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Kokborok

Known for its bamboo and cane handicrafts and the diverse wildlife that it shelters, the landlocked state of Tripura harbours an interestingly exquisite blend of indigenous tribes and other North-Eastern cultures. While this state is a well-loved tourist destination, even the most seasoned travellers won’t know the indigenous name of the language spoken here. So Be Lingual brings to you the language of Tripura – Kokborok.

I’m sorry, what?

K-O-K-B-O-R-O-K.

Yes, it is indeed an Indian language, and a very beautiful one at that. Kokborok literally means the language of the Borok, as the people of Tripura call themselves. With an estimated 8,00,000 speakers, it is widely spoken in the rural pockets of Tripura and also across the border in parts of Bangladesh. It is a language of communication and doesn’t enjoy the status of an official language yet. There is, however, an ongoing debate about bestowing Kokborok with the status of being recognized as an official language of India.

Fascinating! Tell me more

A member of the Sino-Tibetan language family, Kokborok is closely related to the Bodo and Dimasa languages spoken in Assam. After the official script ‘Koloma’ went dormant centuries ago, two rival writing systems developed resulting in major unrest and confusion among speakers and activists alike. One of the systems was introduced by Protestant missionaries and uses the Latin alphabet while the other uses the Bengali script.

Moreover, relatively extensive literature is found in Kokborok that offers glimpses into the historically rich and loaded past of Tripura that was once a kingdom and then a princely state in the erstwhile British India.

Threat factor

Despite having loyal diasporas of Kokborok speakers, the language has now been entirely replaced by Bengali in the state capital of Agartala and in other urban centres. The media too has fallen prey to the influence of Bengali resulting in an unfortunate absence of media in Kokborok. It is also feared that the total number of speakers could suffer a rapid decline in favour of Bengali since it has often been viewed as a more prestigious language.

The rescue breaths

The past two decades have seen an increase in the awareness and the desire to save the language among the educated masses in Tripura. The amount of literature has increased substantially. Many activists have also strived hard and succeeded in pioneering the first official educational structure in Kokborok at certain experimental schools. Quite an achievement, we must say.

A reader with a keen eye would then question, if Kokborok is the language of Tripura, what is Tripuri? It is basically an exonym (a name given by another linguistic group) from Bengali. But during your next trip to the tantalizing Tripura, make sure you address their language as Kokborok. They like it that way!

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Sonali Kulkarni - Editor-in-Chief, French-English Translator A novice at adulthood and an ardent disciple of Dan Brown and Ayn Rand, Sonali is a pathological bookworm, a borderline nerdy introvert and a hardcore adventure junkie who cannot live without chocolate. She is currently studying French and manages to speak some Spanish too. Having represented her state in national level Athletics for the better part of a decade, the nomad in her has now given it up to venture into the exciting world of languages, writing and travel.