Page created in collaboration with François Jacquesson, Director of research, LACITO-CNRS, 2011.
Data on the Kokborok language
Alternative names: Kok Borok, Tripuri
The name ‘Tripuri’ (lit. the language of Tripura) is an exonym (a name given by another linguistic group) from Bengali. This is the most common name for the language, but it is rejected by a number of speakers who prefer the name ‘Kokborok’ (lit. the language of the Borok, as they call themselves).
Area: Kokborok speakers live mostly in certain parts of the state of Tripura, in the North-East of India.
There are also speakers found on the other side of the border, in Bangladesh.
The language is used for the most part in rural areas; it is replaced by Bengali in Agartala, the capital of Tripura State, and in other urban centres. The media is all in the Bengali language.
Classification: Kokborok is part of the Bodo-Garo (or Garo-Bodo) group of languages, a branch of the Tibeto-Burman languages which fall under Sino-Tibetan language family.
It is very close to two other Bodo-Garo languages: Dimasa and Boro.
Main dialects: Kokborok is a realatively homogenous language. Nevertheless, there are dialect variants which are close to Dimasa and Boro. Il existe, néanmoins, des variantes dialectales intermédiaires au dimasa et au boro.
Number of speakers: Around 800 000 speakers (according François Jacquesson) in Tripura. The number of speakers in Bangladesh is difficult to estimate, but certainly is certainly no more than a few tens of thousands or so.
Status: Kokborok is a language of communication and has no official status, even at a local level.
Teaching: Kokborok is taught in an experimental school, with the agreement of state authorities.
Writing: There are two rival writing systems for Kokborok. One, first developed by Protestant missionaries, is based on the latin alphabet; the other is based on the Bengali writing system. Both writing systems are in use, despite the open opposition of some activists.
Literature: There is a relatively extensive literature: grammars, dictionaries, children’s books, novels, poetry anthologies… The literature available is relatively recent, however, and edited at a local level by activists and religious organisations such as the Tei Hukumu Mission.
Media: To our knowledge, there is no newspaper material, radio or television in Kokborok.
The film Yarwng, directed by Joseph Pulinthanath, is the first film in the Kokborok language. The award-winning film is to be shown for the first time at the Third ‘Rencontres Sorosoro’, on the 8th of Décembre, at la Maison des Cultures du Monde, Paris.
Vitality and transmission
The Kokborok is more threatened than the relatively high number of speakers might suggest. The language is still being passed on, but its usage is decreasing rapidly under pressure from the Bengali language – all speakers are at least bilingual. It is feared that the number of speakers could suffer a rapid decline in the near future and that the language would quickly fall into disuse in favour of Bengali.
At the time of British colonisation, the Kingdom of Tripura was cut in half to create the present-day State of Tripura; the ‘cut off’ portion is found in what is now east-central Bangladesh. Following the independence from the British in 1947, the Kingdom was made into a state of India. The Kokborok language was formerly dominant in the region; Bengali, however, has long been seen as a ‘more prestigious’ language, a testament to the rajas’ admiration for Bengali culture and Rabindranath Tagore.
After independence, Bengali economic and cultural pressure only increased. And the influx of Bengali-speaking people from bordering countries has greatly contributed to marginalisation of the Kokborok language. It is estimated today that more than 90% of Tripura’s inhabitants are Bengali-speaking.
In urban areas, like Agartala, Kokborok is hardly ever used whilst even in rural areas its usage has been limited to only family or extended-family settings. Bengali has often been viewed as a language more prestigious and more ‘useful’ than Kokborok.
Within North-Eastern India, an area with a reputation for instability and rebellion, Tripura is known as a peaceful zone. The Borok people too, however, have also asserted their identity, albeit in a more peaceful way than some peoples of neighbouring states.
The past two decades have seen an awareness of the importance of preserving the language – seen as an essential part of the Borok history and culture – develop amongst the Borok population, particularly amongst the educated.
The amount of literature written in and written about Kokborok has increased, and, under the leadership of some activists, the first official educational structure in the Kokborok language has been able to see the light of day.
Binoy Debbarma. 2002. Anglo-Kokborok-Bengali Dictionary. 2nd edition. Agartala: Kokborok Tei Hukumu Mission (KOHM)
F. Jacquesson, 2008, A Kokborok Grammar (Agartala dialect), Agartala, Tei Hukumu Mission.
F. Jacquesson, 2008, “Discovering Boro-Garo, History of an Analytical and Descriptive linguistic Category”, European Bulletin of Himalayan Research, 32, 14-49.
F. Jacquesson, 2006, “La reconstruction linguistique du passé : le cas des langues Boro-garo”, Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique de Paris, 101/1, 273-303.
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