Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Say It Right - Anjan Behera, Assistant Professor English

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way” - Frank Smith

Say It Right

We live in a post-modern society, a society that transcended all imaginable developments and feats. We can now talk long distances for free, and geo-tag locations from our mobile phones. Satellites can track stolen cars, and tiny responders can control pacemakers. All this development has two effects on our society- first, it has greatly improved our way of life making living all the more comfortable, and second, it has compacted the world into a global village. Distances earlier thought to be perilous and incredibly far have now been shrunk, thanks to advances in the fields of technology and communication. This can only mean one thing, we as human beings need to polish our communication skills in order to express ourselves, be heard, and make a difference in the world.

Our speaking abilities greatly depend on the society we belong to. Our cultures shape our vocabulary, and our community shapes our accent. Being rooted and proud of one’s heritage is vastly important, but so is speaking English in a neutral accent, such that everyone understands us. English as a language has come from England. It is important to respect the language and pronounce the way the words were meant. Speaking in a neutral accent has many benefits. One would be more welcome in every corner of the world, since the lack of a localized accent would prevent others from identifying the person as an outsider. A research conducted by Lam T. Nguyen, a research candidate in San Jose University, showed that “people with strong regional accents were perceived as having a lower chance of being promoted to a managerial position, and were hired less frequently compared to the Standard English-accented applicant”. Speaking in a good accent also helps a person gain confidence and be bold in their workplace, as well as be respected in the society.

There can be no doubt about the popularity of English these days, be it the business world, or academics. Nagaland alone has more than 300 English medium schools. Why then do people still have a strong mother tongue influence on their English? A number of factors could be responsible for this. The instructors in primary level schools teach pronunciation based on the spellings. Letters in English sound differently when used in different words, and these distinctions must be taught in the primary level itself. A lot of people are too casual about pronunciation. Just knowing words and having a good vocabulary does not mean one is good in English. Pronunciation is a very significant part of learning and using any language. India as a country has an abundance of regional languages, dialects, and creoles, which further give rise to many regionally inspired English accents. The lack of attention to neutralizing accents and abundance of many variations of accents has stumped the ability of the people in general to nurture a good accent.

A few have however learned and converse in a good and strong neutral/British accent. Researches conducted in the fields of behavioral psychology have found that human beings learn best through imitation. Watching the news regularly on channels like CNN, BBC World, CNN-IBN, and Headlines Today will help as one gets to hear correct accent and pronunciation, and will eventually apply them when speaking. The same goes for watching American and British sitcoms and dramas. A lot of good shows are telecast on television, and watching them regularly would be a fun way to improve one’s accent and pronunciation. Of course, the process would take a long time, and is unsuitable for those who lead busy lives.

A study was conducted by Dr. Dogan Yuken on the effects of watching captioned English movies on students who were learning English as a foreign language. The results, which were published in The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, found that students learned the language much faster when they saw the movies, read the captions and imitated the pronunciations they heard in the movies. Although a long and time-consuming mode of learning, it is considered an effective method in the long run. One would get to see the words, and hear the pronunciation. If we spent less time watching Korean movies and more time watching English movies, it would definitely have a positive effect on our accent and vocabulary. Korean movies are undoubtedly extremely entertaining, but offer nothing other than the entertainment quotient. The English captions for most of those movies are painfully wrong, and as such, may interfere with the chances of a person wishing to improve her/his language skills.

There are many other ways in which one’s accent and pronunciation skills can be improved. Being part of a drama fraternity or club can do wonders. In theatre, enunciating words is enormously fundamental. Unless one does this, the drama will not be clear to the audience. Thus, actors get a chance to polish their speaking skills during the practice sessions and the effects are seen during final performances. Several colleges and schools have drama clubs. Joining them would not just help improve accent and pronunciation, but would also aid in learning poise, intonation, and delivery skills; all of which would polish one’s mastery over the language. This was confirmed recently by the Drama Club of Tetso College who enacted an adaptation of Ben Johnson’s Volpone. Besides enhancing acting skills, the entire theatre experience on student accent and intonation showed a significant level of improvement.

The best way to improve one’s accent and intonation would however be to take up a course in phonetics. A specialized course in phonetics employs all the previously mentioned methods, as well as conversational exercises, and the IPA alphabet which is a full proof and time efficient way to work on one’s pronunciation. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is used as the basis for the phonetic transcription of speech. It is based on the Latin alphabet and is able to transcribe most features of speech such as consonants, vowels, and suprasegmental features. Every documented phoneme available within the known languages in the world is assigned its own corresponding symbol. Once a learner gains knowledge of the IPA alphabets, speaking in a good accent would not be a problem. Certificate courses are time efficient and speed up the learning process, as well as provide a valid certificate which would add worth to one’s resume. Greater opportunities for availing such courses need to exist in Nagaland as well. Recently, Tetso College has come up with a three month certificate course on Communication Skills, and English Language Proficiency. The course, which deals extensively with pronunciation skills, is aimed at producing confident and proficient speakers of English. Likewise, Nagaland needs more professional centres of English language proficiency so we can equip our younger generation with skill sets that are invaluable for every professional individual in the world today.

