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Story of the Wancho Script

Language is the inheritance of words, and a script ensures the continuity of this inheritance. The Wanchos are a Naga tribe who live in Eastern Arunachal Pradesh. Wancho has 55,000 speakers spread around Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Myanmar, and Bhutan.
Scripts are culturally evolved by the same processes that shape human societies and its multiple languages. The Latin script is used for writing all European, South American, and modern African languages with small modifications. Similarly, the Arabic script is used to write more than 60 other languages. However, no attempt was made to linguistically describe Wancho, as Wancho orthography did not fit the Latin or Devanagari script.


Wancho men celebrating the Oriah festival at Longding, Arunachal Pradesh. Image Source: YouTube


Banwang Losu, creator of Wancho script. Image Source: Banwang Losu

Eventually, Banwang Losu, a Wancho school teacher from Longding, Arunachal Pradesh created a script that would suit the Wancho language. The Wancho script is an invention made possible solely through the dedication of its creator.


Laizi or Laili, the Wancho alphabet. Image Source: YouTube

In 2001, as a student of class XI, Mr. Banwang Losu realised the inability of Roman and Devanagari script to do justice to the Wancho language. Hence, he started working on a new Wancho script. He took nature, which forms the core of a tribal culture, as his inspiration to develop the script. It took him 11 years of diligent labour, from 2001 to 2012, to complete it. In 2019, Wancho script was added to the Unicode Consortium and registered for use on the internet, made possible through the joint efforts of Banwang Losu and Michael Everson, who was also the fontographer. The script also has a typeface, and an animated primer on YouTube developed by the first Wancho animator, Wangdan Wampan, a National Institute of Design (NID) graduate. Though the Wancho script may be used by all Wancho and other tribal languages of the region, Mr. Losu focused on the Northern Wancho.


Mr. Losu used nature as inspiration to develop the Wancho script. Image Source: YouTube

Wancho is a tonal language and slight change in sound changes the entire meaning. A sound intensity graph and diacritics were added to the Wancho script to accurately portray the changing meaning with changing sounds. The use of diacritics as tone markers were particularly important to display the intensity of a sound. Specific markers were also created to capture the language’s phonetic peculiarities. In this way, the Laizi or Laili (Wancho alphabets), was created. It has forty-four letters, five vowels and twenty-nine consonants.


Ngun, the Wancho symbol for currency, also developed by Banwang Losu. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 2013, Mr. Losu authored the book “Wancho Script”, published by the imprint Partridge Penguin, and also created a primer and workbooks to be used in schools. He also organised a Wancho Literary Mission Team, Teachers’ Training workshop, and Wancho Language Certification courses, with some initiatives aided by the Government of Arunachal Pradesh and other local bodies.


Mr. Banwang Losu teaching the Wancho script to students. Image Source: YouTube

Mr. Banwang Losu’s efforts have made the Wancho identity firmer through its linguistic affirmation, because the written script is a particularly potent claim around which a community can create and belong every day.
Keeping languages alive keeps culture and traditions alive, and a script is an excellent catalyst for this purpose. It is an effective tool to revitalize languages and its various dialects, as it helps foster a unique indigenous identity. It being the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, 2022-2032, the story of the Wancho script is more apposite than ever.