Meitei // (also Manipuri //, Meithei, Meetei, Meiteilon) is the predominant language and lingua franca in the southeastern Himalayan state of Manipur, in northeastern India. It is the official language in government offices. Meitei is also spoken in the Indian states of Assam and Tripura, and in Bangladesh and Burma (now Myanmar). It is currently classified as a vulnerable language by UNESCO.
|Manipuri, Meithei, Meetei|
|Region||Northeast India, Bangladesh, Myanmar|
|1.25 million (2010) to 1.5 million (2001 census)|
|Bengali alphabet (current)
Latin alphabet (to a lesser extent)
Meitei alphabet (historical)
Official language in
mni – Meitei
omp – Old Manipuri
The Meitei language has proven to be an integrating factor among all ethnic groups in Manipur who use it to communicate among themselves. It has been recognised (under the name Manipuri) by the Indian Union and has been included in the list of scheduled languages (included in the 8th schedule by the 71st amendment of the constitution in 1992). Meitei is taught as a subject up to the post-graduate level (Ph.D.) in universities of India, apart from being a medium of instruction up to the undergraduate level in Manipur. Education in government schools is provided in Meitei through the eighth standard.
The name Meitei or its alternate spelling Meithei is preferred by many native speakers of Meitei over Manipuri. The term is derived from the Meitei word for the language Meitheirón (Meithei + -lon 'language'). Meithei may be a compound from mí 'man' + they 'separate'. This term is used by most western linguistic scholarship. Meitei scholars use the term Mei(h)tei when writing in English and the term Meitheirón when writing in Meitei. Chelliah (2015: 89) notes that the Meitei spelling has replaced the earlier Meithei spelling.
The language (and people) is also referred to by the loconym Manipuri. The term is derived from name of the state of Manipur. Manipur itself has a mythological folk etymology, in which a shining diamond called mani ('jewel') in Sanskrit is thrown from the head of a snake god Vasuki, which spreads natural beauty throughout the land. Manipuri is the official name of the language for the Indian government and is used by government institutions and non-Meitei authors. The term Manipuri is also used to refer to the Bishnupriya and people. Additionally, Manipuri, being a loconym, can refer to anything pertaining to Manipur state.
The term Meetei is used by Meitei speakers who want political autonomy from India, so-called "revivalists".
Meitei contains various dialects; however, in more recent years the broadening of communication, as well as intermarriage, has caused the differences between these dialects to become nearly insignificant. The only exceptions to this occurrence are the speech differences of the dialects found in Tripura, Bangladesh and Myanmar. The exact number of dialects of Meitei is unknown.
The three main dialects of Meitei include: Meitei proper, Loi and the Pangal. Differences found within Meitei's dialects are primarily characterised by the extensions of new sounds and tonal shifts. Meitei proper is considered, of the three, to be the standard dialect—and is considered to be more dynamic[clarification needed] than the other two dialects[clarification needed] . Slight variations in dialects can be seen in the following table:
|Standard Meitei||Loi||Pangal||English Translation|
|This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (October 2014)|
Meitei uses the following sounds:
The central vowel /ɐ/ is transcribed as <ə> in recent linguistic work on Meitei. However, it is never phonetically never [ə] but more usually [ɐ]. It is assimilated to a following approximant: /ɐw/ = /ow/, /ɐj/ = [ej].
A velar deletion is noted to occur on the suffix -lək after a syllable ending with a /k/ phoneme.
Meitei has a dissimilatory process, similar to the one of Grassmann's Law in Ancient Greek and Sanskrit. An aspirated consonant is deaspirated if an aspirated consonant (including /h/, /s/) occurs in the previous syllable. The deaspirated consonants are then voiced between sonorants:
- /tʰin-/ ('pierce') + /-khət/ ('upward') → /tʰinɡət/ ('pierce upwards')
- /səŋ/ ('cow') + /kʰom/ ('udder') → /səŋɡom/ ('milk')
- /hi-/ ('trim') + /-tʰok/ ('outward') → /hidok/ ('trim outwards')
Meitei has its own script, which was used until the 18th century. Its earliest use is not known. Pamheiba, the ruler of the Manipur Kingdom who introduced Hinduism, banned the use of the Meitei script and adopted the Bengali script. Now in schools and colleges the Bengali script is gradually being replaced by the Meitei script. The local organisations have played a major role in spreading the awareness about its own script.
Many Meitei documents were destroyed at the beginning of the 18th century during the reign of Hindu converted King Pamheiba, under the instigation of the Bengali Hindu missionary, Shantidas Gosai.
Between 1709 and the middle of the 20th century, the Meitei language was written using the Bengali script. During the 1940s and 1950s, Meitei scholars began campaigning to bring back the Old Meitei (Old Manipuri) alphabet. In 1976 at a writers conference, all the scholars finally agreed on a new version of the alphabet containing a number of additional letters to represent sounds not present in Meitei when the script was first developed. The current Meitei alphabet is a reconstruction of the ancient Meitei script.
