different denominational inclinations.

I have the book here some where and will have to dig it out.

As well, you can contact the Jesus Film Campus Crusade project and ask
them why they intentionally denied they had a incorrect translation
after even being shown, because the translation they had slandered the
Akha people and government system?

They claim that Baptist Akha approved of the translation so that
therefore made it accurate?

> >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...
> This is all debatable, but I'm not in a position to enter that debate,
> nor is it what I've been interested in focusing on in this thread --
> let's stick to orthography and standardisation and the impact that has
> on cultural survival.

Well, the reason for the standardization is that because of the
religious agenda having precedent, it WASN'T standardized by people like
Lewis who had tons of money to do so but did not because there was a
different calling.

Thus people here had a desire that a script be designed that was
accurate and did not by intention falsify events or intentionally
present half truths against the culture.  Words are very important.

Really we have two things here, how the script is designed, and how it
is used to translate, content.

By standardization we mean that all the tones, vowels and other are
spelled out with concise spelling, with no letters having different
pronunciations or two meanings.

This was not previously the case so the alphabet is longer.

> >...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....
> So what prospects do you see of the various Akha factions coming
> together to agree on orthography and development of a common
> literature? Is the group you're working with interested in dialoging
> with the other factions and perhaps even willing to make some
> consessions on orthography if that can lead to consensus? Are other
> groups showing any interest in dialoguing with them?

Many Akha are using the new script now, both traditional, christian of
protestant and catholic form.  None see the language nor the script as
any reason of dispute.

The only people who ever mentioned this to me were Leo in chiangmai,
Paul Lewis, Ajay and Yot, both workers of his, I have never heard it
from any other Christian or traditional Akha.

I have heard that the script is fast to learn and easy to use.

We are unable to print enough books for demand, nor get new books into
print fast enough.

I see that you have a non roman script initiative.

Here we use the word script to mean "everything about how a language is

Our desire had been that we had a tibetan similar script at some point,
but there were real concerns about delivery time and workers that could
not yet work with that and more research that needed to be done, and the
roman script was already in existence.

But it had been a hope to go back to a traditional script with a Tibetan
origin in time as the Akha people are of Tibetan origin also.

Sorry for any confusion regarding the word "script" but this is the only
word we use here and not being a "linguist" I feel uncomfortable using a
word that I do not know all the proper contexts of yet.

The most important thing is that the Akha see their histories, the
knowledge and their culture written down so that it will be preserved
during this time of very rapid destructive forces.

A web site called "Ambient TV" makes the comment that it is sad that the
force that brought the Akha literacy, missions, was also the force that
took more people away from their traditional culture than any other
single element.  It is also sad that this is still going on with no
willingness of the organizations involved to negotiate on any of the
most destructive elements such as removing children from their families
and requiring them to be "christian".

If you forbid almost all the knowledge of a culture as "evil" what
reason is there to keep the language?

In north Thailand there are no myteries as to what is destroying the
language. Several factors are.


> 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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