Chins (Laimi) know how to pronounce their own language, but we westerners need some help to undestand how to say those for us strange words. It is a luck that Roman letters have been used for the written language. That is due to the fact that it was American Baptist missionaries who developed it.
I have tried to get some help from articles that are available on the internet, and I got some help from in particular two linguists, Dr. George Bedell and Dr. No Than Kap.
a: = as in car in English
aw: = as in law, raw, saw in English
e: = as in met in English
i: = as in sit, marine in English
o: = as in no in English
u: = as in rule, pull in English
Vowels can be long or short. In Lai (Hakha Chin) it is not customary , as it is in Zolai, to use double characters for long vowels.
The tone can also be differing, either falling or raising. But it is far beyond my capacity to clarify that.
While the above list of vowels may be seen as the classic description, we must be aware of the fact that young people apparently tend to write an ‘o’ instead of the ‘aw’. Also we can see already in David Van Bik’s Chin-English Dictionary that many words can be written with either ‘o’ or ‘aw’, and that can hardly indicate a difference in pronunciation. Apparently the 'o' is not always pronounced as in English 'no' but can be a short form of 'aw'.
Like in so many other languages consonants can be voiced or unvoiced. That will hardly cause problems, so we shall just mention some of the more specific characteristica:
c: = ds (voiced or - unvoiced)
ch: = ch in church
h: = at the beginning of a syllable it can be just like our ‘h’, but at the end of a syllable it indicates a glottal stop.
p, t, k: We westerners may hear them as ‘b’, ‘d’, and ‘g’. One of the English loan-words in Lai is ‘kramar’ meaning ‘grammar’. Their ‘k’ sounds like our ‘g’. - If we are so lucky to be appointed grandfather and grandmother by Chin children, we will hear ‘Bu’ and ‘Bi’; but the correct spelling is actually ‘Pu’ and ‘Pi’. - Aspiration of these letters is obtained by adding an ‘h’: ph, th, kh.
t with a dot underneath: This is a specific Lai letter. It may be pronounced somewhat an ordinary ‘t’, but the tongue is placed otherwise. George Bedell calls it a ‘retroflex stop’, which must mean that the tip of the tongue is bent backwards. - In this Chin-English dictionary ‘tt’ is used instead of the dotted ‘t’.
z: a voiced 's'. Sometimes, in my ears, it sounds more like a Frech 'j'.
Lai is said to be a monosyllabic language, each word consisting of just one syllable. Such syllables can be combined to longer words, but there seems to be differing opinions of when to write them together and when not. So if you cannot find a complex word in our dictionary, try to find it with more or less spaces.
Maybe the above explanations need corrections or additions. If so, don’t hesitate to write us.