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Meithei language

Meitei, Manipuri
মৈতৈলোন্ ꯃꯧꯇꯧꯂꯣꯟ
মৈতৈলোল্ ꯃꯤꯇꯧꯂꯣꯟ
Region Northeast India, Bangladesh, Burma
Ethnicity Meithei people
Native speakers
1.25 million (2010)[1] to Lua error in Module:Math at line 495: attempt to index field 'ParserFunctions' (a nil value). million  (2001 census)[2]
  • Meithei
Bengali alphabet (current)
Meithei Mayek alphabet (historical)[3]
Official status
Official language in
Template:Country data India (Manipur)
Language codes
ISO 639-2 mni
ISO 639-3 Either:
mni – Modern Meithei
omp – Old Manipuri
Linguist list
omp Old Manipuri
Glottolog mani1292[4]

Meithei (Meitei) /ˈmt/,[5] or Manipuri /mænɨˈpʊəri/ (মৈতৈলোন্ ꯃꯧꯇꯧꯂꯣꯟ Meitei-lon or মৈতৈলোল্ ꯃꯧꯇꯧꯂꯣꯜ Meitei-lol), 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. Meithei 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.[6]

Meithei is a Sino-Tibetan language whose exact classification remains unclear. It has lexical resemblances to Kuki and Tangkhul Naga.[7]

Meithei has proven to be an integrating factor among all ethnic groups in Manipur who use it to communicate among themselves. It has been recognized (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). Meithei 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 Meithei through the eighth standard.[8]


Meithei 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.[9] The exact number of dialects of Meithei is unknown.[10]

The three main dialects of Meithei include: Meithei proper, Loi and the Pangal. Differences found within Meithei's dialects are primarily characterized 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 Muslim dialects. Slight variations in dialects can be seen in the following table:[11]

Standard (Meithei) Loi Pangal English Translation
chaba chapa chaba to eat
kappa kapma kabba to weep
sābība sâpîpa sabiba to make
thamba thampa thamba to put
chuppiba chuppiba chubiba to kiss



The Meithei language makes heavy use of intonation, with marked controversy over whether there are two or three types of tones used in speech.[12]


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.[13]

Velar Deletion

A velar deletion is noted to occur on the suffix -lək when following a syllable ending with a /k/ phoneme.[14]


Meithei makes use of the following sounds:

CONSONANT SOUNDS Labial (Voiceless) Labial (Voiced) Alveolar (Voiceless) Alveolar (Voiced) Palatal Velar (Voiced) Velar (Voiceless) Laryngeal
Stops p, ph b, bh t, th d, dh k, kh g, gh
Fricatives s h
Nasals m n ŋ
Lateral/ Flap l
Trill r
Semivowels w y
VOWEL SOUNDS Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e ə o
Low a


Number Agreement[16]

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 pluralized nouns are unaffected. Examples are demonstrated below:

Noun (Meithei) Noun (English) Example (Meithei) Example (English)
əŋaŋ baby əŋaŋ kəppi Baby cries.
əŋaŋsiŋ babies əŋaŋsiŋ kəppi Babies cry.

When adjectives used to be more clear are used Meithei utilizes separate words and does not add a suffix to the noun. Examples are show in the chart below:

Adjective (Meithei) 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 [17]

Compound verbs are created by combining root verbs each ending with aspect markers. While the variety of suffixes is high, all compound verbs utilize one of two:

Suffix English translation
-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
Meithei tum -thok -le tumthokle
English sleep out/ come out perfect aspect has started sleeping
Meithei tum -niŋ -le tumniŋle
English sleep want perfect aspect has felt sleepy

Compound verbs can also be formed utilizing both compound suffixes as well, allowing utterances such as pithokniŋle meaning "want to give out".


1 ama ꯑꯃ 11 taramathoi
2 ani ꯑꯅꯤ 12 taranithoi ky
3 ahum ꯑꯍꯨꯝ 13 tarahumdoi ꯇꯔꯥꯍꯨꯝꯗꯣꯢ
4 mari ꯃꯔꯤ 14 taramari ꯇꯔꯥꯃꯔꯤ
5 manga ꯃꯉꯥ 15 taramanga ꯇꯔꯥꯃꯉꯥ
6 taruk ꯇꯔꯨꯛ 16 tarataruk ꯇꯔꯥꯇꯔꯨꯛ
7 taret ꯇꯔꯦꯠ 17 tarataret ꯇꯔꯥꯇꯔꯦꯠ
8 nipan ꯅꯤꯄꯥꯟ 18 taranipan ꯇꯔꯥꯅꯤꯄꯥꯟ
9 mapan ꯃꯥꯄꯟ 19 taramapan ꯇꯔꯥꯃꯥꯄꯟ
10 tara ꯇꯔꯥ 20 kun ꯀꯨꯟ


Main article: Meithei script

Meetei 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 gradually the Bengali script is being replaced by the Meithei script. The local organisations have played a major role in spreading the awareness about its own script.

Many Meetei 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 Meithei language was written using the Bengali script. During the 1940s and 1950s, Meithei 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 Meithei when the script was first developed. The current Meithei alphabet is reconstruction of the ancient Meithei script.

Since the early 1980s, the Meithei alphabet as 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.

