The Mizo language belongs to the Kukish branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. The numerous clans of the Mizo had respective dialects, amongst which the Lushei (Lusei, by Mizo themselves) dialect was most common, and which subsequently became the Mizo language and the lingua franca of the Kuki peoples due to its extensive and exclusive use by the Christian missionaries.
The Mizo alphabet is based on the Roman script and has 25 letters, namely:
In its current form, it was devised by Christian missionaries based on Hunterian system of transliteration.
A circumflex ^ was later added to the vowels to indicate long vowels, viz., â, ê, î, ô, û, which were insufficient to fully express Mizo tone. Recently, a leading newspaper in Mizoram, Vanglaini, the magazine Kristian Ṭhalai, and other publishers began using á, à, ä, é, è, ë, í, ì, ï, ó, ò, ú, ù, ü to indicate the long intonations and tones. However, this does not differentiate the different intonations that short tones can have.
The Mizo language is related to the other languages of the Sino-Tibetan family. The Kukish languages (which native Mizo speakers call Zohnahthlâk ṭawngho/Mizo ṭawngho) have a substantial amount of words in common.
The following table illustrates the similarity between Mizo and other members of the Sino-Tibetan family. The words given are cognates, whose origins could be traced back to the proto-language Proto-Sino-Tibetan (given in the first column of the table).References for the above table:
The following few words suggest that Mizo and the Burmese are of the same family: kun ("to bend"), kam ("bank of a river"), kha ("bitter"), sam ("hair"), mei ("fire"), that ("to kill"), ni ("sun") hnih ("two") li ("four") nga ("five")
The Mizo language has eight tones and intonations for each of the vowels a, aw, e, i and u, four of which are reduced tones and the other four long tones. The vowel o has only three tones, all of them of the reduced type; it has almost exactly the same sound as the diphthong /oʊ/ found in American English. However, the vowels can be represented as follows:
The vowel o has almost exactly the same sound as the diphthong /oʊ/ in American English.
Mizo has the following triphthongs:iai, as in iai, piai
iau as in riau ruau, tiau tuau etc.
uai, as in uai, zuai, tuai, vuai
uau, as in riau ruau, tiau tuau, suau suau
Mizo has the following consonants. The first symbol is its orthographical form and the second one its representation in the IPA.
- The glottal and glottalised consonants appear only in final position.
Mizo is a tonal language, in which differences in pitch and pitch contour can change the meanings of words. Tone systems have developed independently in many of the daughter languages largely through simplifications in the set of possible syllable-final and syllable-initial consonants. Typically, a distinction between voiceless and voiced initial consonants is replaced by a distinction between high and low tone, while falling and rising tones developed from syllable-final h and glottal stop, which themselves often reflect earlier consonants.
The eight tones and intonations that the vowel a (and the vowels aw, e, i, u, and this constitutes all the tones in the Mizo language) can have can be shown by the letter sequence p-a-n-g, as follows:long high tone: páng as in páng là (which has the same intonation as sáng in the sentence Thingküng sáng tak kan huanah a ding).
long low tone: pàng as in Tui a kawt pàng pâng mai (which has the same intonation as vàng in the word vànglaini).
peaking tone: pâng as in Tui a kawt pàng pâng mai (which has the same intonation as thlûk in I hla phuah thlûk chu a va mawi ve).
dipping tone: päng as in Tuibur a hmuam päng mai (which has the same intonation as säm in Kan huan ka säm vêl mai mai).
short rising tone: pǎng as in naupǎng (which has the same intonation as thǎng in Kan huanah thǎng ka kam).
short falling tone: pȧng as in I va inkhuih pȧng ve? (which has the same intonation as pȧn in I lam ka rawn pȧn)
short mid tone: pang as in A dik lo nghâl pang (which has the same tone as man in Sazu ka man)
short low tone: pạng as in I pạng a sá a nih kha (which has the same tone as chạl in I chạlah thosí a fù).
The following table illustrates the pronunciations of various consonants, vowels and diphthongs found in the Mizo language:References and further reading for this section
Mizo contains many analyzable polysyllables, which are polysyllabic units in which the individual syllables have meaning by themselves. In a true monosyllabic language, polysyllables are mostly confined to compound words, such as "lighthouse". The first syllables of compounds tend over time to be de-stressed, and may eventually be reduced to prefixed consonants. The word nuntheihna ("survival") is composed of nung ("to live"), theih ("possible") and na (a nominalising suffix); likewise, theihna means "possibility". Virtually all polysyllabic morphemes in Mizo can be shown to have originated in this way. For example, the disyllabic form bakhwan ("butterfly"), which occurs in one dialect of the Trung (or Dulung) language of Yunnan, is actually a reduced form of the compound blak kwar, found in a closely related dialect. It is reported over 18 of the dialects share about 850 words with the same meaning. For example, ban ("arm"), ke ("leg"), thla ("wing", "month"), lu ("head") and kut ("hand").
