[Tibeto-burman-linguistics] Changes to Myanmar Naga group names in Ethnologue

Mark W. Post markwpost at gmail.com
Fri Jan 27 04:56:48 UTC 2017

I think we need to separate the issues of "Naga" appearing in language 
names and "Naga" appearing in linguistic subgroup labels.

Unless I'm mistaken, nobody seems to be presenting a strong argument 
that "Naga" should be retained in language names - as Scott and Alec 
point out, speakers don't append "Naga" to their language names, so why 
should linguists (or anyone else)? Seemingly, the tendency to do so 
dates to a time when it was imagined these languages should all form 
some sort of coherent linguistic grouping - and that seems to be the 
logic behind Ethnologue using labels like "Naga, Inpui" (or if it isn't, 
then I don't understand what the logic is - I certainly hope it's not on 
ethnic grounds) - but surely this no longer applies, or at least not as 
a default assumption, so we don't lose any linguistic information by 
dropping the "Naga" appendix to a given language name. It seems like it 
would be easy for Ethnologue to simply make these changes, so I don't 
know why they wouldn't; maybe they're just waiting for someone to put in 
the ISO-639-3 name change request for all the relevant languages?

As for subgroup labels, though, this is much trickier, and several 
listmembers will remember a time not so long ago when Rob Burling and I 
were casting around for advice on what to do with subgroup labels in the 
Indo-Myanmar area for the NEI TB langs chapter revision for the 
Routledge ST second edition. We didn't like the idea of using a single 
language in the subgroup to represent the whole subgroup (a la "Mirish" 
for Tani), for the obvious reason that this seems to imply some sort of 
privileged status for this language within the subgroup, and annoys 
speakers of other languages within the subgroup so named (in addition to 
potentially misleading some linguists). Some subgroups are small enough 
that you could fit most if not all of the main languages into a single 
label, but that's not the usual case (and furthermore, language names 
also change, and subgroup memberships also get re-argued, etc....). We 
also didn't like the idea of using cross-subgroup ethnic labels like 
"Naga" for the reasons that Alec mentioned - it seems to imply a 
mid-level grouping that isn't actually intended (for example, between 
Northern Naga (Konyak group) and Central Naga (Ao group)). We asked 
around for some better ideas, thinking along the lines of "Tani" (a 
shared mythological ancestor, as well as the vernacular for 'person') or 
the recently-named "Kamengic", to describe a group of seemingly related 
languages spoken nearby to the rather large Kameng River in W. Arunachal 
Pradesh. In other words, a linguistic label if a nice and neutral one 
could be found, and a suitable geographic label if one couldn't. But in 
a few cases, at least, we were unsuccessful in our search, and since we 
didn't want to impose any of our own putative "neutral" labels on an 
areas we don't know as intimately as others do (e.g. a nearby major 
river, whose names on maps are often exonyms to start with, or the names 
of nearby nations to which at least some of the speakers might not even 
really want to belong in the first place), we could only adopt the 
labels that seemed to be the most prevalent in the literature, or that 
featured in a prominent recent study of the subgroup (for example, Dan 
Bruhn's recent Proto-Central-Naga book). I'd be very happy if someone 
could do a better job at this than we were able to, because it would be 
nice to remove the potential confusions mentioned above. But it seems to 
me that each subgroup label is going to have to be argued for on a 
subgroup-by-subgroup basis, in the absence of any agreed-upon 
higher-order grouping. And, we should be pretty happy that these labels, 
once proposed, are going to stick so nicely that we don't end up just 
introducing yet more "nymic" confusion into an already saturated field. 
At least, that's what I would be thinking if I were an Ethnologue editor.


