Morphological Classification of Manipuri Language

James Oinam *

Languages may be classified in various ways. In this article, we will focus on classification based on the nature of words, that is, morphology. Over the years, most of the languages around the world have absorbed words from other languages, and even used scripts of other languages (for example, the Japanese using the Chinese scripts).

So the words in every language show varying grammatical or usage tendencies. Manipuri is no exception. Therefore, languages do not definitively fall into any morphological category - they show tendencies towards one category or the other.

Before going any further, we need to define a term as I understand it, so that there is no miscommunication between us when I use it. Below I use the term 'morpheme' to mean a word unit that has some specific meaning. It may be a single letter, a syllable or a word.

Morphologically, languages may be broadly grouped into analytic and synthetic. In analytic language, the morphemes and the words corresponds to each other on one-to-one basis. Chinese and Vietnamese are considered as analytic languages. Like children's building blocks, the words are put in a particular order to convey the message.

The same verb without any change will be used for all kinds of nouns (singular, plural, masculine, feminine). The same verb without any change will be used for present, past, and future tense. The words referring to times (yesterday, tomorrow, etc.) or some particles will be put next to indicate present or past.

In synthetic language, the words may be split into various morphemes. The morphemes, attached to the base words as prefixes and suffixes, often cannot be stand-alone words by themselves.

Depending on whether these morphemes mean specific things or whether individual morpheme has a range of indefinite meanings (depending on the context), synthetic languages are categorized into agglutinative or fusional, respectively. Japanese is considered agglutinative language. Most Indo-European languages are put under fusional languages.

In Manipuri, we find that morphemes are attached base verbs to indicate the tense of the verb. Also, there are morphemes that adds specific meaning to the words they are attached to. Nouns and pronouns are also changed by adding morphemes to form possessive and other grammatical cases as below:

Verb (V) V +ve action
(-ve action)
Will + V (Will Not + V) V + -ing V + -ed
Paba (read) Pai (Pade) Pagani (Paroi) Pari Pare
Eba (write) E (Ede) Egani (Eroi) Eri Ere
Chaba (eat) Chai (Chade) Chagani (Charoi) Chari Chare
Thakpa (drink) Thak-e (Thak-te) Thakkani (Thak-oi) Thak-i Thak-ae

The sound morpheme 'e' at the end of the base verb indicate positive action (second column of above table).
Example: Ei lairik pai [pronounced pa-e]. (I read book.)
The morpheme 'de' (pronounced 'day' as in the day of the week) indicates negative action (second column of above table).
Example: Ei lairik pade. (I do not read book.)

Similarly, the morpheme 'gani' is used for intention to do the action (third column).
Example: Ei larik pagani. (I will read book.)

The morpheme 'ri' (pronounced like 're' as in reply) indicates -ing form of the verb.
Example: Ei larik pari. (I am reading book.)

And the morpheme 're' (pronounced like 'rai' as in railway) indicates past tense of the verb.
Example: Ei larik pare. (I have read book.)

Verb (V) Command Not to Begin Yet Request Command Not to Begin Yet While + V-ing Has/Have + V-ed
Paba (read) Pa-khinu Pa-bi-khinu Pari-ngaida Pa-khare
Eba (write) E-khinu E-bi-khinu Eri-ngaida E-khare
Chaba (eat) Cha-khinu Cha-bi-khinu Chari-ngaida Cha-khare
Thakpa (drink) Thak-khinu Thak-pi-khinu Thak-e-ngaida Thak-khare

In the above table, third column, we notice the affix 'bi' (pronounced like bee as in beehive) or 'pi' (pronounced pee) adds a sense of request as if the word 'please' has been added.
Example: Larik adu pabikhinu. (lairik = book, adu = that/the, pabikhinu = please do not read yet.)

The morpheme 'na' attached to the noun or pronoun emphasizes the subject performing the action.
Example: Tombi lairik pari. (Tombi is reading book. The action performed by Tombi is stated passively.)
Tombi-na lairik pari. (Tombi's active performance of the action, i.e., reading, is emphasized.)

The morpheme 'gi' is attached to the noun or pronoun to form possessive case.
Examples: Tombi-gi lairik (Tombi's book); Ei (= I) forms Eigi (= my); Nung (= you) forms Nung-gi (= your).

So we might conclude that Manipuri is a synthetic language with stronger tendency towards agglutinative rather than fusional language.

* James Oinam wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on August 31, 2017.

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