Schweizerische Gesellschaft
für Bedrohte Sprachen

Fieldwork report on Biate in Northeast India, June–July 2013

Priyanka Kharbanda

Biate belongs to the Kuki-Chin subgroup of Tibeto-Burman language family (under Sino-Tibetan).

Biate is one of the endangered languages of this Branch which is not documented. It is the language of one of the ethnic tribes of Mizoram, Assam, and Meghalaya in India. This language of the tribe stretches from Northeast Mizoram; Dima Hasao, Assam, Cachar hills: Manipur; Meghalaya, Jaintia Hills district. Biate has linguistic resemblances to other Tibeto-Burman languages - Hrangkhol, Lushai, and Hmar of Kuki-Chin subgroup. It has less than 12000 speakers. Biate is steadily becoming endangered; the reason is attributed to the decision of young Biates speakers to learn Hindi, Khasi and Mizo so as to communicate beyond their local villages and this is essential for their economic success. It can also be attested from the fact that when I conducted the first field work on this language in North East India, some of the young Biate speakers could not provide the standard data. Their language exhibited a compound of Biate and Mizo. Thus documenting and writing a grammar of Biate will make sure that the knowledge of this language will remain long after the language is no longer spoken.

I conducted fieldwork in Meghalaya between Shillong and Jowai in Jaintia Hills. I would like to include names of Biates who became part of my first fieldwork – Upa T.K. Darnei (Jowai), Liza (Jowai), Reverend Ngaite (Jowai), Lalrinchana (Jowai and Shillong), Lalramdina Durpui (Saipung and Shillong), Lalfani (Fiangpui and Shillong), Tete Nampui (Umrangso and Shillong), Moia Nampui (Umrangso and Shillong), Reverend David Haia (Dima Hasao and Shillong), Janet Nampui (Shillong), Lalnun Kima Thianglai (Shillong and N.C. Hills), Lalnehemi Lalsim (Mualdam and Shillong), Janet Zothapui Nampui (New Sangbar and Shillong), Peaceful Nampui (Shillong), and others.

State of Assam: The Biate villages are situated in Dima Hasao and Cachar districts of Assam. The names of the villages are : Sanghbar, Fiangpui, Mualdam, Khobak, Jahai, Kothlir, and Thuruk.

State of Meghalaya in India, bordering Assam and Bangladesh: The Biate villages are found in the Jaintia Hills’ district marked in yellow on the right. The villages are -Saipung, Jowai, Saibual, Mualsei, Mualhoi, Muallian, and Thuruk 2.