Only the Roman script makes sense for Kokborok language: Here's why
TWIPRA Students Federation protest

Elections may be over in Tripura, but political battles continue. The TIPRA Motha recently protested in the Tripura state assembly following media reports of disallowing some candidates of the Board examinations from writing answers to the Kokborok subject in the Roman script. 

The party, and their leader Pradyot Mankiya Debbarma, have long demanded the adoption of the Roman script for the Kokborok language.

Language has a vital role in preserving cultural heritage and strengthening a community’s identity. Kokborok, the language of Tripura’s indigenous people, is an essential part of their social and cultural life. In recent years, there has been a growing movement advocating for the use of the Roman script for the Kokborok language instead of the existing Bengali script. 

I believe the Roman script for Kokborok will better help preserve the distinct linguistic identity of Tripura’s indigenous people, enhance educational opportunities, foster language preservation and revitalisation and is a move that has received significant support amongst the indigenous people of Tripura.

Kokborok is a distinct language with its own phonetics, linguistic characteristics, and sounds. The Roman alphabet would offer a writing system that is more closely aligned with the distinctive features of Kokborok, assuring accurate representation and keeping the integrity of its linguistics.

The Bengali script was developed to be used for the Bengali language, which falls under the Indo-Aryan language family. Kokborok, however, falls under the Tibeto-Burman language family so the Roman script could provide a writing system that aligns more closely with the characteristics of Kokborok. 

Now some may argue that this logic is flawed considering that the Roman script was made for European languages and language families like the Latin or Germanic languages and may not be ideal to be used for Kokborok. But it should be noted that the changes and modifications can be made to the Roman script to better help it to be used for languages that are not part of the European language family.

Turkish for example falls under the Turkic language family, but they have been using the Roman script since 1928  and have made certain modifications such as the inclusion of the characters Ç, Ğ, I, İ, Ö, Ş and Ü in order to make sure that the roman script can be used efficiently for the Turkish language. 

Something similar was done with Vietnamese, which uses a modified Roman script known as Quoc Ngu which includes seven modified letters, đ, ă, â, ê, ô, ơ, and ư.

Also, other Tibeto Burman languages in India such as Mizo and Ao already use the Roman script, which is further proof of the compatibility of the script with the language. 

Furthermore, the adoption of the Roman script will help distinguish it from Bengali, the most widely used language in Tripura, which will help the indigenous people assert their distinct linguistic identity and culture in their state. My observation and opinion on this are derived from independent research and a position of neutrality, not any individual bias towards any community. 

It is important to allow indigenous cultures to assert their distinctiveness in order to better preserve it, not to create divisions amongst communities. 

Also, the youth are very familiar with the Roman script due to the wide usage of English, which would make learning the Kokborok language easier.

As the younger generation grows up in a rapidly changing world influenced by the rapid rise of digital technology usage and global communications, they can find Kokborok more appealing and approachable by employing a script that corresponds with their exposure and familiarity.

UNESCO classifies Kokborok as a potentially vulnerable language and making sure that the youth is able to learn and use the language needs to be prioritised in order to prevent Kokborok from becoming endangered, and the adoption of the Roman script may go a long way in facilitating that. 

Furthermore, as the Roman script is widely taught in educational institutions globally, adopting it will make it easier for non-native speakers to learn Kokborok. This increased accessibility can attract more people to learn Kokborok, thus further aiding in its preservation and revitalisation.

Last, this seems to be a move that the Indigenous people of Tripura support and it is necessary for a great democracy like India to accept a communities’ wishes regarding their own language. 

The Tipra Motha party, led by Pradyot Manikya Debbarma advocates for the adoption of the Roman script for Kokborok, and they have received significant support from the indigenous population of Tripura. 

The party won 13 seats in the recent Tripura legislative assembly elections, making it the second largest party in the assembly and won a majority in the most recent Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council election. 

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These can be interpreted as clear signs of the Indigenous people supporting this change. India is a great democratic nation and has made tremendous efforts to protect indigenous groups, whether through affirmative action in education or reservations in law-making bodies. 

It is thus important for us to recognise the importance of adopting the Roman script for the Kokborok language as it can not only safeguard the language from becoming endangered and revitalise it and protect the distinct linguistic identity of Tripura’s indigenous people but also respect the wishes of the indigenous people of Tripura.

Also Read | The best script for Kokborok? The answer is clear, but politics isn’t

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