LANGUAGE AND SPEAKERS

This article was published by the Imphal Free Press (http://ifp.co.in) on 22 Feb 2012 at http://ifp.co.in/imphal-free-press-full-story.php?newsid=4650&catid=5

Manipuri Language, the mother tongue of the Meiteis, is one of the most dynamic languages, ever evolving with the passage of time and change. Like its speakers, the language also went through the rigorous process of ethnic amalgamation and cultural assimilation which continued till late 18th century. According to the ancient records, seven major clans with established principalities struggled for power and supremacy in the fertile Manipur valley, for many centuries. The Mangangs otherwise known as Ningthoujas emerged victorious in the first century A.D. And they began forging a larger and composite Meitei identity through a long and complex historical process. Many tribal elements from the hills and many streams of migrating people naturally became a part of the cultural melting pot. Non-Mongoloid peoples from the Indian subcontinent, mainly Brahmins and Muslims, also started migrating in the 16th century to Manipur. They were subsequently assimilated into a larger Manipuri society. Under the impact of these migrations, a pluralistic society and polity emerged. A closer look into Manipuri language will reveal the essence of a pluralistic society and of an accommodative language, able to absorb foreign words in its vocabulary. In its effort to integrate newer groups into the larger Meitei identity, necessary changes were also incorporated into the Manipuri language. This perhaps explains the vibrancy of Manipuri language. A living and dynamic language has to be necessarily accommodative. English language is one such language. It had been able to withstand the test of time and change, while having the ability to absorb external influences or adhering to requirements of furthering its interests worldwide. As the saying goes, the sun never sets in the British Empire. Despite the entry of many foreign words, it has been able to maintain its distinct identity. This is because of the resilience and accommodative capability of the language.
 Manipuri language has also some of these basic traits and characteristics of a dynamic language. Some extremist elements or revivalists object to the inclusion of foreign words in the Manipuri vocabulary. They shout from the rooftops the negative impact of sanskritization of Manipuri culture and language. They seek revival of ancient vocabulary or venture into word coinage, while refusing to understand the dynamics of a living language. On the other hand, there are conservative scholars who were nurtured in ‘sanskritized’ traditions and culture. They are obsessed with the sanskritized words or words of Bengali origin incorporated into the Manipuri language. A stark example of that is the Manipuri Sahitya Parishad. The Parishad, supposed to be the principal stakeholder in the development of Manipuri language, refuses to extricate itself from its cocoon.

The demand for establishing a separate Directorate of Manipuri Language on International Mother Language Day is justified. However, the development and evolution of a language cannot be left alone to a government department or directorate. Different stakeholders like the Parishad and Manipur University has to be involved in the process. Their commitment and openness is necessary. A lamentation of a Manipuri scholar is that, since the inclusion of Manipuri Language in the Eight Schedule of the Indian Constitution only two things has been implemented by the state. One is the establishment of Language Cell in the Education Directorate and another is the institution of a literary award which carries rupees one lakh. Yet, the question is, what has Manipuri Sahitya Parishad contributed towards development of Manipuri language? It has been consistently receiving yearly grants from the state. What has it done to promote Manipuri language despite instituting literary awards every year? Is it turning into some kind of mutual admiration society instead of pursuing its avowed objectives?

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