Sentence Particles in Manipuri Language

James Oinam *

Sentence particles are defined as words that do not have a meaning of their own but perform a function for the entire sentence when used. The Chinese language, and other East Asian languages, particularly those influenced by the Sino-Tibetan, are known to have sentence particles.

In this article, I want to question if Manipuri language has 'conjugated' sentence particles in it. But first, let's will look into an example of sentence particle. Consider the following conversation in Chinese:
Nǐ hǎo ma? (You good?)
Wǒ hěn hǎo. Nǐ ne? (I very good. And you?)
Wǒ yě hěn hǎo. (I also very good.)

[Translation done as per the word order for individual word identification.]

'Nǐ hǎo' is a typical Chinese greeting. We see that almost all words have equivalent words in English.

But in the first sentence 'ma' seems extraneous and redundant. This is a sentence particle in Chinese language. A simple statement or declarative sentence will be changed into an interrogative one by putting 'ma' at the end, making it a yes or no interrogative sentence.

In English a statement or declarative sentence like 'You like chocolate' may be changed into interrogative sentence by stressing the words: 'You like chocolate?' But in Chinese, you add 'ma' at the end of the sentence to do that.

In Manipuri language also there seems to be 'conjugated' words that behave like sentence particles. Consider the sentences below:
Lambida nupi ama lep-pi. (On road one girl standing.)
Lambida nupa ama lep-pi. (On road one man standing.)
Lambida mee mayam lep-pi. (On road many people standing.)

The verb 'lepa' is modified to 'lep-pi'. But this modification is unlike the modification we encounter in English or Hindi where the verbs are modified differently according to the gender (male or female) and number of the subject. In Hindi, if the subject if female, the verb would be 'khari', if male then 'khara' and if plural 'khare' as below: Ladki khari hai. (A girl is standing.)
Ladka khara hai. (A boy is standing.)
Log khare hai. (People are standing.)

In English also, the verb is modified by the subject:
I believe, but He believes.

The sentences given earlier may be changed into interrogative sentences in the following way:
Lambida nupi ama lep-pi-ra? (On road one girl standing?)
Lambida nupa ama lep-pi-ra? (On road one man standing?)
Lambida mee mayam lep-pi-ra? (On road many people standing?)

The conjugated word 'ra' in the above sentences is performing a function similar to the Chinese 'ma' discussed above. In Chinese, the particle 'ma' rule seems to apply flatly, but in Manipuri it is much more complicated.

As T.C. Hudson has noted in The Meitheis, presence of interrogative words like who, why, etc., modifies the verb. I think that obviates or removes the need for question particle 'ra/ro' in the sentence: Kari-gi damak Meitei laipak-ta chat-li-no? (Why are you going to Meitei land?)

But without 'kari-gi damak' (which means why), 'Meitei laipak-ta chat-li-ra/ro?' (Are you going to Meitei land?)

In Manipuri language, using stress for changing a statement or declarative sentence into interrogative sentence may create problems.

For example, 'ra/ro' may be attached to the word 'nupi or nupa' (girl/woman and boy/man) forming 'nupi-ra/nupa-ra or nupi-ro/nupa-ro', making them interrogative: 'Is it a girl/woman?' and 'Is it a boy/man?' In English, just by stressing the words 'girl' or 'boy' will make them interrogative: Girl? Boy?

In languages like Manipuri and Chinese, slight change in pronunciation can completely change the meanings of the words.

For example, if in the word 'kari', if final 'i' (pronounced as 'ee') is stressed, it means 'what', but if letter 'a' is stressed and final 'i' is not then it means 'going' (as in 'going' to office = office kari). We can understand the need for sentence particles to form question word here, I think.

If you want to ask 'Are you going to office?' in Manipuri, you cannot stress the word to pose that question because it may technically become 'You office what?' with slightest mistake. In Chinese also, slight variation in pronunciation can completely change the word. I think that is why we have question sentence particles in these languages.


* James Oinam wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on July 29, 2017.

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