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Author stirs up language storm

Agartala, Dec. 9: Kokborok poet and author Nandakumar Debbarma in Tripura has triggered a controversy by describing the use of “too many” Bengali words in the indigenous language as “painful”.

Speaking at a symposium yesterday at Sukanta Academy auditorium here on Kokborok language and literature, he said, “I feel anguished when I see so many Bengali words being used in writings in Kokborok language.”

However, several speakers described this as “natural and unavoidable in Tripura’s bilingual situation”.

But Debbarma said Bengali words could be used when there was no suitable word in Kokborok.

“The growth of Kokborok demands use of words available in the language. I am not against using Bengali words when there are no suitable Kokborok alternatives,” he said over phone from his home at Bisramganj in Sipahijala district.

Writer Bikach Chowdhury said, “Debbarma can speak and write better Bengali than most Bengalis. But as far as his mother tongue is concerned he has a right to express his views.”

He said this overlap was “almost inevitable” in Tripura.

“Bengali had been the language of Tripura’s royal court for more than 500 years. Administrative work was done mainly in Bengali and successive princely rulers of Tripura consciously encouraged the use of Bengali. This is the basic reason why Bengali flourished in Tripura and Kokborok suffered,” said Chowdhury.

He said at present, Kokborok was being written in both Roman and modified Bengali script and the language was prospering.

“All the languages of the world have many ‘loan-words’ from other languages. Even Bengali language in Tripura also has a number of Kokborok words. This has enriched the language but Debbarma has a point when he says that Bengali should not be used for words already existing in Kokborok,” said Chowdhury.

In an effort to write an original script for Kokborok, the Autonomous District Council (ADC) held a workshop at its headquarters in Khumulwng, 26km from here for the purpose in November.

“We had invited samples from people for a new and original script. Altogether 12 samples have been submitted and we are now preparing to invite linguists from Pune and Hyderabad to examine the samples and suggest a common form,” said B.K. Debbarma, executive officer of the ADC in-charge of language and culture.

He said the new script would permanently bury the controversy over Roman and modified Bengali script.