We are living in a world that follows the canon of ‘survival of the fittest’. There are thousands of students graduating college each year. One needs to make a distinction for oneself to be successful in life. Speaking in a good accent and pronouncing words correctly gives one that edge. Be it the professions involving medicine, journalism, research, military, banking, or academics, good pronunciation skills are vital. Having a certificate in phonetics, and speaking in good English could also open up newer job opportunities, especially in the field of hospitality. We have had the privilege of being educated in an international language, let us make the most of it, and say it right.
“Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. For feedback or comments please email:”

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Breaking gender barriers: Sociology isn’t only for girls Temsukumla Ao, Assistant Professor, Sociology

A chauvinistic man may avoid doing any house work because he believes it is a woman’s job. A woman may feel its incorrect to earn a higher salary than her man. Society imposes a lot of unspoken rules and decorum without us realizing it. The saddest part would be if we applied that same prejudice in academics to the very subject (ie. sociology) that is concerned with the study of society. As it appears, gender barriers exist even in the subjects that students opt for, particularly in the field of sociology.

Breaking gender barriers: Sociology isn’t only for girls
Temsukumla Ao, Assistant Professor, Sociology
“Society is a web of social relationships”- MacIver.
Sociology is the youngest of the social sciences. Its major concern is society, for which it is known as the “science of society”. Like all other sciences, sociology also is concerned with the life and activities of man. Though Sociology is relatively young discipline in comparison with other social sciences, it has gained a place of acceptance within academia. Like other social sciences, it has acquired a distinct status for itself. Its importance and practical usefulness are widely recognized today.

From the above lines we have understood the basic concept of sociology. Now! My area of concern here is – why do more females opt for sociology compared to males. In almost all colleges we find more females taking up sociology and very males opting for this subject. So- Is it because, sociology is a soft discipline? Or, is it because of the subject matter? Or is it because, it is a young social science?

Answers to all these questions could be many, but I personally feel that, many youngsters are unaware of this subject- sociology! And this could be the reason, why we see less interest from students, when compared to subjects like political science, History etc. And also many consider sociology as very simple and a girly discipline. The popular book- “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” explains the character of man and women as: Mars(man) being regarded as a very hot, violent, and red planet and Venus(females) is comparatively a cold planet, also associated with love and attraction and so woman are said to have come from it. These differences in characteristics might be the reason for choosing one subject over another. And when people have this misconception about the subject matter of sociology, we see the imbalance in the gender ratio. The ratio of male and female can be on par with each other only if we can clear out this misconception. Sociology is the study of society as a whole and is a general science of society.

I raised the same question to some of my sociology honours students, as to why they think many men do not take up this subject. And I got very similar replies from them like, many boys think sociology is very simple, girly or a subject for females. Men  mostly opt for political science, History etc. The most interesting reply I got from the students was that sociology as a discipline covers areas like, family, Marriage, Kinship, gender issues, social relationships etc. which so to say; doesn’t fit well with the role of man in our society.

However, there will be differences in every individuals interest. Taking up sociology will not make anyone girly or soft. Likewise taking up others subjects like political science or others streams like science or commerce will not make anyone manly. All the social sciences play an equal and important part in the society, each of them assigned with their own special areas. Therefore as an enlightened individual, one needs to remove these prejudices regarding subjects and be ready to delve deeper into the intricacies of subjects and academics. Most of the social sciences are gender neutral and it would be wise to clear incorrect notions and guide the people who have apprehensions in sociology or others as a gender specific subject

Sociology as a study or science of society, has a lot of scope and importance and career opportunities in a society like ours. Sociology helps us look more objectively at our society and other societies. We are faced with an ever increasingly complex and rapidly changing social milieu in modern society. A study of Sociology provides the conceptual tools and methods for understanding the social milieu.

Sociology addresses the most challenging issues of our time; it is a rapidly expanding field. Sociologists understand social inequality, patterns of behavior, forces for social change and resistance, and how social systems work. Sociology is an exciting discipline with expanding opportunities for a wide range of career paths. Since its subject matter is intrinsically fascinating, sociology offers valuable preparation for careers in journalism, politics, public relations, business, or public administration--fields that involve investigative skills and working with diverse groups.

It’s time to break down the barriers of gender particularly in sociology. The next time someone wants to take up sociology, don’t let the gender specific apprehensions stop you. Men and women are both part of society. A complete society needs both genders to be aware and complement each other.  

“Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. For feedback or comments please email:

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Between Cultures - Dr. Temjenwabang, Head of Department of History

Do we go the traditional or modern way? This is an issue that has long arrested the people of Nagaland from colonial times to the present. Give or take a few, we have our elders who cry out for cultural recovery and the younger generation who find it difficult to connect to traditional values of the past. 

