This has a reference to Dr Numol Pegu’s rejoinder, published in your esteemed Daily on April 28, 2012, to my write-up on the topic mentioned above, which had appeared in your daily on April 9, 2012.
Dr Pegu obtained his medical degree in 1954, the first Mising to do so, and not long after, in 1956, when I was a student of Class IX, his first book, The Miris, appeared in print, thus also having the distinction of being the first Mising to write a book on the Misings in English. I have held him in great esteem ever since. I wish I could interact with him verbally now, but, alas! he can’t hear a thing now because of his hearing impairment. It’s, however, a matter of happiness for us that at the age of almost 87 now he is still intellectually very alert.
Now for his rejoinder. Respected Dr Pegu too rightly considers ‘Miching’ unacceptable. However, what he has been doing by writing ‘Mishing’ instead of ‘Mising’ and advocating its use is based on secondary sources, viz. writings published during the colonial days. Mising is his mother tongue, the most important primary source in this matter, readily available in his lips, but, unfortunately, it appears that he considers the secondary sources more important than the phonetic features of his own language! Or else he would not have had a fixity with his ‘Mishing’ and continue to refer to the writings of the colonial times.
What I had to say in my write-up on the spellings ‘Mising’ and ‘Mishing’ was very simple. Our mother tongue, as it is spoken today, has only one sibilant sound, which is generally represented in English by the letter ‘s’, not by ‘sh’: the sound represented by the letters ‘sh’ in English does not occur in our tongue. People, who are aware of the difference in the pronunciations of the letter ‘s’ and the letters ‘sh’ in English, as in ‘same’ and ‘shame’, ‘see’ and ‘she’, ‘sow’ and ‘show’, ‘sort’ and ‘short’, ‘sake’ and ‘shake’, ‘sour’ and ‘shower’, ‘sip’ and ‘ship’, ‘sit’ and ‘shit’ (sorry for using this offensive word as an example, but it will be terrible, if we ask someone ‘to shit’ instead of ‘to sit’, won’t it?), and so on and so forth. The familiar tongue twister ‘She sells seashells on the seashore’ is often used as practice material to test a learner’s ability to differentiate the pronunciations of ‘s’ and ‘sh’. Those, who understand this difference, will easily see why, since its establishment in 1972, the Mising Agom Kebang (Mising Sahitya Sabha), the highest body of the Mising community, dedicated to the cause of preservation and development of Mising language and literature, has been using the spelling ‘Mising’ consistently. Unlike respected Dr Pegu, the Agom Kebang did not depend on secondary sources for spelling the name of their community and their language, and instead analysed, from the point of view of phonetic science, the hard primary evidence, available to them in the form of their own mother tongue. Those, who are not aware of the difference in the pronunciations of ‘s’ and ‘sh’, as in English same and shame, sit and shit, etc., will probably not understand the point, even if a whole thesis is written to explain it to them!
As far as the reported move to change the spelling ‘Miching’, as it appears now in the Constitutional list of Scheduled Tribes of Assam, it is the views of the apex linguistic and literary body of the Mising community, viz. the Mising Agom Kebang, that are expected to prevail, not the views of individuals.
I can understand why many people like to write ‘Mishing’ rather than ‘Mising’. Words containing the combination ‘-ising’ in English are usually pronounced like ‘-izing’, as in ‘rising’, ‘revising’, ‘advising’, etc. Some may also feel like writing ‘Missing’ (avoiding the ‘sh’) for the same reason. Let’s, however, not forget that we, in this case, are writing a Mising word, not an English word. To follow the orthography of the English language in determining the spelling of a non-English word would be a gross distortion of the native phonetic characteristics of such a language.
Respected Dr Pegu has also brought up the interesting question of the etymology of the word ‘Mising’ (‘Mishing’, according to him) to bolster up his spelling ‘Mishing’. I had indeed dealt with this aspect too in the draft of my write-up, but dropped it later, considering the limitations of newspaper space. The etymology of ‘Mising’ has not been determined satisfactorily till today. Some Mising writers have taken into consideration such blends as Mi-yasing ‘man-white (figurative)’, i.e. ‘good man’, Mi-ansing ‘man-cool’, i.e. ‘peace-loving people’, ‘Mi-asi’ ‘man-water’, i.e. ‘riverine people’, etc. I had already stated in my write-up that JF/ Needham, the author of Outline Grammar of the Shaiyang Miri Language, was probably the first to use the spelling ‘Mishing’, saying that the Miris call themselves ‘Mishing’. He added parenthetically that he had “not yet been able to find out the derivation of the word” (and he never did). The words, viz. “Mishing’ means ‘a Shing man’ and is identical with Nyi-sing which name the Daflas use to denote themselves” were either that of Professor Conrady of Leipzig or Dr Sten Konow of Christiania (later Oslo), Norway, for we gather from the ‘Introductory Note’, written by Sir GA Grierson at the beginning of Vol. III of the 19-volume series, Linguistic Survey of India, he edited, that the materials for Part I of Vol. III of the series, containing a treatment of Abor-Miri, Dafla and other Himalayan Tibeto-Burman languages, were originally entrusted to the German Professor, but later prepared in the form, as we have it in the volume, by the Norwegian linguist, as entrusted by the editor. It is known, in fact,that five of the volumes on non-Indo-European languages were prepared by Dr Konow, not by Sir Grierson. A ‘Shing man’ is a ‘Mishing’. OK, but what does ‘Shing’ mean? The scholars concerned are silent on this. One explanation. which Dr Pegu appears to have favoured not long ago (see his The Mishings of the Brahmaputra Valley, 2nd Revised Edition, 2011, pp. 7-8) is that the Misings are so called, because they are the children of ‘Do-shing’, one of the sons of Pedong. Now in his rejoinder he has come up with a new, dubious kind of derivation, viz. his ‘-shing’ is the same as the one in ‘bisam shing’ (‘bi:sam sing/sing’ according to the orthographic system being followed by the Agom Kebang), ‘takar shing’, etc., ‘shing’, according to him, signifying ‘thickset’, i.e. ‘of strong build and courage’. Of the two examples,. ‘bi:sam sing/sing’ is regularly used by Misings, but ‘takar shing’ > ‘karshing’ appears to be Dr Pegu’s invention. Grammatically speaking, ‘sing/sing’ is an intensifying particle, so bi:sam (‘thick’) sing/sing, means ‘very/extremely thick’. However, while it may not be proper for me to reject outright his present derivation of ‘Mising’, his remark that “the pronunciation of Miching and Mising is almost same and both ‘sing’ and ‘ching” are empty words that carry no meaning whatsoever” (his ‘shing’ being very meaningful is highly amusing, to say the least.
I wish I did not have to write such things about the views of a man I have always respected, and, as I hate to involve myself in polemical exchanges, I am not going to say anything more about this subject in these columns, even if a hundred more rejoinders appear hereafter.