LANGUAGE IN INDIA

Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 2 : 9 December 2002

Editor:     M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors:     B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.

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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai

ENDANGERED LANGUAGE: A CASE STUDY OF SANSIBOLI

Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.


1. INTRODUCTION

About sixty thousand speakers in Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, and Delhi states of India speak Sansiboli, a dialect of Rajasthani language of Indo-Aryan family. Regarding the origin of the name "Sansi" there are several views. Some say it has been taken up from the Hindi word Sahasi meaning courageous. Some derive it from the Sanskrit word Svasa, breathing, or Srasta, separated.

Sansiboli is a highly endangered dialect of Rajasthani language of Indo-Aryan family. It is spoken by about sixty thousand speakers mainly in Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, and Delhi states of India. As a language, Sansiboli is not confined to any particular geographical boundary. It has benefitted from various sources, absorbed regional colors, and imbibed influence from neighboring languages and dialects. Thus, it has numerous phonological and morphological borrowings from Punjabi, Hindi, and Gujarati.

Sansiboli is not effectively being passed on to the next generation and is on the verge of extinction. Very few people below the age of forty are fully competent in the language, and probably none of them will become active speakers. Many of the Sansis are likely to mix Hindi, Punjabi, or Gujarati elements in their speech depending on their geographical location.

Sansiboli is the language of the people who are spread in the various parts of India. Some Sansis live a settled life, while some of them are nomads and always on move. In the census of 1891, the speakers of the Sansiboli were 90% of the total population of 5, 915 Sansis. However, according to the provisional data of the 2001 census, it only 10% of the Sansiboli speakers of the population of 60,000 are Sansis. More than half of the speakers of Sansiboli live in Rajasthan. Sansis speak in the Sansiboli with their kin and relatives and in Hindi, Punjabi or Gujarati with others. Those who can write it use Devanagari script.

2. CULTURAL BACKGROUND OF THE SANSIS

Sansi is a wandering tribe and does not have any special habitat, nor apparently any permanent interests or connections anywhere. In the past, they were very actively involved in criminal activity and so became known as a "criminal tribe". These wandering tribes are from Rajasthan. In an unprecedented move in the world of jurisprudence, they were put under the Criminal Tribes Act formulated by the British in 1871. Sansis have fought very hard for their freedom even after the British left India in 1947. They tried hard to free themselves from the grip of the 'Criminal Tribes Act' imposed by the British rulers. After a long fight finally they were freed (de-notified) from the label in 1952.

Sansi tribals are endogamous with an ethnic identity. They are conscious of their ethnic homogeneity. They recognize the social distance that keeps them from other tribes or castes. Irrespective of the past legal status as a "criminal tribe" they live more in conformity with their social, economic, and cultural institutions than with the institutions widely established and followed around them. In short, they live in seclusion governed by their own social norms, and economy. Their social and economic conditions are at a less advanced stage than the stage reached by the other sections of the communities around them. At the same time, while they are in the process of losing their tribal characteristics, they are not yet integrated into the national mainstream.

Since Sansis have no other permanent or traditional source of livelihood, most of them are presently involved in the business of making "country" liquor. Even their children are involved in some or the other way in this work, as the business is run from the house and everything is done in front of them. They also earn their livelihood through auto-rickshaw driving. Children of poorer parents work in tea stalls or automobile repair shops. They don't have proper civic facilities to lead a normal life. Above all, their health problem is very severe. People around the Sansis see them as a criminal tribe. Outsiders do not dare to speak with them. People around them perceive the Sansis to be very quarrelsome and consider that their fighting attitude is a basic barrier for any communication with them. This attitude or perception has always excluded the Sansis from having any meaningful contact with others, and has kept the Sansis aloof from the other segments of society. But, of course, Sansis have a traditional caste panchayat to maintain social control and deal with all disputes. They have their own rules and regulations, and people of the community are firm in following the rules under any and all circumstances.

3. GRAMMATICAL DESCRIPTION

3.1. PHONOLOGY

3.1.1 VOWELS

Sansiboli has ten vowels: /i/ high front, /I/ lower high front, /e/ mid front, /E/ low front, /ä/ mid central, /a/ low central, /u/ high back, /U/ lower high back, /o/ mid back, and /ö/ low back (see Table 1). Lip rounding is not distinctive in Sansiboli and only the back vowels are rounded. Length is a distinctive feature. Short vowels show full phonological oppositions with long vowels in all positions. Nasalization in Sansiboli is phonemic and all the vowels and diphthongs /äi and öu/ can be nasalized.

