Rengmitc: A dying language with only 6 native speakers

| Updated: February 23, 2023 18:43:18

Konrao Mro and Mangpung Mro, two of the six alive Rengmitca speakers. Photo: Collected Konrao Mro and Mangpung Mro, two of the six alive Rengmitca speakers. Photo: Collected

Bangladesh is relatively homogenous in terms of ethnicity and language, as almost 98 per cent of the people in Bangladesh identify as Bengalis and have Bengali as their native language. 

However, hundreds of languages indigenous to our land, especially in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, are on the verge of extinction because they are not spoken by a considerable percentage of the population.

Rengmitca is such a language, once spoken in the northeast of Alikadam town in the southern Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. Currently, the language has only six native speakers and is one of the languages on the verge of extinction in Bangladesh. 

The language belongs to the Kuki-Chin subfamily of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages and has many similarities with the languages Mro and Khumi. Younguang Mro came into the limelight last year after writing the first comprehensive grammar book in his native language, Mro.

This year, he wrote another book consisting of grammatical rules for the near-extinct Rengmitca language. In an interview with Bengali daily Kaler Kantho, Younguang said, "In 2014 (he began his work). Only about 22 people could speak the Rengmitca language then. But I came to know in 2022 that only six people can speak this language. To be honest, I didn't know there was a language called Rengmitca in the world before 2014." 

"I came to know about the language from Professor David A. K. Peterson of Dortmund College, USA, who worked on the Mro and Khumi languages," he added.

Younguang later started working with him and went to the remote hills of Alikadam, searching for the last few native speakers of the Rengmitca language who lived near a relatively remote marshland called Alikadam. 

He later interviewed some of the native speakers of the language and recorded songs and interviews in the language, which Younguang would translate into English for David to understand. 

As he worked on the language, he formed friendships with the native speakers, who requested that Younguang write a book of this sort that would contain the grammatical rules of the Rengmitca language. With this in mind, Younguang wrote a book of around 3000 words containing the language's grammatical rules.

Despite the effort taken by Younguang, it is quite likely that the language will face extinction unless the government does something to preserve it, and it might face the fate of many other Sino-Tibetan languages that were once spoken in the eastern corner of the country.

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