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Language of the Tangams

Published: 20th Jul, 2020

Recently, the Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister released a book titled “Tangams: An Ethnolinguistic Study Of The Critically Endangered Group of Arunachal Pradesh”.


Recently, the Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister released a book titled “Tangams: An Ethnolinguistic Study Of The Critically Endangered Group of Arunachal Pradesh”.


Tangams Community

  • The Tangams is a little-known community within the larger Adi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh and reside in the hamlet of Kugging in Upper Siang district’s Paindem circle.
  • For long, the only account of the Tangams could be found in bureaucrat Tarun Kumar Bhattacharjee’s book, Tangams (1975) where the community’s population was pegged at 2,000 spread across 25 villages.
  • From 2016 to 2020, a team from the Centre for Endangered Languages (CFEL) of Rajiv Gandhi University (RGU), carried out extensive field research and documented the community.
    • The survey revealed that Tangams were now concentrated in only one village (Kugging), with 253 reported speakers.

Tangam Language

  • As per the UNESCO World Atlas of Endangered Languages (2009), Tangam — an oral language that belongs to the Tani group, under the greater Tibeto-Burman language family — is marked ‘critically endangered’.
  • Reasons for its decline:
    • Multilingualism: Kugging is surrounded by several villages inhabited by Adi subgroups. To communicate with their neighbours over the years, the Tangams have become multilingual, speaking not just Tangam, but other tongues.
    • They rarely speak their language now since their population is restricted to a single village.
    • The Tangams are relatively unknown, even within Arunachal Pradesh. The village lacks proper infrastructure in all basic sectors of education, health, drinking water facilities, road, and electricity. Roads have reached Kugging only in 2018. Not a single person from the community has gone to university.

Other languages in Arunachal Pradesh

  • The languages of Arunachal Pradesh have been classified under the Sino-Tibetan language family, and more specifically under the Tibeto-Burman and Tai group of languages, such as Lolo-Burmish, Bodhic, Sal, Tani, Mishmi, Hruissh and Tai.
  • While the education system has introduced Devanagari, Assamese, and Roman scripts for most tribal languages, new scripts such as Tani Lipi and Wancho Script have been developed by native scholars.
  • There has been no systematic, scientific or official survey on the number of languages in Arunachal Pradesh till recently.
    • An official linguistic survey by the state government began only in 2018, which is currently underway.
    • Before that, the People’s Linguistic Survey of India was published in 2017.
  • Experts peg the number of languages at 32-34, with a disclaimer that it is not a conclusive figure. If various linguistic varieties or dialects embedded within these languages are enlisted then the numbers can go up to 90.
  • According to the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger (2009), more than 26 languages of Arunachal Pradesh have been identified as endangered. The degrees range from ‘unsafe’, ‘definitely endangered’ to ‘critically endangered’.

Why are the languages at risk?

  • The diversity of languages has led various communities to depend on English, Assamese, and the colloquial variety of Hindi called Arunachalee Hindi as the link languages.
  • The younger generations of these tribes especially in the urban areas have mostly discarded the use of their mother tongue.

    Levels of language endangerment defined by UNESCO

    Degree of endangerment

    Intergenerational Language Transmission


    Language is spoken by all generations; intergenerational transmission is uninterrupted


    Most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g., home)

    Definitely endangered

    Children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in the home

    Severely endangered

    Language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves

    Critically endangered

    The youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently


    There are no speakers left >> included in the Atlas if presumably extinct since the 1950s

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