Table 1

Front Central Back
High i u
Lower High I U
Mid e ä o
Low E a ö

3.1.2 CONSONANTS

Sansiboli has thirty-one consonantal phonemes. There are, however, contextual phonetic variants of some of these phonemes. The consonantal phonemes in Sansiboli are tabulated:

Table 2

Bilabial Dental Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Stops
vl.unasp. p t T c k
vl.asp. ph th Th ch kh
vd.unasp. b d D j g
vd.asp. bh dh Dh jh gh
Nasals m n N
Fricatives s h
Lateral l L
Trill r
Flap R
Semi-vowels w y

3.1.3. DIPHTHONGS

There are two rising diphthongs in Sansiboli: /äi/ and /öu/. They can come in all the positions, i.e., initial, medial, and final.

3.1.4. SUPRASEGMENTALS

3.1.4.1. NASALIZATION

The nasalisation of vowels /˜/ in Sansiboli is phonemic. (Note that, in this article, the nasalization mark appears over some vowels to show that these vowels are nasalized, and in some others the mark appears as a superscript immediately after the vowel that is nasalized. This is necessitated by the limited special character possibilities of the unicode.) Nasalization occurs with all vowels in all positions, i.e. initial, medial, and final. There is contrast between oral and nasalized vowels at initial, medial, and final positions.

3.1.4.2 INTONATION

Accent and stress are not distinctive features in Sansiboli. Stress is mainly used for emphasis. The intonation changes, if the same sentence is interrogative. In this sentence any item may be stressed according to the context and emphasis, which results in change of intonation.

3.1.4.3. JUNCTURE

Juncture is also phonemic in Sansiboli. This is not audible as a distinct sound but is realised as a gap in speech in a normal or slow speech.

  1. /mänaD/ 'mind-dignity'
    /män + aD/ 'to be agree + come'
  2. /pärdesi/ 'foreigner'
    /pärde + si/ 'curtains + sew (imp.)'

3.1.4.4. TONES

Linguistic data collected from the field shows for the first time the development of tonal contrasts in Sansiboli. There are three tones: high, mid, and low. The high tone // is a rising tone, the low tone /`/ is a falling tone, whereas the mid tone /-/ is never represented as it is predictable from the rule of redundancy.

3.2 MORPHOLOGY

3.2.1. NOUN

In Sansiboli, there are two numbers--singular and plural; two genders--masculine and feminine, three cases--direct, oblique, and vocative. The nouns are declined according to their gender class and the final property of their final segment. There are set rules to assign a gender for the noun that end in a vowel /-o/. But in nouns that end in a consonant or vowels other than /-o/ the distinction of gender is determined by the sex of the animate noun.

3.2.1.1. NUMBER

Two numbers are distinguished--singular and plural. Masculine nouns ending in a consonant or in any vowel, except /-o/, do not change to form the plural direct case:

      gam 'village/villages'          raja 'king/kings'

Masculine nouns ending in /-o/ change this vowel into /-a/ to form the plural number in direct case:

      choro 'boy'          chora 'boys'
      ghoRo 'horse'          ghoRa 'horses'

Feminine nouns, irrespective of their endings, form their plural number in direct case by adding the ending /-ã/:

      chori 'girl'          choriã 'girls'
      kitab 'book'          kitabã 'books'

3.2.1.2. GENDER

There are two grammatical genders in Sansiboli--masculine and feminine. Nouns ending in /-o/ are masculine:

      choro 'boy'          morio 'peacock'

The majority of nouns ending in /-i/ are feminine:

      chori 'girl'          ghoRi 'mare'

Nouns ending in /-äN/ are also feminine and these nouns denote nationality or profession:

      rajästhanäN 'Rajasthani woman'          sãnsäN 'Sansi woman'

There are no other formal rules for identifying the gender of nouns than the above endings. In the case of animate nouns, grammatical gender corresponds to natural gender; in the case of inanimate nouns, it is uncertain:

      kagät(m.) 'paper'          jämat(f.) 'class'

3.2.1.3. CASE

Sansiboli, like other Indo-Aryan languages, has only three cases--direct, oblique, and vocative. In case relations Sansiboli employs analytic method, which combines nouns in the oblique case with auxiliary postpositions:

Case Noun Postposition
Nominative choro ....
Oblique chorE ....
Accusative/Dative chorE+ nE/ku nE/ku
Instrumental chorE + su˜ su˜
Ablative chorE + su˜ su˜
Possessive/Genitive chorE + ko/ki/ka ko(ms.)/ki(fs/p.)/ka (mp.)
Locative chorE + mE/pär mE/pär
Vocative o chora ....

