Orthography Development for Languages of NorthEast India


India is one of the most linguistically diverse nationsthat has the largest number of endangered languages and interestingly most of them are spoken in North-East India.The dynamics underlying thelanguage endangerment in North East India aremore complex than those prevailingin the rest of the country. A large number of these languages are still unstudied, less-explored and under-described.Many of these languages are still unwritten andvery little documentation has been done so farthus putting these languages in a vulnerable situation of becoming extinct.

Given this grim picture of language endangerment, the North Eastern Council (NEC), Government of India, was mandated to look into the lost and endangered languages/scripts of the NE Region and make efforts to preserve/revive them.NEChad a series of meetings with the Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL) following which the project titled ‘Orthography Development for Languages of North East India’was instituted on 22nd August 2020 during the peak pandemic days of COVID-19. The project seeks to contribute significantly to the Orthography Development of unwritten languages of NorthEast India.

The project focuses on the following interconnected activities:

  • To develop orthographies for at least three languages spoken in NorthEast India;
  • To initiate Capacity-building for safeguarding endangered languages of minority linguistic groups through literacy, life-long learning and education and to share knowledge with like-minded organisations, agencies and institutions.

Relevance of the project

Developing writing systems will certainly increase opportunities for the speech communities of unwritten languages to be on par with those who speak a language that is written down especially in the era of information and technology. For instance, better chances to literacy and education, better communication among themselves and across the globe, better socio-economic development, boost their self-confidence, provide a meaning to their identity, take their languages and cultures to the rest of the world, and so on and so forth.

Once an orthography is developed, many language resources such as dictionaries, grammars, phonetic readers, lexicons, primers, etc. can be produced both in print and digital editions. Thus, this project and the materials created by it will have a positive impact on the survival of the unwritten languages and also add to the protection, preservation and promotion of these languages.


The main objectives of the project are:

  1. To identify languages/mother-tongues in NER that do not have any writing system;

  2. To document and describe the phonology of those languages/mother-tongues; and

  3. To develop orthographies for at least three languages/mother-tongues spoken in North Eastern Region of India.

Languages and Study Region

To begin with, this project has identified the following mother tongues for developing Orthographies:

  1. Lyngngam, spoken in West Khasi Hills and South West Khasi Hills of Meghalaya and

  2. War-Jaintia, spoken in West Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya.

Deliverables of the project

  1. Multifunctional documentation of Lyngngam and War-Jaintiadata: questionnaire, audio, video related to the sound system and other aspects of the mother-tongues;

  2. Phonological Descriptions and Phonetic Readers of Lyngngam and War-Jaintia;

  3. Creation of Orthographies of Lyngngam and War-Jaintia; and

  4. Development of Language Resources using the first orthographies.

Milestones crossed

  1. Multifunctional documentation of Lyngngamdata

  2. Phonological Descriptionof Lyngngam

Ongoing Work

  1. Draft preparation of Phonetic Reader of Lyngngam

  2. Creation of shallow orthography based on the identified sounds

Project Team


  • Prof. Umarani Pappuswamy
  • Principal Investigators
  • Professor cum Deputy Director

Principal Investigators

  • Mr. Aleendra Brahma
  • Lecturer-cum-Junior Research Officer
  • Email: brahma.ljro@gmail.com
  • Tel: +91-821-2345120

Resource Persons

  • Dr. Sulochana S. Singha
  • Senior Resource Persons
  • Email: sulo.kutu@gmail.com
  • Tel: +91-821-2345308
  • Dr. Vidyarati Joshi
  • Senior Resource Persons
  • Email: joshiaydiv@gmail.com
  • Tel: +91-821-2345308
  • Ms. Gamidalah War
  • Junior Resource Persons
  • Email: gamiewar@gmail.com
  • Tel: +91-821-2345308
  • Ms. Debika . Sangma
  • Junior Resource Persons
  • Email: debikasangma33@gmail.com
  • Tel: +91-821-2345308