Sunday, November 09, 2008

Department of Linguistics
3600 Market Street, Suite 501
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-2653

This talk is about Bishnupriya language which emerged as a result of contact between Indo Aryan Languages such as Assamese and Bengali and Tibeto Burman languages such as Meitei. The available evidence suggests that Bishnupriya must have emerged as a contact language in Manipur sometime in the late 18th century as a consequence of the spread of Hinduism (in particular, Vaishnavism) in the North Eastern Part of India. Though Bishnupriya emerged as a contact language in Manipur, a majority of the Bishnupriyas are at present located outside Manipur in parts of Assam, Tripura and Bangladesh, where they have come into a secondary contact with local Bengali vernacular.

The ongoing controversy regarding whether or not Bishnupriyas can be allowed to have any claims over Manipuri identity has its roots in the state politics and culture and the superimposed dominant presence of Indic languages, in particular, Bengali and to some extent Assamese that has been perceived as a threat to the very existence of tribal identity and culture in the North East. Thus, while the claim for the use of the term Bishnupriya Manipuri is seen by the Meities as a dilution of their own identity, the Bishnupriyas see it as their legitimate right to create a small but distinct space within the overall Meitei space (regional and cultural). However, the problems of the Bishnupriyas are much more complex precisely for the reasons that they can neither be regarded as Aryans nor as entirely Meitei or Tibeto Burman in general. This is because Bishnupriyas represent ethnically and culturally a mixed group and their language clearly a result of contact between the Tibeto Burman and the Indo Aryan population.

In this talk I intend to present Bishnupriya as a contact language and provide an overview of its major structural and cultural traits. I would also draw a comparison between the structures of the various languages that are involved in the contact and discuss the continuation of the features of the source languages on the one hand and transformations, innovations and changes on the other.
It should be noted that the people of Manipur comprise both the migrants of East and West who came to Manipur in different periods of history. During the earlier period migrants were in general assimilated and assigned to one or other to the clans, no doubt according to the area in which they settled. There origins were remembered by the terms Nongpok Haram (The Mongoloid migrants from the East, mainly the Shans, Kabaws and Pongs, a little of Chinese and Burmese) and Nongchup Haram (The Dravidian and Aryan migrants from the West, mainly the Bishnupriya's, the Brahmins etc.). The history of Manipur witnesses the process of racial fusion undermining the geographical features. So the mass people of Manipur is a composite one to which the Mongoloids, Dravidians, Aryans, Pongs, Chinese, Siamese, etc, were contributory.

Also some Linguistic Points shouldn't be ignored:

a) The relation between the Bishnupriya and Meitei language is well established. The Bishnupriya grammar is also influenced by Meitei

b) Bishnupriya Manipuri language incorporated some features from the languages of hill tribes. Sir G.A. Griersons(LSI Vol-4, p- 419) observation on BPM was the word for 'bad' is 'good-not' hoba-naya, as in all Kuki-Chin languages. The use of demonstrative pronoun after the noun which it qualifies is also a typical of Kuki. The Suffix of the dative 'rang' a Kuki idiom. The form of future that in ng, is taken from Thado Kuki.

c) Bishnupriya language has considerably good number of (more than 4,000) Meitei words. For example: laupuk, mang, matik, marup, ning, nungsi, pang, pham, sing, thungba, yathang etc. The most remarkable feature of Bishnupriya Manipuri Language is that it retained many older phonology of Meitei and also some words of Meitei of archaic and medieval age. It was because the Bishnupriyas left Manipur during the last part of 18th century. Colonel W McCulloch compiled a comparative vocabulary of Meitei and Bishnupriya which in published in 1859.

Held by the Department of Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. Co-sponsored by the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science (IRCS) and the Graduate Student Associations Council (GSAC). Open to members of the greater university community.

Oct. 16
Shobha Sathyanath
University of Delhi, Delhi, India


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Anonymous said...

It is very hard to say who are real manipuri. Meitei is also mixed. Well we belong to manipur, dats y we are manipuri. According to my opinion, meitei identity was born with the idea of building of one nation with assimilating with different clan or communities. Sougaijam surname come from the thangkhul clan. Kshatrimayum come from cachar so on. This idea is being seen in naga nation. I think you are offspring of meitei father with bengali mother or meitei mother with bengali father. Vaishnavism was the medium for all dis. So dont fight over language in assam. Please do more research and come solution for the better manipur. Love manipur. Long live manipur.

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