The declarative word order in Mizo is Object-subject-verb (OSV). For example:Lehkhabu ka ziak (I write/am writing a book)
However, even if one says Ka ziak lehkhabu, its meaning is not changed, nor does it become incorrect; the word order becomes Subject-verb-object. But this form is used only in particular situations.
The verbs (called thiltih in Mizo) are not conjugated as in languages such as English and French by changing the desinence of words, but the tense (in a sentence) is clarified by the aspect and the addition of some particles, such asang (for forming simple future),
tawh (for forming simple past and past perfect),
mék (for forming progressive tenses, present and past),
dáwn (for forming simple future),
dáwn mék (for forming near future),
Mizo verbs are often used in the Gerund, and most verbs change desinence in the Gerund; this modification is called tihdanglamna. This modified form is also used as the past participle. Some verbs which undergo modification are tabulated below:
However, even if the spelling of a verb is not changed, its tone is sometimes changed. For example, the verbs tum (to aim), hum (to protect) etc. change tones; the tone is lowered in the modified form. There is a third class of verbs – those which neither change tone nor are inflected (modified). Examples include hneh (to conquer), hnek (to strike with one's fist).
Modification of words is not restricted to verbs; adjectives, adverbs etc. are also modified.
There is no gender for nouns, and there are no articles. There are some specific suffixes for forming nouns from verbs and adjectives, the most common of which are -na and -zia. The suffix -na is used for forming nouns from both verbs and adjectives, whereas -zia is used specifically for nominalising adjectives. For example,tlù (v. to fall) – tlûkna (n. fall)
hmu (v. to see) – hmuhna (n. sight, seeing, vision)
süal (adj. evil) – sualna (n. sin)/sualzia (n. evilness)
Mizo nouns undergo declension into cases. The main cases can be classified as follows:
Nouns are pluralized by suffixing -te, -ho, -teho or -hote, for example:
All Mizo pronouns occur in two forms, namely in free form and clitic form:
The free form is mostly used for emphasis, and has to be used in conjunction with either the clitic form or an appropriate pronominal particle, as shown in the following examples:
- Kei (=I free form) ka (=I clitic form)lo tel ve kher a ngai em?. This is a somewhat emphatic way of saying Ka lo tel ve kher a ngai em?
- Nangni (=you pl., free form) in (you pl., clitic form) zo tawh em? This is a somewhat emphatic way of saying Nangni in zo tawh em?
- Ani (he/she) a (s/he) kal ve chuan a ṭha lo vang.
The clitic form is also used as a genitive form of the pronoun.
Mizo pronouns, like Mizo nouns, are declined into cases as follows:
Mizo adjectives (Mizo: hrilhfiahna) follow the nouns they describe, as follows:
For declarative sentences, negation is achieved by adding the particle lo (not) at the end of a sentence. For example,
Also, for words such as engmah (nothing), tumah (nobody) etc., unlike English we have to add the negation particle lo; for example
Thus we have to use double negation for such cases.
All kinds of Parts of Speech like noun, pronoun, verbs, etc. can be found in Mizo language with some additional unique kinds – post-positions and double adverbs.
The following is a sample text in Mizo of the Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
The Mizo language has a thriving literature with Mizo departments in Mizoram University and Manipur University . The governing body is the Mizo Academy of Letters, which awards the annual literary prize MAL Book of the Year since 1989. The books awarded so far and their authors are tabulated below along with the years:
This award is only for books originally written in Mizo and not for translations, and it has been awarded every year since 1989. The award has been given to books on history and religion, but most of the winners are novels. Each year, the academy examines about a hundred books (in 2011, 149 books were examined), out of which it selects the top 20, and then first shortlistling it further to top 10, and then to top 5, then top 3, finally chooses the winner.
The academy also awards lifetime achievement in Mizo literature.
Some of the best-known Mizo writers include James Dokhuma, Ṭhuamtea Khawlhring, C. Laizawna, C. Lalnunchanga, Vanneihtluanga etc.
The Mizoram Press Information Bureau lists some twenty Mizo daily newspapers just in Aizawl city, as of March 2013. The following list gives some of the most well-known newspapers published in the Mizo language.
Most of them are daily newspapers.
There are around 700,000 speakers of the Mizo language: 674,756 speakers in India (2001 census); 1,041 speakers in Bangladesh (1981 census); 12,500 speakers in Burma (1983 census).