Linguistic tradition

The culture involved with the Meithei 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 Meithei language, it is a way of expressing and telling stories and even using modern slang with old proverbs to communicate between one another.[18]

The Meithei 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 Meithei language itself comes primarily from the medieval period of northeastern India.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Moseley, C. (Editor) (2010). Atlas of the world's languages in danger (3rd ed). Paris: UNESCO Publishing. 
  2. ^ Modern Meithei at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Old Manipuri at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  3. ^ A Manipuri Grammar, Vocabulary, and Phrase Book - 1888 Assam Secretariat Press
  4. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Manipuri". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  5. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  6. ^ Moseley, C. (Editor) (2010). Atlas of the world’s languages in danger (3rd ed). Paris: UNESCO Publishing. 
  7. ^ Burling, Robbins. 2003. The Tibeto-Burman Languages of Northeastern India. In Thurgood & LaPolla (eds.), The Sino-Tibetan Languages, 169-191. London & New York: Routledge.
  8. ^ Devi, S. (2013). "Is Manipuri an Endangered Language?". Language in India 13 (5): 520–533. 
  9. ^ Thoudam, P. C. (2006). Demographic and Ethnographic Information: Problems in the analysis of Manipuri language. Central Institute of Indian Language. 
  10. ^ Haokip, P. (2011). "The Languages of Manipur: A Case Study of the Kuki-Chin Languages". Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 34 (1): 86–118. 
  11. ^ Ningoma, M. S. (1996). Manipur Dialects. Sealang Projects. 
  12. ^ LaPolla, R. J. "Review of the book A grammar of Meithei, by S. L. Chelliah". Lingua 110 (4): 299–304. doi:10.1016/s0024-3841(99)00037-6. 
  13. ^ LaPolla, R. J. "Review of the book A grammar of Meithei, by S. L. Chelliah". Lingua 110 (4): 299–304. doi:10.1016/s0024-3841(99)00037-6. 
  14. ^ LaPolla, R. J. "Review of the book A grammar of Meithei, by S. L. Chelliah". Lingua 110 (4): 299–304. doi:10.1016/s0024-3841(99)00037-6. 
  15. ^ Chelliah, S. L., S. L. (1997). Meithei Phonology. Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 17–21. 
  16. ^ Singh, S. (2013). "Agreements in Manipuri". Language in India 13 (11): 216–231. 
  17. ^ Devi, M. (2014). "Compound Verbs in Manipuri". Language in India 14 (5): 66–70. 
  18. ^ Betholia, C. (2008). "Manipuri Culture Seen Through Proverbs". Indian Folklife 30: 4–5. 
  19. ^ Singh, T. D. (2014). "Phonological System Of Medieval Manipuri". Language in India 14 (4): 56–68. 
  • 1. A Short History of Kangleipak (Manipur) Part-I, by Chingtamlen, 2005
  • 2. A Short History of Kangleipak (Manipur) Part-II, by Chingtamlen, 2007
  • 3. A Short History of Kangleipak (Manipur) Part-III, by Chingtamlen, 2008
  • 4. The Meetei and the Bishnupriya, by Chingtamlen, 2008


  • Brara, N. Vijaylakshmi. (1998). Politics, society, and cosmology in India's North East. Delphi: Oxford University Press.
  • Budha, W. (1992). Indigenous games of the Meitheis. Manipur: Wangkeimayum Publications.
  • Kshetrimayum, Otojit. (2014). Ritual, Politics and Power in North East India: Contexualising the Lai Haraoba of Manipur. Delhi: Ruby Press & Co.
  • Singh, M. Kirti. (1988). Religion and culture of Manipur. Delhi: Manas Publications.
  • Singh, M. Kirti. (1993). Folk culture of Manipur. Delhi: Manas Publications.
  • Singh, Saikhom Gopal. (2014). The Meeteis of Manipur: A Study in Human Geography. Delhi: Ruby Press & Co.


  • Bhat, D. N. S.; & Ningomba, S. (1997). Manipuri grammar. Munich: Lincom Europa.
  • Chelliah, Shobhana L. (1990). Experiencer subjects in Manipuri. In V. M. Manindra & K. P. Mohanan (Eds.), Experiencer subjects in South Asian languages (pp. 195–211). Stanford: The Center for the Study of Language and Information.
  • Chelliah, Shobhana L. (1992). Tone in Manipuri. In K. L. Adams & T. J. Hudak (Eds.), Papers from the first annual meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society 1991 (pp. 65–85). Tempe, AZ: Arizona State University.
  • Chelliah, Shobhana L. (1992). Bracketing paradoxes in Manipuri. In M. Aronoff (Ed.), Morphology now (pp. 33–47). Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Chelliah, Shobhana L. (1994). Morphological change and fast speech phenomena in the Manipuri verb. In K. L. Adams & T. J. Hudak (Eds.), Papers from the second annual meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society 1992 (pp. 121–134). Tempe, AZ: Arizona State University.
  • Chelliah, Shobhana L. (1997). A grammar of Meithei. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 0-19-564331-3.
  • Chelliah, Shobhana L. (2002). Early Meithei manuscripts. In C. I. Beckwith (Ed.), Medieval Tibeto-Burman languages: PIATS 2000: Tibetan studies: Proceedings of the ninth seminar of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, Leiden 2000 (pp. 59–71). Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.
  • Chelliah, Shobhana L. (2002). A glossary of 39 basic words in archaic and modern Meithei. In C. I. Beckwith (Ed.), Medieval Tibeto-Burman languages: PIATS 2000: Tibetan studies: Proceedings of the ninth seminar of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, Leiden 2000 (pp. 189–190). Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.
  • Chelliah, Shobhana L. (2004). "Polysemy through metonymy: The case of Meithei pi 'grandmother'". Studies in Language 28 (2): 363–386. doi:10.1075/sl.28.2.04che. 
  • Singh, Ningthoukhongjam Khelchandra. (1964). Manipuri to Manipuri & English dictionary.

External links

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