The Tai Khampti. By: Chau Khouk Manpoong

LANGUAGE & LITERATURE

     Tai-languages broadly fall into two groups-Southern and Northern. Thai (Siamese), Lao, Lu, Khun come under Southern group while Northern group includes Dai, Shan, Ahom, Khampti. Tai Khampti basically speaks Northern Shan language variety with which it has close affinity except differing in a little pronunciation. Tai Khampti language has characteristic of it's own in manner of speaking which is slightly dissimilar to other Tai languages. Tai-Khampti language is tonal and of monosyllabic. That is, each syllable or word has several speaking tones ranging from 1 tone upto 14 tones, each tone making entirely different meaning as the tone varies according to it's meaning. For this peculiarity it is like 'sing-song-talk-language'. One needs mastery to read and speak the language perfectly. No doubt, this inherent system of speaking and writing of the language, at times, makes intended meaning ambiguous. The difficulty mutual intelligence among the languages of Tai family in the tones of the same word in different languages which do not always correspond. 

     The Tai-Khampti languages is a living language. It is widely spoken and used by the members in North-East India. It is taught in schools, Buddhist Monasteries, Adult Education Center, it is also widely spoken in Maung Khampti Loung of Patao region and Swong shoup and Singkaling areas in Burma. The members of other Tai branches whose original languages are since dead, such as Tai-Ahom, Tai-Kham-Yang, Man-Tai community of Arunachal and Assam (India) and learning the language in an effort to revive their lost language.

       Tai-Khampti alphabet, which is in pristine form, closely resembles Northern Shan alphabet of Burma with some of the letters taking somewhat divergent shapes. Tai Khampti language has 35 alphabets including 17 consonants and 18 vowels. In the consonants the letter ga, gha, jha, da,dha, ba, bha, ra are wanting. The alphabet aah is used as both consonant and vowel. This ancient script has, however, been in meticulous use for last 500 years. All literary works up to this days are in this ancient script. This Tai-Khampti script had since been reformed in 1988 by committee of Tai scholars assisted by philological experts with a view the standardize the script by removing the inherent deficiencies in the script. The reformed script has 40 alphabets of which 26 are consonants, 14 are vowels. It has 9 tones and 8 tone-symbols. The tones are sequently numbered with their respective tone-symbols. The high tone (tone no - 3) has no symbol. 9 new consonant alphabets are devised and added. Now, with the ancient Tai Khampti script reformed, new graphic device for tone control introduced, deficiency in alphabet removed, printing types of the script mad and ready for printing machines, a new trend is set in which the language and it's rich literature are poised to achieve new height. Already school text books in Tai Khampti script had been printed in 1993 (2537 B.E) and introduced in schools for teaching and learning.

     Tai Khampti literature (Liklai) is very rich. There are hundreds of thousands of volumes in manscript form which are carefully preserved in Buddhist monasteries and homes. These manuscripts are read in great reverence in melodious intonation, and taught to the inmates in monasteries. These literary works deal with various branches of temporal knowledge, such as Buddhist teachings, Jataka tales, Fables, Novels, History, Astrology, Customary jurisprudence, Guide to good living, worldly knowledge and wisdom, Human Conduct, Indian epics of Ramayan, Mahabharat, Chronicles, Chinese traveler Huen Chwang's accounts of his India-travel on 7th century A.D, system of medicine, mythology, many other secular subjects of human interests with intrinsic value. The literary works also include dramatic performing arts with theme usually drawn from Jataka tales (Buddha's birth stories) and epics of Ramayan and Mahabharata. These valumes are written in scholary poetical style having flowing rhyme rich in assonance and alliteration. Sang Vaku, Pu-shon-lan, Loka Niti,Loka Pingya, Hitopadesa, Hodham (Chau Khunhong's India-travel accounts), Chau Lamang (Indian epic Ramayan), Sasana-tongpan Besides, Tai-Khamptis have numerous oral folk tales.