In direct case the noun stands as subject, as the nominal part of the predicate, or as the direct object. The oblique case is not used independently. In order to express case relations it must be accompanied by postpositions, which are always understood as being present even when omitted in practice. Vocative case is used when addressing someone.

3.2.2. PRONOUNS

Pronouns in Sansiboli are inflected for number and case, but gender is distinguished in third person singular pronoun. There are six classes of pronouns: personal, demonstrative, reflexive, interrogative, indefinite, and relative. All nominative forms of pronouns have oblique and vocative forms. The third person pronouns are distinguished according to gender and on the basis of proximity and remoteness.

3.2.3 POSSESSION

In Sansiboli possession is shown by the use of verb hon`o 'to be'. Possessor can either be an animate or inanimate and the possessive structures in turn can be alienable or inalienable and permanent or temporary etc. Animacy of possessor assigns a number of postpositions to the subject and the verb agrees with the object. The paradigm of possession in Sansiboli is given below:

Possessor Possession Postposition for Subject
Animate alienable kE k"nnE 'near/possession'
Animate inalienable ko/ki/ka 'possessive'
Inanimate alienable mE 'in'
Inanimate inalienable ko/ki/ka 'possessive'
Animate permanent (abstract) mE 'in'
Animate temporary (abstract) nE 'to'

3.2.4. NUMERALS

Numerals are adjectives indicating number. The numerals in Sansiboli are: (i) cardinals, (ii) Ordinals, (iii) multiplicatives, (iv) fractions, and (v) aggregatives.

3.2.5. ADJECTIVES

Adjectives in Sansiboli can be divided into two classes: (i) ending in /-o/ and (ii) not ending in /-o/. Adjectives ending in /-o/ are masculine and agree with the following head noun in gender, number, and case and vowel /-o/ is changed into: /-E/ in the singular oblique case and /-ã/ in the plural oblique case. Whereas, adjectives not ending in /-o/ do not agree with their noun in number, gender, and case. Their endings remain unchanged in singular and plural oblique cases.

CaseMasculine Feminine
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Direct cokho 'good' cokha cokhi cokhi
Oblique cokhE cokhã cokhi cokhi

3.2.6. ADVERBS

An adverb is a word that occurs before the verbal form and qualifies the action denoted by the verb. Adverbs may be divided into adverbs of time, place, manner, location, direction, and purpose or cause. In Sansiboli, the adverbs formed on the pronominal bases are presented below:

Adverbs of: Proximate Remote Relative Interrogative
Time äb --- jäd käd
Place äTThE bäTThE jäTThE käTThE
Direction innE binnE jinnE kinnE
Manner iyã biyã jiyã kiyã
Cause iyã --- --- kyãmi

3.2.7. VERB

The finite verb in Sansiboli inflects for number and person, or for number and gender. There exists a clear distinction between finite and non-finite forms of the verb. The non-finite verbal forms are the derived nominals and participles. The non-finite forms are not sensitive to aspect and mood but sensitive to tense, and voice. Only the present and past participial forms maintain their aspectual reference.

3.2.7.1. TENSE

Sansiboli verbs conjugate for three tenses: present, past, and future. Inflected forms of /hE/ express present tense and inflected forms of /ho/ express past tense. These are used as auxiliaries with non-finite forms of other verbs to denote present and past tense, respectively.

3.2.7.2. ASPECT

In Sansiboli, like in many languages, the expression of aspect is intimately bound up with the expression of tense. Aspects show the meaning distinctions like non-completive vs. completive, progressive vs. habitual.

There is a separate perfect aspect, i.e. distinct forms for indicating a past situation that has the present relevance. It is formed by the addition of the auxiliary verb hoDo 'to be' to the past participle of the verb. The perfect aspect occurs in three tenses--pluperfect, present perfect, and future perfect marked by past, present, and future copular forms.

3.2.7.3. MOOD

Mood is a grammatical category that expresses the degree or kind of reality of a proposition as perceived by the speaker. A six-way distinction is made in terms of mood in Sansiboli: imperative, indicative, obligative, subjunctive, presumptive, and contingent.

3.2.8. NEGATION

Negation is expressed by three negative particles in Sansiboli. These are konya, nã, and nä˜i. Out of these, konya represents the unmarked negative particle that is equivalent to English 'not' whereas nã and nä:˜i are used in subjunctive, imperative, conditional, neither....nor construction, and infinitive phrases.

In terms of position, the negative particles are closely associated with the verb or the verb phrase. The negative particle immediately precedes the verbal group. The constraint of pre-verbal position for negation is violated under two conditions: (i) contrastive negation, and (ii) disjunctive structures. In the post-verbal position, the scope of negation is limited either to the verb or the aspect only.

