TODAY -

Situating Manipuri in Proto-Sino-Tibetan Family

James Oinam *

reconstructed old numbers Sino-Tibetan
reconstructed old numbers Sino-Tibetan



The article is an extension of two YouTube videos 'It's All Chinese to Me, Part 3: Intro to Sino Tibetan' and 'Meeting the Prot-Sino-Tibetans'. These have been selected from the series for one can juxtapose the Manipuri/Meitei language into their contents easily to see if some inferences might be drawn. The series is uploaded by a language student who calls himself the 'Brofessor'. The series is meant for laity like myself with some interest in the subject.

A proto language family is a 'reconstructed' language by comparing the languages that presumably evolved from common parents. Comparison in vocabulary and grammar is done for similarity. Languages that probably evolved from same parent become more similar as we go back in time (written manuscripts for example). Also when a language evolve or change, there are patterns.

Geographically, Manipur is located between two well-known language families, the Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan (Sino-Tibeto-Burman). Interestingly, the YouTuber has put together the first three numbers of languages belonging to two the language families to show the similarities, thus explaining the logic behind the classification. Also, he uses the old words, instead of the modern versions.

Let's begin with the Indo-European languages (my spellings are not phonetically correct in terms of diacritic; my attempt is to spell the sound with regular alphabets):

English: One, Two, Three
Spanish: Unos, Dos, Tres
Russian: Olin, Dva, Tri
German: Ena, Dyo, Tria
Sanskrit: Ekam, Dve, Tremi

Now let's look at the Manipuri numbers:
Manipuri: Ama, Ani, Ahum

They are quite different. Now what about the Sino-Tibetan:
Old Chinese: eat, tyak (tjek); (njijs) nij; sum
Old Tibetan: geig; gnyis (g-neez); gsum
Old Burmese: ac, tac (aak, taak); nhac (hak); sumh

In number three, 'um' in 'sum' is pronounced like the 'um' in 'jhum' (as in jhum cultivation). We can relate number three of Manipuri (if we drop 'a' at the beginning of the word) with all three of them. (I may add here that in some words the 'a' at the beginning of some Manipuri words seem optional like maiba/maibi or amaiba/amaibi. Also, in my article On the Probable Origin of Letter Atiya (on this website), we dropped the 'a' at the beginning of the word to compare it with Chinese 'tian'.)

Similarly, if we drop 'a' at the beginning of the Manipuri number for two (ani, pronounced a-nee), then we see it is similar to two of old Chinese and old Tibetan. Number one of Manipuri sound a bit similar to one of old Burmese to me.

To a question raised in the comments to the YouTube video: 'Is Meitei included? It dosen't sound like a Sino-Tibetan language.' The YouTuber replies: 'Hi, according to Wikipedia Meitei is a Sino-Tibetan language. Its syntactic structure appears to work in a generally Sino-Tibetan way, and its core vocabulary appears cognate with other Sino-Tibetan languages.'

In the second video, the Brofessor 'imagines' what society was like for the people who spoke the Proto-Sino-Tibetan language, thousands of years ago before Christ. A beautiful picture of the society is painted in words. According to him, people in those times did not cultivate rice and depended on sago palm for staple food.

Men had tattoos on their bodies. Women wore head dresses made of horns of animals. Women enjoyed high status in the society. Few reconstructed words probably spoken at that time caught my attention. First, this society used bamboos for construction, for which the reconstructed Sino-Tibetan word is 'g-pwa', which sounds similar to the Manipuri word for bamboo, 'wa'.

Also, they drank green tea (chá). It was served on flat plate (made of leaf?) called 's-la'. 'S-la' means the 'flat one'. In Manipuri feasts, food is served (or used to be) on banana leaves used as plates. And these were called 'la'.

Coming back to 'chá': 'Tea was first introduced to Portuguese priests and merchants in China during the 16th century, at which time it was termed chá. The earliest European reference to tea, written as Chiai, came from Delle navigationi e viaggi written by a Venetian, Giambattista Ramusio, in 1545' (Wikipedia).

Tea, more precisely green tea as a brew, originated in China-Myanmar area, and was probably used thousands of years before it came to mainland India (Assam, Manipuri, and Burma had/have their own local tea varieties). Now the question is if Manipuri 'chá' predates Hindi 'chai' or is a corruption of it? Need some tea to ponder over this.

References
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ob2fi3fBKLE
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mRoSq_94qo
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea#Origin_and_history


* James Oinam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on September 12, 2017.


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