Since the early 1980s, the Meitei alphabet has been taught in schools in Manipur.
It is a syllabic alphabet in which consonants all have an inherent vowel /a/. Other vowels are written as independent letters or by using diacritical marks that are written above, below, before or after the consonant they belong to. Each letter is named after a part of the human body.
There are some texts from the Maring and Limbu tribes of Manipur, which were written in the Meitei script.
There exists an informal, but fairly consistent practical spelling of Meitei in Latin script. This spelling is used in the transcription of personal names and place names, and it is extensively used on the internet (Facebook, blogspots, etc.). It is also found in academic publications, for the spelling of Meitei book titles and the like (examples can be seen in the References, below). This spelling on the whole offers a transparent, unambiguous representation of the Meitei sound system, although the tones are usually not marked. It is "practical" in the sense that it does not use extra-alphabetical symbols, and can therefore be produced easily on any standard keyboard. The only point of ambiguity is found in the spelling of the vowels /ɐ/ and /a/, which are usually both written "a", except when they occur before an approximant (see table below). The vowel /a/ is sometimes written as "aa" to distinguish it from /ɐ/.
|/pʰ/||ph (rarely f)|
|/s/||s or sh|
|/a/||a or aa|
|/i/||i (rarely ee)|
|/u/||u (rarely oo)|
|This section is empty. You can help by adding to it. (October 2014)|
Agreement in nouns and pronouns is expressed to clarify singular and plural cases through the addition of the suffixes -khoi (for personal pronouns and human proper nouns) and -sing (for all other nouns). Verbs associated with the pluralised nouns are unaffected. Examples are demonstrated below:
|Noun (Meitei)||Noun (English)||Example (Meitei)||Example (English)|
|angaang||baby||angaang kappi||Baby cries.|
|angaangsing||babies||angaangsing kappi||Babies cry.|
When adjectives are used to be more clear, Meitei utilises separate words and does not add a suffix to the noun. Examples are show in the chart below:
|Adjective (Meitei)||Adjective (English)||Example (Meitei)||Example (English)|
|ama||one||mi ama laak’i||A person comes.|
|khara||some||mi khara laak’i||Some persons come.|
|mayaam||many||mi mayaam laak’i||Many persons come.|
Compound verbs are created by combining root verbs each ending with aspect markers. While the variety of suffixes is high, all compound verbs utilise one of two:
|-thok||out/ come out|
|-ning||To wish/ want/ desire|
Aspect markers appear as suffixes that clarify verb tense and appear at the end of the compound verb. Overall, the formula to construct a compound verb becomes [root verb] + [suffix] + [aspect marker]:
|Language||Root Verb||Suffix||Aspect Marker||Combined Form|
|English||sleep||out/ come out||perfect aspect||has started sleeping|
|English||sleep||want||perfect aspect||has felt sleepy|
Compound verbs can also be formed utilising both compound suffixes as well, allowing utterances such as pithokningle meaning "want to give out".
|1||a-ma ~ a-maa|
|11||taraa-maa-thoi||“ten + 1-more”|
|12||taraa-ni-thoi||“ten + 2-more”|
|13||taraa-húm-doi||“ten + 3-more”|
|20||kun ~ kul|
|30||*kun-taraa > kun-thraa||“twenty + ten”|
|40||ni-phú||“two × score”|
|60||hum-phú||“three × score”|
|70||hum-phú-taraa||“three × score + ten”|
|80||mari-phú||“four × score”|
|90||mari-phú-taraa||“four × score + ten”|
|100||chaama||“hundred × one”|
|200||cha-ni||“hundred × two”|
|300||cha-hum||“hundred × three”|
|1000||lisíng ama||“thousand × 1”|
The culture involved with the Meitei language is rooted deeply with pride and tradition based on having respect to the community elders. Young children who do not know about the tales that have been passed on from generation to generation are very rare. Regarding the history behind the ancient use of proverbs that defines the way conversation is held with the Meitei language, it is a way of expressing and telling stories and even using modern slang with old proverbs to communicate between one another.
The Meitei language is known to be one of the oldest languages in northeastern India and has a lengthy 2000-year period of existence. It had its own script. The history behind the Meitei language itself comes primarily from the medieval period of northeastern India.
- Moseley, C. (Editor) (2010). Atlas of the world's languages in danger (3rd ed). Paris: UNESCO Publishing.
- Meitei at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
Old Manipuri at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
- A Manipuri Grammar, Vocabulary, and Phrase Book - 1888 Assam Secretariat Press
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- Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
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- Abstract of speakers' strength of languages and mother tongues – 2000, Census of India, 2001
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