The major difference between the three negative particles is that it is only the konya that can be placed in post-verbal position, whereas nã and nä˜i are not placed post-verbally. Negative disjunction is expressed by means of nã or nä˜i.

3.2.9 VERBAL CATEGORIZERS

3.2.9.1. TRANSITIVITY

It is possible to classify Sansiboli verbs as transitive or intransitive on the basis of whether they occur with objects. The transitive-intransitive distinction is also motivated by other grammatical distinctions. Verbs in Sansiboli may also be derived from nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs by means of verbalisation.

3.2.9.2. VOICE

The passive voice in Sansiboli is formed in following ways: (i) the subject of the active sentence is followed by the instrumental postposition su˜; (ii) the past participial form of the main verb is used with the passive auxiliary ja 'go'; and in some cases by adding the suffix -ij to the stem instead of the past participial form is used with the explicator verb ja e.g., deij gyo passive of 'give'. The explicator endings denote tense-aspect agreement.

3.3. SYNTAX

3.3.1. SENTENCE TYPES

Like other Indo-Aryan languages, four major sentence types are of importance in Sansiboli. These are: declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatives. By "sentence type" is meant a regular correspondence between a specific syntactic form and a specific semantic/pragmatic function. Thus, a declarative sentence is typically used to make a statement; an interrogative sentence is used to ask a question; an imperative sentence is used to express and order, a request, or a warning; and an exclamative sentence is used to make a more or less emotional comment on something and is often characterized by a grammatically distinctive form.

3.3.1.1. SIMPLE SENTENCE

A simple sentence is one which has only one finite verb expressed or understood. In Sansiboli, the unmarked word order of the major constituents of the sentence is SOV (Subject-Object-Verb). With regard to word order in noun phrase, attributive adjectives (A) and genitive modifiers (G) precede head noun (N), and therefore Sansiboli should be characterised as an AN and GN language. SOV languages have postpositions rather than prepositions. This generalization also holds true for Sansiboli.

In comparative constructions, the standard of comparison precedes the comparative adjective. The auxiliary verbs typically follow the main verbs, and the adverbial modifier and the negator are preverbal in Sansiboli. Adverbials can precede sentences. In the relative clause construction, the relative clause follows the head noun.

3.3.1.2. COMPOUND SENTENCE

A compound sentence is one which is made up of two or more coordinate clauses. These coordinate clauses are independent of each other and are joined by a coordinating conjunction. This process is called coordination.

Coordination involves the linking of two or more categories of expression with the use of coordinates or coordinate junctions. The coordinates assign equal rank to the conjuncts. Sansiboli permits the following types of coordination to occur at the phrasal as well as the sentential levels: (i) Conjunction: är 'and', (ii) Adversative conjunction: päD 'but', (iii) Disjunction: kE/jya 'or', and (iv) Negative disjunction: nä....nä 'neither....nor'.

4. CONCLUSION

It is generally believed that the identity of languages and dialects is maintained in a multicultural country like India; but due to fast changing socio-economic patterns and migrations the status of minor languages is undergoing a change. Due to geographic, location, and socio-economic factors many lesser-known languages of tribal communities have been either partially or fully assimilated into the language of dominant cultures. Thus many tribal communities have shifted from their traditional language to regional or national language.

The Sansiboli is endangered not only because of the migration of the Sansis but also because the speech communities of Hindi or Punjabi have largely absorbed its speakers. The languages that are not being transmitted to children, or that are being learned by few children, are endangered and likely to become extinct. The rapid decline in the number of speakers of Sansiboli is largely due to economic and political pressures on this community, which remove the new generation's motivation for sticking to their traditional language. In brief, the extremely complex linguistic profile of present-day Sansiboli is the outcome of geographical, social, and political pressures that need to be analysed historically.


SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Census of India 1991. Language Data. New Delhi: Government of India Press

Census of India 2001. Provisional Language Data. Delhi: Government of India Press

Dorian, N.C. 1980. Language shift in community and individual: The phenomenon of the laggard semi-speaker. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 25:85-94.

Edwards, John. 1985. Language, society and identity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

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Gusain, L. 2000a. Limitations of Literacy in Bagri. In Nicholas Ostler and Blair Rudes (ed.) Endangered Languages and Literacy. Proceedings of the Fourth FEL Conference. University of North Carolina, Charlotte (21-24 September, 2000).

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Lakhan Gusain
Department of Asian Languages & Cultures
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1285, USA
E-mail: lgusain@umich.edu