Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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Language is a Living Organism Which Grows Forward Not Backward, it Also Enriches Itself by Indigenizing Foreign Words

Continuing with last week’s piece on Manipuri language and literary writings, it must be pointed out that more than the changing from the earlier Bengali script to the official Manipuri script that is in use now for some years, it is the imposition by certain pressure groups to refrain from using ‘lonn yaan’ that will affect the creative space of writers. ‘Lonn yaan’ literally means mixing languages but in this case, the call to refrain using these words by the said pressure groups in question is a form of political and cultural offensive that has failed to understand the nuances of linguistic journeys.
It is a given fact that the world over, languages are shedding old words and adding new words in their vocabulary range, an inevitable process brought about by various factors: ranging from influences from popular culture to generational change. Even the English language, which is considered the most spoken of tongue the world over, has shed archaic English over the many centuries it has been spoken while taking on multilingual and cross cultural influences from the many languages being spoken around the world. The more flowery and expansive nature of the English language, not to forget its severe formality that was prevalent till the Victorian age is nowhere to be seen or heard today, except of course in film and dramatic recreations on stage. This is true for many other languages and applies to Manipuri as a language too. There is never going to be a Manipuri word for ‘computer’, ‘mobile phone’, ‘lockdown’ ‘television’ and such other modern lingo for the simple reason that they are new terminologies that are being coined, as we know, and coined in English to boot.
As for old Manipuri words, no amount of pressure is going to lead to a revival of decorous Manipuri words that were used once upon a time, not with this current generation or the later that follow. The socio cultural norms and emotive expressions change in generations in ways that are intimate but one that escapes attention. To cite an example, the forms of addressing one’s parents and other family members have been changing over the years: the familial ties do not change, the emotions remain the same. This is what change is: the change in terminologies reflects the various other changes taking place in society. This change gets reflected in literary writing, in films and dramas and in the language we speak in our day-to-day life amongst ourselves.
But the insistence on not using words that come from Hindi and other languages, the very words that have been used for years and years? Is it possible for anyone at all to drop familiar words that have been in use and switch to words you are getting acquainted for the first time? It may well suit pressure groups that want to feel powerful to hear public speeches that are hundred percent ‘native’ but in the confines of personal spaces, are any of these words being used? The greatest irony and tragedy lies in the fact that though this move might well come from a latent love for ‘native roots’ and ‘to promote Manipuri language’, it does not come close to serving the cause of promoting the language at all. Rather, this will only lead to authors and writers who write in Manipuri to struggle over how to switch those words they use in their daily lives with others into what the pressure groups says are their ‘indigenous’ variants and ones that remain largely unused by the majority of the public. Using the Manipuri script in place of the Bengali script as was the norm earlier is the easier part, for Manipuri authors are now publishing their works in the two scripts simultaneously, often in the same book leading to more pages and more costs for the author who bears the cost of printing and financial loss in case the books are left unsold.
Manipuri literary writings have been on the back foot for years now: authors have not been able to reach out to readers and are unable to make a name for themselves beyond the boundaries of the state due to the lack of any quality translations. Yes, many will point out that we have had literary names that are known outside but ask any reader of literary writing in India and no work by any Manipuri language author figures in anyone’s consciousness. In fact even in the non-fiction genre it is the work of journalists and scholars from the rest of the country who writes on our lives and experiences, in the process becoming uninvited ambassadors who often end up distorting or misrepresenting our voices. Even with academic writing, it is mostly authors and scholars from Manipur writing in English and going for self-publishing in small publication/publishing houses which leads to low readership within the state, lower sales and limited acknowledgement by the larger readership beyond the state.
It is high time that those professing to love Manipuri as a language should also pro-actively encourage the crop of writers from Manipur writing in the language and those who write in English but about Manipur. This does not mean another round of seminars and workshops that in any case stay limited to a circle of people who will say the same thing to themselves. It does not mean another round of essay competitions and debates over what ails Manipuri writing today. All it takes is to start acknowledging that Manipuri language is languishing because it is unable to grow in the way that it should be. It starts from looking at how to inculcate a love for the language, how to make a market – in other words, it starts by having to promote and enable both a demand for Manipuri writing and a supply for the same. It starts by reaching out to the younger generation today who are not going to be reined in by the confines of script and language and expression but who lack the aesthetics of their roots as they start writing in English.

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