Languages and literature of Nagaland

Languages and literature of Nagaland



Nagamese is the most popular among the spoken languages in Nagaland. Widely spoken by the tribal people of the state, the Nagamese language of Nagaland is a mixture of different Naga and the Assamese languages. It has also been enriched with some contributions from Bengali and Hindi languages. It is the Lingua-Franca of the Naga population.

Nagaland’s Nagamese has gained its popularity due to simplicity of the language. Since the language does not have any written scripts, it does not follow any grammatical complications. Nagamese has no use of gender classifications, which makes it more easy. Nagamese is popular as the language of communication. Although there are many languages in the Nagaland, the Nagamese act as the interlink between these languages and helps in better communication.


One of the important languages in Nagaland, Ao is spoken by a large number of people in the state. The Ao or Ao-Naga language falls in the Tibetan – Burmese group of languages. Some regional dialects like the Mongsen, Chungli, Chanki etc. are prominent among the Ao-Naga language family. Among all the dialects, Chungli is the most widely spoken one and efforts are on to make it the standard Ao-Naga language. The inhabitants of the Mokokchung District mainly converse in this language. It is also quite popular in Southern part of the state of Assam. Ao-Naga has written script that maintains its own codes of grammar. Three types of tones constitute the Ao language of Nagaland – the falling tone, the rising tone and the level tone. Wide use of the Copula is a notable characteristic of the language.




Tenyidie is one of the common languages in Nagaland. The Tenyidie language of Nagaland is also known as the Angami. Mostly spoken by the natives of the Angami tribes, Tenyidie have a number of dialects like:

  • Dzuna
  • Kohima
  • Kehena
  • Chakroma

Litreture of Nagaland

British period

This period covers until the departure of the British from India. During this time not much is known about written literature although there was a rich Naga oral history. What is known are some of the publications by people like E W Clark and other Christian Missionaries. Some anthropological writings by Johnstone, Mackenzie etc. are mentioned. Second, there were, naturally, official documents of communication between British officers and their Government in the UK. Some of these would become important documents for the Naga people. Third, surprisingly, there was a budding sense of literary consciousness when three early educated Nagas from Kohima Village (Zhapuzhülie, Khiezhie and Lhoulienyü) translated John Bunyan’s English classic, “Pilgrim’s Progress” into Angami language during this period.

Post British period to early 1970s 

From during the British period there were a number of people — officials, missionaries, and some anthropologists — who were on the scene and whose writings we now read. Some came soon after departure of the British. However, their writings were largely published much later. Most of the “travelogues” by British officials and anthropologists were also published in the 1960s. An easy example is Verrier Elwin’s “Nagas in the Nineteenth Century” by Oxford University Press which came out in 1969. This was also a period of drought by Naga authors. Interestingly, a Naga author, Mr Tajenyuba Ao, made an appearance with his “A History of Anglo-Naga Affairs” in 1958. This was an exception as was the earlier translation of Pilgrim’s Progress mentioned above.

1970s to turn of century

With formation of Nagaland Statehood, livelihood security of the Government servants and spread of education, some writings started appearing, including by those who were serving employees of the government. What was more, newspapers also started appearing – beginning with tabloid weekly newspapers which could be said to be the first publishing houses in Nagaland. Four tabloid newspapers – namely, Citizen’s Voice, Nagaland Times, Ura mail and Platform news* – were published during this period. By the 1980s and 1990s more and more books started appearing as more people attained higher education.

New Millennium

By the turn of the century, the dawn of writing in Nagaland truly began. There is still more poetry than book writing and more non-fiction than imaginative writing. But, at least, one could say the direction now appears more secure than before. What is of great significance is that Naga business publishing houses have now come up to encourage Naga authors. There are also now many others from the mainland as well as from international publishers interested and willing to promote Naga authors although there is still much reluctance among some to publish what Nagas might think is their right to express their feelings, particularly in the area that falls under “politics”. But the road ahead is much brighter today.

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