Meitei is the main language in the south Eastern Himalayan State of Manipur. It is located in the North East pat of India. Meitei is the official language in the government offices in Manipur. It is also spoken in the States of Assam and Tripura and also in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Meitei actually belongs to the Kuki-Chin group of Sino-Tibeto-Burmese family of languages and is also related to the Naga languages. There are about one and a half million speakers of Manipuri in the world. Meitei has become a huge binding factor among all the ethnic groups in Manipur who communicate among themselves in the language, Meitei Lon. Meitei has been recognised as Manipuri by the Constitution of India and it has been included in the Eighth Schedule by the Seventy First Amendment of the constitution in 1992.

Meitei is taught in the linguistics department as a subject up to the under graduate level in the Universities of India in addition to being a medium of instruction up to the post graduate levels in Manipur.




The Manipuri language has evolved from Meiteilon that belongs to the Tibeto-Burman linguistic family. Manipuri has a literary history of about two thousand years. Their ancient texts were found in royal chronicles and historical accounts. Manipuri language is the only Tibeto-Burman language in India that has a written system.

The Meitei started to settle in other parts of the world. There are many Meitei communities in the neighbouring Indian states of Assam and Tripura and in countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Meitei Lon is a combination of two words, Meitei meaning the name of the people and Lon means language. It literally means the language of the Meitei people.  The language is now known as Manipuri, both by the native speakers of the language as well as the outsiders.

History has proved that there were seven principalities in the region. They frequently fought among themselves, although there were marriage alliances amongst them.




Meitei has its script called Meitei Mayek that was in use until the eighteenth century. Its earliest use is traced back to the eleventh century. There are texts from the Limbu and Maring tries of Manipur which were written using Meitei Mayek script. In the late nineteenth century under the British rule, the Eastern Nagari script was used. Today, efforts are being made to popularise the Meitei Mayek script.


Commonly, Meitei script is written in the Bengali script. Meitei Mayek is an Abugida that was used for the Manipuri language. An Abugida is also called an alphasyllabary. It was developed by Christian missionaries for Aboriginal Canadian languages. It is a segmental writing system in which the consonant-vowel sequences are written as one unit. Each unit is based on a consonant letter and the vowel notation is obligatory. Abugidas include the vast Brahmic family of scripts of South and Southeast Asia. Meitei Mayek is a Brahmic script. Its history is rather uncertain.

Meitei Mayek script was added to the Unicode standard in October 2009 with the release of its version 5.2 the Unicode block for Meitei Mayek is U+ABC0-U+ABFF.





The grammar of the Manipuri Language is interesting; the phonological system of the Manipuri language can be basically divided into three levels- Vowels, Consonants and Tones. In Manipuri Grammar, there are two types of roots-the free roots and bound roots. All nouns, in Manipuri, are free roots. There is also no grammatical gender in Manipuri; the human and animate nouns are addressed according to the masculine or feminine on the basis of the natural sex.


As the Meitei language does not have voiced consonants, there are only fifteen consonant letters that are used for local or native words and three letters for pure vowels. Nine extra consonant letters were taken from the Indic languages. There are seven vowel diacritics and a final consonant diacritic. The curious part is that each letter is names after a body part of a human being.

The Meitei language has well organised grammar and semantics. Meitei Lon evolved as a regional language under pressure for communication among the many groups of Meitei tribes that migrated to Manipur. The need for better communication led to the development of its own alphabet, Meitei Mayek. The modern Meitei language is a mixture of languages and Manipur is the melting pot of several ethnic tribes.

The language has several distinctive features different from most of the Tibeto-Burman Languages. This is the most important language of the family. It is monosyllabic. In this language, the affixes play the most important role in the structure of the language.

Manipuri belongs to the ramified group of Tibeto-Burman languages. It deserves a separate place under the group Bodo-Kuki-Naga-Meitei. The languages under the Tibeto-Burman group are quite similar. These languages have very close similarity in several areas of morphology. Therefore, a   purely    clear -cut demarcation between morphology and syntax is not possible for these languages and particularly for Manipuri.




The Manipuri Literature is broken down into three stages - The ancient period, the medieval period and the modern phase. The period from the eighth century to the eleventh century is the ancient period of the Manipuri Literature. It is the period when the dialect of the Ningthoujas became the standard norm gradually. Early Manipuri Literature had folk and poetic writings. The medieval period ranges from eleventh to the early eighteenth century. It was the time when Shans migrated to Manipur from Burma. In the later years, these Shans exerted considerable influence on the culture and literature of the state. During the late medieval period, the Manipuri literature went through a new phase with the arrival of Burmese in the area. After the British invasion, a new phase began with the modern period in Manipuri literature. The short stories and novels also became popular in the Manipuri Literature. Guno Singh and Pacha Meiti are the popular names in Manipuri Literature in modern times.




Manipuri has several dialects. Due to improved communication as well as free mixing among the various groups including the wedding alliances have made the gaps negligible. Even the varieties of speech in the Cachar district of Assam and Jiribam of Manipur have become almost similar with the Imphal dialect, which is considered the standard form of speech because of frequent inter mixing and conversations. The forms of speech found in Tripura, Myanmar and Bangladesh still show clear dialectal variation.


Many Aryan and Iranian words are found in the Manipuri vocabulary. However, they have started disappearing gradually. They are being substituted by the newly coined words or by the archaic forms. This might have been the    result   of   the   revivalists    who    have    been demanding for the retention and use of the archaic Manipuri forms. The Bishnupriya Manipuris have taken advantage of these loan words and have been making claims that they are real Manipuris. The Bishnupriyas were captives of war and were not allowed to enter the mainland and were kept at Lammangdong, which was later on named Bishnupur by the British.




Meitei is shared with the Kukis and the Nagas who are the other principal communities settled in the hills. Seven clans of the Meiteis ruled in different principalities in the valley. The feudal kingdom goes back in its history to 33AD. At that time, King Pakhangba of the Ningthaya Dynasty brought al he clans together when he took up the throne.

Today, there are five discernible social groups left. They are the `Marup’ who believe in Meitei culture and God, Meitei Christians, Meitei Goura who believe in Hindu gods, The Meitei Brahmins called Bhamons locally and the Meitei Muslims called Pangal. All these social groups use Meitei Lon as their mother tongue. Meitei Lon literally means the language of the Meiteis. Currently, it is known as Manipuri.


Identity Paranoia


The Meitei in Manipur are, no doubt, a majority group in the State but they feel that they are marginalised in the national framework of the country. They feel that they do not get their due share in the Indian political system mainly because of their size in population. They are of an opinion that they have long been denied their due political position in the nation for long though it was one of the ancient states in the Indo-Myanmar region. They have only three elected Member of Parliaments in the country and heir voice is rarely heard. So, there is a strong identity politics in the state which is craving for a status of dignity in the country.

Manipuri language is not yet planned properly. Although it has been included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution not much work has been done for its development and standardization. The language needs proper planning. It shall be codified and standardized. The most unfortunate experience is the kind of research and planning of the language and the wrong approach adopted by the people involved in the planning of the language. Their approach is not in the right direction. It may be due to their inept knowledge of linguistics although they are trained and have obtained the degrees in linguistics.


Article Posted By : tahnaklView All Articles

Tahseen Nakavi Juror

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Keywords :
Meitei , Manipur , Assam , Tripura


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