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Rekindling script controversy

IFP Editorial: What we must understand is that Manipuri language is a dynamic language and it has the strength to absorb foreign words into its fold and also adapt to change and modern realities. One has to believe in the resilience of the language and its adaptability to modern linguistic changes.

ByIFP Bureau

Updated 29 Jun 2022, 6:30 am

(Image: Unsplash)
(Image: Unsplash)

 

The controversy over the Meitei script has erupted once again with the likely inclusion of the script in banknotes issued by Reserve Bank of India (RBI) as shared by RajyaSabha MP and Manipur’s titular king LeishembaSanajaoba.

An organisation has sternly objected to such inclusion in banknotes till the controversy is resolved, while the leading organisation for promotion of the recognised script MEELAL has dismissed any kind of controversy. For the record, controversy with regard to the script is not a new thing. It had been raging since the first half of 20th century with the coming of a revivalist movement led by NaoriyaPhulo. He had then challenged the script officially recognised by the Royal Palace with his own set of alphabets.

The script recognised by the Royal Palace then had 36 characters and it was mainly based on Bengali script which was introduced in the state after Vaishnavism became the state religion. After the advent of Vaishnavism, most official Puyas were written with the 36-character script as mandated by the Royal Palace. There is no dearth of books in the form of manuscripts or Puyas written in old and archaic Manipuri by ancient scholars with subjects ranging from sources of historiography to indigenous knowledge systems, rituals and cultural practices, statecraft, geography and drainage system, genealogy, political allegory, principles of war and humanitarian traditions, and even studies in astrology and astronomy.

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What is worth mentioning here is that although the Puyas were written then, the content was based on ancient knowledge carried forward through the centuries via a strong oral tradition among scholars of the Royal Palace.

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It was during the reign of Chief MinisterYangmasoShaiza in late 70s that the movement for reviving the old script took centre-stage through a movement led by former MLA of KeishamthongLaishramManaobi and activist ChingshubamAkaba and a group of revivalists. An expert committee was formed and the claims of several groups were examined in detail before arriving at a conclusion and it was RK Dorendra’s government which approved the 27-character script in April 1980. It contained the original 18 alphabets and 9 other additional letters in keeping with the progressive nature of language. It was without the consonants or the LonsumMayek.

With the passage of time and interaction with other peoples more sounds and intonations were added to the language one speaks and so the original script of ours began lacking in letters or characters in expressing the changing spoken language. This, the then Expert Committee understood and they added the 9 additional characters to keep up with the progressive nature of the language. Tragedy is that, while the expert committee understood the progression, modern day revivalists refused to understand it sometimes.

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A common refrain among the revivalists has been that Manipuri language is corrupted with so many foreign words and terms and a concerted effort of weeding out foreign words or ‘lonyan’ from Manipuri language is gaining momentum in recent times.

What we must understand is that Manipuri language is a dynamic language and it has the strength to absorb foreign words into its fold and also adapt to change and modern realities. One has to believe in the resilience of the language and its adaptability to modern linguistic changes. It is one of the oldest languages in Southeast Asia, which has its own script and written literature.

Now coming back to the point, the Meetei script was introduced in 2006 in the schools and it is slowly replacing the Bengali script so much so that it has reached the college and University level now. So, the time has come for us to stop making up controversies around the script.

--Editorial

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First published:29 Jun 2022, 2:16 am

Tags:

manipuri languagemeetei mayekmeetei scriptlanguages in India

IFP Bureau

IFP Bureau

IMPHAL, Manipur

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