Schweizerische Gesellschaft
für bedrohte Sprachen

Fieldwork in India
October 2022

Jessica Ivani

Suansu is a Tibeto-Burman language spoken by approximately 2000 people (who identify as Tangkhul Naga) in the Ukhrul district of Manipur, North-East India, on the Indo-Myanmar border. The language was unreported to the linguistic community until 2018, and it is now under documentation. Suansu is an endangered language. Migration and the prevalence of other lingua franca languages, such as Tangkhul, Meithei, Nagamese, or Hindi, in different social contexts have reduced the domains in which Suansu is used and its transmission.

Biate village
The data was collected in Pune, Maharashtra, where a rich community from the Ukhrul district works and lives. The project involved the development of a small audio-visual corpus of approximately 20 hours, comprising spontaneous speech, such as conversations and narratives, and elicitations aimed at assessing Suansu phonology and phonetics. Additionally, extensive lexical data and an initial overview of domains such as clause linkage, tense aspect, mood and modality, and grammatical relations were included. The data, currently in the transcription phase, was gathered from ten speakers, providing a unique snapshot of this endangered language.

Biate village
One of the project's objectives was to develop a Suansu orthography. The Suansu-speaking community is aware of the level of endangerment of their language and is supportive of the creation of a writing system and the development of a dictionary that could be used in schools within the Ukhrul district. The speakers are central stakeholders in the project, and their involvement in language documentation has helped to foster a new sense of legitimacy for their language and culture. The project has also supported the Tangkhul Scheduled Tribe of Manipur in their social struggle and preservation of their diversity, leading to new ideas and efforts to improve life in their village and preserve their cultural heritage.

Biate village
We would like to express our gratitude to the Schweizerische Gesellschaft für bedrohte Sprachen for providing funding for equipment purchase, the Department of Comparative Linguistics at the University of Zürich for providing funds to pay the language consultants, and most importantly, the Suansu-speaking community for their time and constant encouragement, support, and delicious food.