By Limalenden Longkumer |

Did you know that the first book on Ao Naga Grammar with Illustrations, Phrases and Vocabulary was published as early as in 1893? Did you know that the first Ao Naga dictionary was published a century ago? Speaking from the literary perspective, Rev.Dr.Clark’s magnum opus was the Ao Naga Dictionary, the first dictionary of its kind containing 10,000 word entries published from Baptist Mission Press, Calcutta in 1911.

His wife, Mary Clark also was actively involved in literary work. Besides helping her husband, she prepared and published Ao for school children in 1877. Her major literary contribution was The Ao Naga Grammar with Illustrations, Phrases and Vocabulary published in 1893, the first grammar book of Ao language. We did not have a script until the Christian missionaries introduced the Roman Script. (Or maybe we had one but somehow lost it… this is one area we need to do some research).

Ao language is as old as Ao society, yet there are people who still consider Ao as a dialect. Baloney. And there are “believers” who admonish Ao culture as un-Christian. Even more baloney! Language and culture are inseparable. Therefore, if Ao culture is un-Christian, then Ao language must be un-Christian as well. Yet we sing Christian hymns in Ao, pray in Ao and read the Bible in Ao. Those “believers” who think that Ao culture is “of the devil” should first denounce all Christian literature in Ao before pointing their holier-than-thou fingers at those who uphold Ao culture.

Last weekend, a soon-to-be renowned Ao writer P.Alem Jamir translated a novel “NaroMolok” and the next day, the local English dailies carried the story. Hell, they conveyed that a novel had been translated into “Ao dialect,” and seeing the word “dialect” in the caption made me feel like I want to go and knock the stupidity out of the editor’s head. So, what is the difference between a language and a dialect? I do not have the “required qualification” to define the difference between “language” and “dialect” but I do have the common sense to differentiate between the two.

Ao is not a dialect but a genuine and widely spoken language, a vibrant language that is continuously evolving. Chungli, Mongsen and Changkimay be considered“dialects” while Ao is a full-blown language. It is not in the scope of this column to go into the details and I believe the previous statement should suffice. So, reader, the next time you see somebody defining Ao as a “dialect,” go break his neck. Kidding.

If we flip through the historical pages of Ao literature, we will find that the pioneering writers have made a big deal of contribution towards the evolution of Ao language and literature. We ought to acknowledge them. We must likewise appreciate the contemporary Ao writers for breathing in life and exerting active contribution towards the evolutionary process of Ao language.

My thoughts on Ao language needs no further mention here, but what needs emphasis is Ao literature. Being literate and intelligent people, we must make sure that Ao literature evolves to its highest form within our lifetime. But how?

Literary affluence was intrinsic to our ancestors. Look at the lyrics of their songs – they’re of the highest form of literature. They were most prolific in the usage of metaphors and similes. They were splendid lyricists. Such vivid aesthetic sense, they possessed. And Shakespeare seems to be a back bencher compared to our ancestors when it comes to romanticizing the world or whatever.

We have it in us what it takes to be literary monsters, I mean literary connoisseurs. The only thing we lack is imagination. Imagine Ao books being translated into other languages. It’s not impossible.

Imagine Ao words finding its way into the next edition of the Oxford dictionary. The nearest words that can possibly find their place in English dictionaries are, I think, pongsen and anishi. (Etymologically, anishi should actually be anüshi or nüushi, but since anishi is more commonly used these days, let it be so).

Imagine a computer application software specifically designed in Ao – perhaps we can replicate MS Word. Our whiz kids should be able to do that.

I can speak at least nine languages including some Nippon and a little bit of Mandarin, Latin and Greek. I know a little bit of German and Finnish. I can speak Lotha, Konyak, Nepali and Nagamese. Well, actually, I can speak only two languages, Ao and English, and the pidgin Nagamese. Of all the languages, I find Ao the most intense. The next 30 years could possibly turn out to be the age of ‘Ao literary revival’ – it needs just about a thousand writers. A writer springing up in every nook and corner of Ao country should serve the purpose.

We have a lot of “qualified” intellectuals with a “master’s” degree in almost every field. They should contribute. They should write. In Ao, of course.

The young should be taught to read and write Ao. The apex Ao Senden’s diktat that Ao must be taught in every school in Mokokchung should be imposed like the Communists would have done it.

Ao should find a place in Nagaland University. PhD courses in Ao should be offered in the University. Imagine an Ao Encyclopaedia, an Ao Discriptionary, an exhaustive paperback on Ao Grammar and Composition and its usage. Ao newspapers like Ao Milen and TirYimyim should be in every Ao student’s reading table. A language without literature is like a man without a name. It will cease to evolve and eventually come to the point of extinction if a language is sans literature. And a people without a language are a people without a culture. And a people without culture are a people worth extermination. Well, not exactly extermination but they will lose their identity and the very purpose of their existence as a people among peoples.

All those who think they are “modern” should be able to at least speak modern Ao. To be able to speak English, and Korean these days, does not give you the right to be proud of not being able to speak Ao, thick skull. I should be writing this in Ao but I thought writing in English can better catch the attention of those vainglorious Ao boys and girls who think that not being Ao-literate is ultra-modern or whatever. I wish eugenics was practicable, so that one could alter the genetic composition of all those boys and girls who are ashamed to speak, read and write Ao into loving it.

Here lies before us an opportunity to be part of an epoch making period of time. Let posterity define this generation as the age of Ao literary revolution. Let us live up to it. To make it happen depends on our imagination. If you can’t write in Ao, at least read what others write. And if you can’t speak Ao, go procreate with your distant cousins in Bangladesh.

As for the rest of us, we shall remain steadfast in our endeavour to make Ao the most rapidly evolving language of the 21st century.

Limalenden Longkumer is a journalist attached with The Morung Express; he is also the president of the Mokokchung Press Club (MPC) and also a successful entrepreneur. Being a prolific writer, he has written a lot of news and articles in The Morung Express from time to time. He will be a regular contributor in the Nokinketer, sharing his dreams and aspirations about Mokokchung town and its people