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A foreigner’s lexicon

Ratnadeep Choudhury
Galo – one of the oldest ethic tribes of India has something new and special to its never ending history. Few month back, the Galos were carrying on with their lives in an obscure corner of Northeast India’s Arunachal Pradesh and little did they knew that a foreigner was silently scripting a big realization for them. The Galo dialect - the dying Arunalee tribal language has finally found its script and also its glossary but the road to the letters has been an arduous and an unexpected one.

For Mark William Post, who grew up watching cricket at MCG in Melbourne, it all started as a PhD thesis – he traveled all the way from Melbourne to the nondescript town of Aalo in Arunachal’s West Siang district – inhibited by the Galo tribe – their language was fasting dying – Mark fell in love with the tribal lifestyle and more with their language – learned it and after a painstaking four years of research on the Galos and their dialect, he finally gave the language a script and with  that script he went on to write a dictionary for the ancient tribal lingo.  

“It was my interest to study the Galo language as part of my PhD project under the guidance of Professor RM Dixon that drew me from Melbourne to Aalo. My area of research involved me to first grasp the language from local people of Aalo and Basar and   documentation.” says Mark who is originally a linguistics professor with Research Centre for Linguistic Typology, La Trobe University in Australia.

The fruit of his hard worked research – the Galo – English dictionary, the first-of-its-kind of Galo dialect was released by Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu at a function in the state capital Itanagar recently, on the sidelines of celebrating Mopin, a major festival of the tribe. “It was during my PhD paper - A Grammar of Galo, that I came to know about the syntactical structure of Pugo Galo, spoken in and around Aalo, and Lare Galo, spoken in Basar area near Aalo. Again juxtaposing all the words from two types of Galo dialect during the compilation of lexicon was quite a challenge for me, but I did it successfully” Mark says while sharing his anecdotes.

At a hasty look Mark Post  appears more like a  traveler, set out on an adventure voyage from extreme of  Northern hemisphere to Southern hemisphere. But for this Aussie, who traversed several thousands of miles from comfort and confines of Melbourne to India’s Eastern periphery, with a zest to study Galo, the wait for success was of four long and strenuous years. His in-depth research bore fruit and he came out with his maiden Galo-English dictionary.

While People in Arunachal Preadesh find themselves in controversy over China’s repeated claims of it being a ‘part’ of China, a foreigner has brought reasons to smile for them. The zeal of the Australian linguist has helped the Galo tribesmen to overcome the ‘threat’ facing their dialect. “He really helped our language survive and get a new lease of life. Without his contribution, preparing a Galo script and dictionary would not have been possible. He has been sent to us by the all mighty” says Gaken Ete, a member of Galo tribe.

The state government has quickly responded to the gift from the Aussie. Now armed with its script and a lexicon, the dialect has been accorded the status of ‘third language’ in Galo inhabited-areas of the state through a notification recently. “Prof.Post’s effort will go down to the annals of history and people of Arunachal will always remember his efforts” reacts Arunachal Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu.

The day the dictionary was released Mark enjoyed as much as the Galos did.Mark was found dancing to the tune of Galo numbers and taking apong, a local brew. Galos inhabit in West Siang, besides pockets of Upper Siang, East Siang and Lower Subansiri districts of Arunachal Pradesh and these were the areas Mark stayed for a long time for his investigations on the Galo language.

The Galo Welfare Society (GWS), the apex decision-making body of the tribe, also rendered a helping hand to Mark in his endeavour. “We were pitted against a stiff task to develop the Galo script. Our quest ended as soon as we found Mark Post and approached him with an urge to prepare a script for us, as we did not have any idea about phonetic variations. Post, who arrived at Aalo in 2005 and stayed with us for months intermittently and developed a good grasp over the dialect. He compiled a lexicon and prepared a dictionary after four years of research and study in 2008.” The GWS General Secretary Tomo Basar said.

Mark’s bond with Northeast does not end with a glossary. He is now busy with his post doctoral research on grammatical investigation of the Eastern Tani languages of Arunachal Pradesh. Mark has always taken time out to travel to other part of Northeast and has been a pivotal figure in the linguistics development of the languages spoken in the restive region.  As the Secretary of North East Indian Linguistics Society (NEILS), Mark has organized various international workshops on linguistics issues of the region and is closely associated with Gauhati University, the oldest University of the region. “The ethnic tribal languages in Northeast have always been overlooked even at times by our own people. In such a scenario a foreigner coming and scripting a dictionary will certainly go down to inspire others to follow his footsteps and in-turn many more dying ethnic dialects of Northeast can be saved” says Tado Karlo, a professor of Rajiv Gandhi University in Itanagar.

(Photo of Ratnadeep)  The writer is a young journalist based in Agartala, capital of the Northeastern state of Tripura and has been extensively writing on Northeast India. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

May 2009