On 27/01/2017 1:05 AM, Scott DeLancey wrote:
> I spend a good bit of time in southeastern Manipur among speakers of 
> languages which Ethnologue labels "Monsang Naga", "Anal Naga", etc. 
> And while all the communities are indubitably Naga, and quite 
> assertive about it, I have never heard anyone refer to any of the 
> languages that way -- they are simply "Monsang" etc. (They do, 
> however, object vociferously to hearing their languages called "Old 
> Kuki", which is where they fall in terms of genetic classification. We 
> are now replacing that term with "Northwest Kuki-Chin", which is still 
> not popular but at least doesn't make people visibly angry).
> Scott DeLancey
> On 2017-01-26 12:45, Alexander Coupe wrote:
>> Dear all,
>> It is certainly important to have the input of the communities 
>> involved, so I asked my collaborator Dr T. Temsunungsang for his 
>> opinion on the issue, as he is ethnically Ao, a Naga, a Mongsen Ao 
>> speaker, and a linguist. He is currently not subscribed to the TB 
>> discussion list, so with his permission I have shared his response 
>> with list members below:
>> Hi Alec,
>> Interesting discussion there. For the Aos, i believe identity starts 
>> from the village. So, in the past, if you ask what language an Ao 
>> speaks, most probably you would get the village name. But after 
>> standardisation, it has become Ao for most speakers. I think this is 
>> true for the other tribes as well. Hence, the word Naga has  no role 
>> in the linguistic identity. In recent times, we have started using 
>> Aoo (Ao language) to refer to the language. A similar case with 
>> Poumai, using Poula (language of the Poumais).
>> But as you have mentioned, the word Naga has a very strong political 
>> and culture  related attachment to the people.
>> I agree with you that linguists should stop using the word Naga for 
>> linguistic affiliation. It mixes up separate fields, leading to 
>> misuse and abuse.
>> And perhaps Ethnologue can start this process by removing Naga from 
>> all the language names!
>> Best
>> Temsü
>> While I appreciate the points made in previous posts concerning the 
>> potential social ramifications of using particular labels, as 
>> linguists we need to distinguish clearly between using labels for 
>> social or political identities, and using labels for linguistic 
>> affiliations. They do not necessarily coincide, so why contribute to 
>> the confusion by continuing to pretend that they do in our 
>> classifications? This logically applies to our choice of labels not 
>> only at the individual language level, but also at the group level.
>> Alec
>> From: Tibeto-burman-linguistics 
>> <tibeto-burman-linguistics-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org 
>> <mailto:tibeto-burman-linguistics-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org>> 
>> on behalf of Judy Pine <Judy.Pine at wwu.edu <mailto:Judy.Pine at wwu.edu>>
>> Date: Wednesday, 25 January 2017 at 8:55 PM
>> To: Randy LaPolla <randy.lapolla at gmail.com 
>> <mailto:randy.lapolla at gmail.com>>, Nathan & Carey Statezni 
>> <nathan_statezni at sil.org <mailto:nathan_statezni at sil.org>>
>> Cc: "tibeto-burman-linguistics at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG 
>> <mailto:tibeto-burman-linguistics at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG>" 
>> <tibeto-burman-linguistics at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG 
>> <mailto:tibeto-burman-linguistics at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG>>, 
>> Michael Ahland <michael_ahland at sil.org 
>> <mailto:michael_ahland at sil.org>>, Chuck Fennig 
>> <editor_ethnologue at sil.org <mailto:editor_ethnologue at sil.org>>
>> Subject: Re: [Tibeto-burman-linguistics] Changes to Myanmar Naga 
>> group names in Ethnologue
>> It is also useful to note that Karen is an ethnonym given the groups 
>> who find themselves under it by Tai speaking dominant groups. 
>> Although many have since adopted it for the purpose of political 
>> organization, it is not their name for themselves traditionally, nor 
>> is it the name they give to the various languages/dialects that fall 
>> under that umbrella (I speak here having just left a Pa keun yaw 
>> (pardon my on-the-fly Romanization) village that the Thai would call 
>> Karieng and we would call Karen.)
>> -Judy Pine
>> *From:*Tibeto-burman-linguistics 
>> [mailto:tibeto-burman-linguistics-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org] 
>> *On Behalf Of *Randy J. LaPolla
>> *Sent:* Tuesday, January 24, 2017 7:24 AM
>> *To:* Nathan & Carey Statezni <nathan_statezni at sil.org 
>> <mailto:nathan_statezni at sil.org>>
>> *Cc:* The Tibeto-Burman Discussion List Discussion List 
>> <tibeto-burman-linguistics at listserv.linguistlist.org 
>> <mailto:tibeto-burman-linguistics at listserv.linguistlist.org>>; 
>> Michael Ahland <michael_ahland at sil.org 
>> <mailto:michael_ahland at sil.org>>; Chuck Fennig 
>> <editor_ethnologue at sil.org <mailto:editor_ethnologue at sil.org>>
>> *Subject:* Re: [Tibeto-burman-linguistics] Changes to Myanmar Naga 
>> group names in Ethnologue
>> Hi Nathan,
>> It might differ with different groups. For example, using the ethnic 
>> term Kachin to refer to the language Jinghpaw, as was done in the 
>> past, is problematic because there are people who are classified as 
>> Kachin but whose native language is not Jinghpaw. In China speakers 
>> of many different languages were lumped together under a single name 
>> (e.g. "Zang", usually translated as "Tibetan", but not what the 
>> Tibetans call themselves, and includes people who don't speak 
>> Tibetan, such as the majority of Qiang speakers; see Poa, Dory & 
>> LaPolla, Randy J. 2007. Minority languages of China. In Osahito 
>> Miyaoka and Michael E. Krauss (eds.), /The Vanishing Languages of the 
>> Pacific/, 337-354. Oxford: Oxford University 
>> Press.http://randylapolla.net/papers/Poa_and_LaPolla_2007_Minority_Languages_of_China.pdf), 
>> so it is important to distinguish the ethnic name from the language 
>> name in some cases.
>> All the best,
>> Randy
>> PS: interestingly, some of the Qiang speaking Zang are now trying to 
>> have their own name for their language and people recognised as the 
>> name of the language in Chinese, because they aren't comfortable 
>> calling it Qiang (as they are not classified as Qiang any more), yet 
>> can't call it Tibetan.
