|Region||Northeast India, Bangladesh, Burma|
|Ethnicity||Meetei, Meitei and Meitei-Pangal people|
|1.25 million (2010) to 1.5 million (2001 census)|
|Bengali alphabet (current)
Meithei alphabet (historical)
Official language in
mni – Modern Meitei
omp – Old Manipuri
Manipuri // or Meithei (Meitei, Meetei) // or 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.
Meitei has proven to be an integrating factor among all ethnic groups in Manipur who use it to communicate among themselves. It has been recognised (as 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.
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 Meithei 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. Meithei 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|
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The Meitei language makes heavy use of intonation, with marked controversy over whether there are two or three types of tones used in speech.
Assimilation of sounds occurs in noted instances when the preceding syllable ends in a nasal sound or occasionally a semivowel sound, and the following syllable ends in either a nasal, semivowel, or vowel sound; additionally this will occur on suffixes and enclitics.
A velar deletion is noted to occur on the suffix -lək when following a syllable ending with a /k/ phoneme.
Meitei makes use of the following sounds:
An informal but fairly consistent, practical spelling of Meithei in Latin script is found in use on the internet (Facebook, blogs, etc.). In this spelling, the aspirated consonants are written as <bh, dh, gh, ph, th, kh>, and the velar nasal is written <ng>. Vowels /ə/ and /a/, when they are distinguished, are written as <a> and <aa>. Diphthongs /əj/ and /əw/ are written <ei> and <ou>. In addition, for /tʃ/ and /ʃ/ the graphs <ch> and <sh> are used.
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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 -siŋ (for all other nouns). Verbs associated with the pluralised nouns are unaffected. Examples are demonstrated below:
|Noun (Meitei)||Noun (English)||Example (Meithei)||Example (English)|
|əŋaŋ||baby||əŋaŋ kəppi||Baby cries.|
|əŋaŋsiŋ||babies||əŋaŋsiŋ kəppi||Babies cry.|
When adjectives are used to be more clear, Meithei utilises separate words and does not add a suffix to the noun. Examples are show in the chart below:
|Adjective (Meitei)||Adjective (English)||Example (Meithei)||Example (English)|
|əmə||one||mi əmə laki||A person comes.|
|khərə||some||mi khərə laki||Some persons come.|
|məjam||many||mi məjam laki||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|
|-niŋ||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 pithokniŋle meaning "want to give out".
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 Meithei script and adopted the Bengali script. Now in schools and colleges the Bengali script is gradually being replaced by the Meithei 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 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 Meithei 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 Meithei script.
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.
- Languages of India
- List of languages by number of native speakers in India
- List of Manipuri poets
- Sahitya Akademi Award to Manipuri Writers
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Old Manipuri at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
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