Meitei language

Not to be confused with Bishnupriya Manipuri language.
Region Northeast India, Bangladesh, Burma
Ethnicity Meetei, Meitei and Meitei-Pangal people
Native speakers
1.25 million (2010)[1] to 1.5 million (2001 census)[2]
  • Manipuri
Eastern Nagari script
(Bengali alphabet)
Meithei alphabet (historical)[3]
Official status
Official language in
 India (Manipur)
Language codes
ISO 639-2 mni
ISO 639-3 Either:
mni  Manipuri
omp  Old Manipuri
Linguist list
omp Old Manipuri
Glottolog mani1292[4]

Manipuri[5][6] /mənˈpʊri/ or Meithei (Meitei, Meetei) /ˈməɪtəɪ/[7] 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.[8]

Meitei is a Sino-Tibetan language whose exact classification remains unclear. It has lexical resemblances to Kuki and Tangkhul Naga.[9]

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.[10]


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.[11] The exact number of dialects of Meithei is unknown.[12]

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 than the other two dialects . Slight variations in dialects can be seen in the following table:[13]

Standard Meitei Loi Pangal English Translation
chaaba chaapa chaaba to eat
kappa kapma kabba to weep
saabiba saapipa saabiba to make
thamba thampa thamba to put
chuppiba chuppipa chubiba to kiss



The Meitei language makes heavy use of intonation, with marked controversy over whether there are two or three types of tones used in speech.[14]


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.[14]

Velar deletion

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


Meitei makes use of the following sounds:[15]

Labial Dental/Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiced unaspirated b d ɡ
breathy-voiced dʒʱ
voiceless unaspirated p t k ʔ
Fricative s h
Flap ɾ
Lateral l
Approximant w j
Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e ɐ o
Low ɡ

Note: the central vowel /ɐ/ is transcribed as <ə> in recent linguistic work on Manipuri. However, phonetically it is never [ə], but more usually [ɐ]. It is assimilated to a following approximant: /ɐw/ = /ow/, /ɐj/ = [ej].

Writing systems

Meithei script

Main article: Meithei script

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.

Latin script

There exists an informal, but fairly consistent practical spelling of Meithei 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 Manipuri 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 Manipuri 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/.

IPA Practical
/pʰ/ph (rarely f)
/s/s or sh
/a/a or aa
/i/i (rarely ee)
/u/u (rarely oo)


Number agreement

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:[16]

Noun (Meitei) Noun (English) Example (Meithei) Example (English)
angaang baby angaang kappi Baby cries.
angaangsing babies angaangsing kappi 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:[16]

Adjective (Meitei) Adjective (English) Example (Meithei) Example (English)
ama one mi ama laak’i A person comes.
khara some mi khara laak’i Some persons come.
majaam many mi majaam laak’i Many persons come.

Compound verbs

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:[17]

Suffix English translation
-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]:[17]

Language Root Verb Suffix Aspect Marker Combined Form
Meitei tum -thok -le tumthokle
English sleep out/ come out perfect aspect has started sleeping
Meitei tum -ning -le tumningle
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".

Number words

1a-ma ~ a-maa
2a-niProto-Tibeto-Burman *ni
3a-húmPTB *sum
4ma-riPTB *li
5ma-ngaaPTB *nga
6ta-rukPTB *luk
11taraa-maa-thoi“ten + 1-more”
12taraa-ni-thoi“ten + 2-more”
13taraa-húm-doi“ten + 3-more”
14taraa-mari“ten +4”
15taraa-mangaa“ten +5”
16taraa-taruk“ten +6”
17taraa-taret“ten +7”
18taraa-nipaan“ten +8”
19taraa-maapan“ten +9”
20kun ~ kul
30*kun-taraa > kun-thraa“twenty + ten”
40ni-phú“two × score”
60hum-phú“three × score”
70hum-phú-taraa“three × score + ten”
80mari-phú“four × score”
90mari-phú-taraa“four × score + ten”
100chaa-maa“hundred × one”
200cha-ni“hundred × two”
300cha-hum“hundred × three”
1000lisíng ama“thousand × 1”

Linguistic tradition

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.[18]

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.[19]

See also


  1. Moseley, C. (Editor) (2010). Atlas of the world's languages in danger (3rd ed). Paris: UNESCO Publishing.
  2. Manipuri 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. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Manipuri". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  5. "At a Glance « Official website of Manipur".
  6. Abstract of speakers' strength of languages and mother tongues – 2000, Census of India, 2001
  7. Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  8. Moseley, C. (Editor) (2010). Atlas of the world’s languages in danger (3rd ed). Paris: UNESCO Publishing.
  9. Burling, Robbins. 2003. The Tibeto-Burman Languages of Northeastern India. In Thurgood & LaPolla (eds.), The Sino-Tibetan Languages, 169-191. London & New York: Routledge.
  10. Devi, S. (May 2013). "Is Manipuri an Endangered Language?" (PDF). Language in India. 13 (5): 520–533.
  11. Thoudam, P. C. (2006). Demographic and Ethnographic Information: Problems in the analysis of Manipuri language. Central Institute of Indian Language.
  12. Haokip, P. (April 2011). "The Languages of Manipur: A Case Study of the Kuki-Chin Languages". Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area. 34 (1): 86–118.
  13. Ningoma, M. S. (1996). Manipur Dialects. Sealang Projects.
  14. 1 2 3 LaPolla, Randy J. (2000). "Book review: A grammar of Meitei, by S. L. Chelliah". Lingua. Elsevier. 110 (4): 299–304. doi:10.1016/s0024-3841(99)00037-6.
  15. Chelliah, S. L. (1997). Meitei Phonology. Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 17–21.
  16. 1 2 Singh, S. Indrakumar (November 2013). "Agreements in Manipuri" (PDF). Language in India. 13 (11): 216–231.
  17. 1 2 Devi, M. Bidyarani (May 2014). "Compound Verbs in Manipuri" (PDF). Language in India. 14 (5): 66–70.
  18. Betholia, C. (August 2008). "Manipuri Culture Seen Through Proverbs". Indian Folklife (30): 4–5.
  19. Singh, T. D. (April 2014). "Phonological System of Medieval Manipuri" (PDF). Language in India. 14 (4): 56–68.



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