Mongsen Ao language

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Mongsen Ao
Native to India
Region Nagaland
Ethnicity Ao Naga
Native speakers
261,000 (2001 census)[1]
  • Chungli
  • Mongsen
  • Chanki
  • ? Dordar (Yacham)
  • ? Tengsa
Language codes
ISO 639-3 njo
Glottolog aona1235[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Mongsen Ao is an Ao language, a branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages, predominantly spoken in central Mokokchung district of Nagaland, northeast India. Gordon (2005) estimates that there are 141,000 speakers of Mongsen and Chungli Ao (the main dialect of Mongsen).

A chapter in the anthropological monograph of Mills (1926) provides a grammatical sketch of the variety of Mongsen Ao spoken in Longchang village. Coupe (2003) is one of the few acoustic studies published on a Kuki-Chin-Naga language (only three exist). Coupe (2007) is a reference grammar of the language, based on a revision of his PhD dissertation (Coupe 2004).


Ethnologue lists the following dialects of Mongsen Ao.

  • Mongsen Khari
  • Changki
  • Chongli (Chungli)
  • Dordar (Yacham)
  • Longla

Chongli and Mongsen are nearly mutually unintelligibile.


Location of Nagaland

The Ao Naga tribes of Nagaland speak three languages: Chungli, Mongsen, and Changki. (Mills 1926). Chungli Ao and Mongsen Ao are spoken in majority of the Ao villages whereas Changki speakers form the minor speakers.

Chungli as a common Ao language[edit]

During the American Baptist Mission to Naga Hills, Dr E.W.Clark first came in contact with the Molungkimong village that paved the way for a common Ao language. Chungli Ao is spoken in Molungkimong and Molungyimsen and other villages throughout Ao territory by roughly 60% of the Ao-speaking population. The speech of Molungkimong is the prestige dialect due to Baptist missionaries' influence. Most Ao can speak Chungli even if they are from Mongsen-speaking regions. Chungli is taught in schools. Various trans-Dikhu neighbouring dialects of Chungli Ao are spoken east of the Dikhu River in Yacham, Tengsa, and Longla. These are poorly documented; Yacham and Tengsa may be separate languages (van Driem 2001).

Mongsen Ao is spoken primarily in the western part of Ao territory. The Changki dialect is spoken only in 3 villages - Changki, Japu and Longjemdang - which is poorly documented though reportedly related to Mongsen Ao. Some Changki speakers can fluently converse in both Mongsen and Chungli, but a Mongsen Ao cannot speak Changki or understand it, whereas a Chungli can hardly understand or speak Changki. Chungli Ao and Mongsen Ao are not mutually intelligible.[3] The speech of each Ao village has its own distinctive characteristics. Many villages contain both Chungli and Mongsen speakers.


This section describes the sound system of Mongsen Ao as spoken in Waromung village and is based on Coupe (2003).


Mongsen Ao has 20 (or 21) consonants:

Bilabial Dental Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive unaspirated p t k (ʔ)
Affricate unaspirated t͡s t͡ʃ
aspirated t͡sʰ t͡ʃʰ
Fricative voiceless s h
voiced z
Nasal m n ŋ
Approximant central w ɹ j
lateral l
  • Dental consonants /t, tʰ, ts, tsʰ, s, z, n, l/ are laminal denti-alveolar.
  • The post-alveolar approximant /ɹ/ varies from an apical post-alveolar to subapical retroflex: [ɹ̠~ɻ].
  • The glottal stop /ʔ/ occurs only at the end of words. However, in this position it contrasts with words ending in vowels: /āmī/ 'spear' vs. /āmīʔ/ 'person'. When a suffix is added to such words, the /ʔ/ is deleted: /tʃàʔ/ 'to eat' + /-ʉ̄ʔ/ CAUS/tʃàʉʔ/ 'to cause to eat'. Thus, the glottal stop has a somewhat marginal phonemic status.


Mongsen Ao has 6 vowels:

Front Central Back
modal creaky
Close i ʉ u
Mid ə
Open a


Ao is a tonal language with 3 contrasting lexical tones:

  • high
  • mid
  • low

All are register tones.

Syllable and phonotactics[edit]

The generalized syllable structure of Ao is abbreviated as the following:



  • Any of the 20 consonants may appear as an optional syllable onset (excluding the word-final /ʔ/).


  • All 6 vowels may occur as the syllable nucleus.


  • The optional glide elements following the head vowel are essentially non-syllabic offglide realizations of the 4 vowels /i, ʉ, u, a/. For example, /jàuŋ/[jàu̯ŋ] 'species of centipede'.
  • The following are the possible tautsyllabic combinations: [iu̯, ia̯, əʉ̯, əu̯, ai̯, aʉ̯, au̯].


  • The following consonants may occur in the optional syllable coda: unaspirated stops, nasals, and the rhotic /p, t, k, m, n, ŋ, ɹ/. The glottal stop with its restricted distribution also occurs but only word-finally.


All syllables occur with one of the three tones. In a VG sequence, tone only occurs the vowel head.


Ao is an SOV language with postpositions. Adjectives, numerals and demonstratives follow the nouns they modify, whilst relative clauses may be either externally or internally headed. Adverbial subordinators are suffixes attached to the verb and the end of the subordinate clause.


The Ao alphabet is based on the Latin script and was developed in the 1880s by the Christian missionary Edward W. Clark for Chungli Ao. The system is not based on phonemic principles and does not represent tone. A Christian Bible was published using the orthography in 1964. Coupe (2003) suggests a more consistent alphabet for Mongsen Ao.

A, B, Ch, E, I, J, K, L, M, N, Ng, O, P, R, S, T, U, Y, Z

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mongsen Ao at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Ao Naga". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Escamilla, R. M. (2012). An Updated Typology of Causative Constructions: Form-Function Mappings in Hupa (California Athabaskan), Chungli Ao (Tibeto-Burman), and Beyond. Unpublished PhD dissertation, U.C. Berkeley.


  • Clark, E. W. (1981). The Ao-Naga Grammar with Illustrations, Phrases, and Vocabulary. Delhi: Gian Publications, Mittal Publishers Distributors. (Original work published 1893).
  • Coupe, Alexander R. (2003). A Phonetic and Phonological Description of Ao: A Tibeto-Burman Language of Nagaland, North-east India. Pacific Linguistics (No. 543). Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University. ISBN 0-85883-519-3.
  • Coupe, Alexander R. 2004. The Mongsen Dialect of Ao: a language of Nagaland. Unpublished PhD dissertation, La Trobe University.
  • Coupe, Alexander R. (2007). A grammar of Mongsen Ao [Mouton Grammar Library 39]. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-019088-5.
  • Escamilla, R. M. (2012). An Updated Typology of Causative Constructions: Form-Function Mappings in Hupa (California Athabaskan), Chungli Ao (Tibeto-Burman), and Beyond. Unpublished PhD dissertation, U.C. Berkeley.
  • Gowda, K. S. Gurubasave. (1972). Ao-Naga Phonetic Reader. CIIL Phonetic Reader Series (No. 7). Mysore: Central Institute of Indian Languages.
  • Gowda, K. S. Gurubasave. (1975). Ao Grammar. Grammar series (No. 1). Mysore: Central Institute of Indian Languages.
  • Mills, J. P (1926). The Ao Nagas. London: MacMillan & Co.

External links[edit]