>>     On 23 Jan 2017, at 9:51 AM, Nathan & Carey Statezni
>>     <nathan_statezni at sil.org <mailto:nathan_statezni at sil.org>> wrote:
>>     Hi Alec and all,
>>     I appreciate very much your work on these languages, Alec, and
>>     your effort to keep Ethnologue updated on the status of
>>     classification.
>>     It would be fine with me to drop the label "Naga" from linguistic
>>     classifications; it's quite confusing. I'm particularly concerned
>>     about the language group perspective for changes made, but it's
>>     typically not a big deal for language family and branch, etc.
>>     names to change, as long as the new name doesn't seem to favor
>>     one group.
>>     However, language names are another matter. Language names are
>>     not linguistic - they're social. Ethnologue's use of Chin and
>>     Naga in language names is not a classification tool but a
>>     reflection of the group's own socio-ethnic grouping. It's part of
>>     their language's name and identity.
>>     If it were decided to remove Naga from all the names, that would
>>     not thus mean that the groups don't refer to themselves as Naga.
>>     We would at least need a comment that this language group
>>     identifies itself as part of a socio-ethnic group called the
>>     Naga. Should Chin then be removed from all names as well? What
>>     about Karen? Where do we stop? What is our criterion for
>>     including or not including it? Ethnologue doesn't typically
>>     include branch names in the language names. However, it does
>>     include socio-ethnic group names where those are salient, as is
>>     the case for these 3 groupings.
>>     I think we would also need to hear more from these communities.
>>     In the pre-internet days, very few community members had access
>>     to the Ethnologue. Now, communities regularly access it and even
>>     use it in usually good ways to get recognition and promote their
>>     people. On the Myanmar side at least, Naga, Chin, and Karen
>>     identity is salient. People I've talked to want to have
>>     Naga/Chin/Karen in their name, even for groups like Chin,
>>     Anu-Hkongso, which isn't a Kuki-Chin language.
>>     It would also be helpful to hear from Michael or others about how
>>     similar issues have been handled in the Ethnologue for other
>>     parts of the world.
>>     My wife is due to have a baby any day now, so if I'm not able to
>>     respond for awhile, that's why! :)
>>     Thanks,
>>     Nathan
>>         On Fri, Jan 20, 2017 at 5:45 PM, Alexander Coupe
>>         <ARCoupe at ntu.edu.sg <mailto:ARCoupe at ntu.edu.sg>> wrote:
>>             Dear Nathan and colleagues,
>>             I believe it is time to drop the label "Naga" from any
>>             linguistic classification, because is will continue to
>>             mislead non-specialists into assuming that these "Naga"
>>             languages of Myanmar and the so-called "Naga" languages
>>             of northern, central and southern Nagaland and adjacent
>>             regions of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur somehow
>>             form a robustly attested branch of Sino-Tibetan. The term
>>             "Naga" has become an important political tool for helping
>>             to establish an ethno-nationalistic identity for
>>             disparate and marginalized minorities in the northeastern
>>             border region, but it lacks credibility as a linguistic
>>             label. This is because we currently know that it includes
>>             at least 2 and possibly even 3 or 4 more separate
>>             branches – subgrouping is still a work in progress, and
>>             we just don't have enough reliable descriptions at
>>             present to make any strong claims beyond Burling's (1983)
>>             Sal branch.  I have been campaigning for a revision in
>>             naming conventions for these languages in recent
>>             publications, and also consulting with Ethnologue to
>>             address the currently misleading nature of "Naga"
>>             nomenclature (e.g. see
>>             https://www.ethnologue.com/language/nsa/feedback).
>>             Ethnologue is currently  considering adopting a number of
>>             these recommendations, so following suit with similar
>>             naming conventions for the languages of Myanmar would be
>>             consistent with the revisions.
>>             Best,
>>             Alec
>>             *From: *Tibeto-burman-linguistics
>>             <tibeto-burman-linguistics-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org
>>             <mailto:tibeto-burman-linguistics-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org>>
>>             on behalf of Nathan & Carey Statezni
>>             <nathan_statezni at sil.org <mailto:nathan_statezni at sil.org>>
>>             *Date: *Thursday, 19 January 2017 at 6:09 PM
>>             *To:
>>             *"tibeto-burman-linguistics at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG
>>             <mailto:tibeto-burman-linguistics at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG>"
>>             <tibeto-burman-linguistics at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG
>>             <mailto:tibeto-burman-linguistics at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG>>
>>             *Subject: *[Tibeto-burman-linguistics] Changes to Myanmar
>>             Naga group names in Ethnologue
>>             Hi all,
>>             I'm proposing changes to the name in the Ethnologue for
>>             some Naga groups in Myanmar, to match their own name for
>>             themselves and the spelling used in their orthographies,
>>             based on discussions with these groups. Here are my
>>             proposed changes (all the current names would become
>>             alternate names): Any thoughts?
>>             Makyan Naga [umn] becomes Paungnyuan Naga
>>             Kyan-Karyaw Naga [nqq] becomes Chen-Kayu Naga
>>             Leinong Naga [lzn] becomes Lainong Naga
>>             Kokak [nxk] becomes Kokak Naga (for consistency with the
>>             other Naga group names)
>>             By the way, all Ethnologue updates need to be in by
>>             January each year. The new edition comes out on February
>>             21 each year, International Mother Language Day.
>>             Nathan
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