What happens when we are faced with two opposing cultures? Dr. Temjenwabang, Head of Department of History, speaks out on where our cultural future might be headed. 

Between Cultures

What is culture? Culture has been defined generally as the totality of the way of life evolved by a people in their attempts to meet the challenges of living in their environment, which gives order and meaning to their social, political, economic, aesthetic and religious norms and modes of organization, thus distinguishing a people from their ‘neighbors’. Culture should not be interpreted merely as a return to the customs of the past. It embodies the attitude of a people to the future of their traditional values faced with the demands of modern technology, which is an essential factory of development and progress.
A few years ago, when I was undertaking a field research, I came across a group of youths enthusiastically practicing a traditional dance, accompanied by a song for an event. Impressed, I appraised the boys and girls for the wonderful performance. But when I asked them how they connected to this art, I was rather dismayed by their reply, “we loved and enjoyed the dance and the song but we actually know nothing about what they mean”. As the interaction continued, I heard comments that our cultures and traditions are old-fashioned, hence irrelevant to this ‘new’ age.

I am sure many of us do not agree with all these opinions because some of us are living examples of what our culture and tradition did for us when we were young. They have developed and moulded our attitudes and characters to be productive, useful, purposeful and progressive as well as appreciative of the ways of our ancestors. In a way, upholding these ancestral values may have had an effective influence in enabling us avoid immoral living and corruption, laziness and conning. More so, hunger for wealth, power and glory was unknown in our cultural and traditional ways of life. By saying this, I don’t intend to suggest that we should all shift our environment to a traditional setting in order to lead a life of goodness. Nor do I suggest that we should have our young generations brought up in the villages so that for the rest of their lives they can have had a mental background of the fields and trees and wide skies and the smell of the earth and the riches of cultures and traditions.

Regardless of where we are, it only takes ‘responsibility’ to keep us connected with our cultural and traditional values. The Jews did it! During World War II, over six million Jews faced genocide. But they were never erased from the face of the earth! And they will never be as long as they keep their skullcaps and long flowing gowns and as long as they adhere to the Halakhah (divine commandments). It is only when we don’t see a trace of our culture anywhere anymore, we stop to exist. So if we do not feed our young generations with our cultural and traditional values and practices, our future will lose its identity and we may begin to wonder if we are Americans, Koreans, Japanese or just a nation of faceless people adopting and blending into any ‘other’ culture we encounter.

Many of our youths today proudly announce they cannot speak their mother tongue, neither do they know where they come from. When I was hanging out at a café in Kohima, I asked an acquaintance of mixed Ao and Angami parentage living in Dimapur about his original village. He said that he was from Dimapur! On another occasion, I shared a dining with an Ao girl. The lunch was rice, pork curry and rosep. When I offered her rosep, she refused saying she does not eat local or traditional food! These encounters gave me an appalling idea of how many parents bring up their children in ignorance of our cultural tradition. Remember, we may be over-flooded with multi-cultural influences, but we should also keep in mind that the blending of one culture with another has the potential of killing off aboriginal cultures. Nagaland has very unique cultures and ways of life, and these are already at high risk of being erased by and assimilated into multi-cultural entities.

It is sensibly logical to assume that for any nation, culture is the fountain spring of all policies whether educational, social, political, or economic. Strategies of development often depend on the understanding of the culture, the adaptation of its elements for social, political, educational and economic development. I have not traveled far and wide but from what I have observed over the years, I am amazed to see and hear that the people of several countries in Asia like Indonesia, China and Japan treasure, preserve, practice and promote their cultures and traditional values. As for our fate, the state of recording and preservation of our rich and diverse cultural heritage is quite disappointing. I have come across many initiatives of self-reliance and self-sufficiency by organizations, but never on the preservation of our culture and traditional practices.
Our traditional cultures and indigenous systems may be lost, if not regularly (and with passion) practiced, properly recorded and preserved, and proudly and widely promoted. A well planned cultural programme is the need of the hour in order to preserve such an essential part of our history for future reference, because culture, I repeat, as a force, has both its own social, economic and political consequences in the life of any nation. Let us take this as a challenge and therefore an important and absolutely necessary mission to learn in order to preserve, and hand down such an important inheritance to the youngsters. After all, they must carry an identity. The same goes for our intellectual properties; for example, traditional medicine can be developed into patented commodities.

Without culture, a nation is as good as extinct. I still remember a saying, “the only way to wipe out a people from the face of the earth is to take away their culture”. Today, we now find ourselves caught in between cultures. Most young Nagas find it difficult to adapt to these cultures, let alone stick to one. And the odds are that they will neglect the traditional ones in favor of the ‘other’.

“Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. For feedback or comments please email:

The Missing Principles in Naga Society - Zuchano Khuvung, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science

Moral and ethical values as social categories are crucial for generating a sound culture in any given society. However, people tend t...