Bishnupriya Manipuri is a language spoken by over 100,000 people in the Indian states of Assam and Tripura and the neighboring Bangladeshi state of Sylhet and is related to such major regional languages as Bengali and Assamese. Bishnupriya Manipuri people have continually struggled for recognition of their rights and their culture in the face of larger groups.
Bishnupriya Manipuri is classified as an Eastern Indo-Aryan language, related to such major regional languages as Bengali and Assamese. The label “Manipuri” is due to the origins of the language in the Indian state of Manipur, from which speakers had to flee during political and ethnic upheavals of the 18th and 19th centuries. Notably, speakers of the language appear to have had prolonged contact with Meitei, a Tibeto-Burman language (sometimes called Manipuri), and so Bishnupriya Manipuri, although clearly Indo-Aryan, has picked up Tibeto-Burman features as well. Two dialects have been identified, Madai Gang “Queen’s village” and Rajar Gang “King’s village”, the first of which shows more influence from Tibeto-Burman Meitei, though they are mutually intelligible to a significant degree.
Since the expulsion from Manipur, the Bishnupriya Manipuri language has been under pressure from both Meitei, the dominant language of the region, and Bangla, the official language of Bangladesh and the Indian state of Bengal. The use of Bishnupriya Manipuri had been banned at one point in Manipur and still faces difficulties in Bangladesh, where it lacks official status.
It was thought by many that Bishnupriya Manipuri would not withstand these pressures. Today, however, Bishnupriya Manipuri is recognized by the Indian state governments of Assam and Tripura. Local and national television stations have featured Bishnupriya Manipuri, as have radio stations, print media, and other formats. There is also significant activity with new media and new technologies, with language activists using Wikipedia, Facebook, and other platforms. The language has developed and sustained a written tradition, employing the Bengali alphabet. Nonetheless, the emigration of Bishnupriya people and the adoption of major languages such as Bengali, Assamese, Hindi, and English may have long-term repercussions for the language.
The following is a collection of words and phrases:
Bishnupriya has been investigated and described by both community members and outside linguists, although certain features of the language remain little-documented and poorly understood. Among the early pioneers were Sri Sri Bhubaneshwar Sadhu Thakur and Gokulananda Gitiswami, and more recently, Justice SK Sinha of Bangladesh and author Brojendra Kumar Sinha. The works of Kali Prasad Sinha are among the cornerstones of the modern study of the language and more recently the work of Ranjit Singha, a researcher in Bangladesh.
The Endangered Language Alliance has worked primarily with Uttam Singha, a language activist and founding member of Pouri International, a Bishnupriya news and literature organization. Uttam has presented in conjunction with ELA on his work developing Bishnupriya online and offline–through a dictionary, a web portal, a blog, and other projects.
Since 2019, Shweta Akolkar has been working with Uttam on various aspects of grammar, with a focus on case marking, classifiers and light verbs, among other topics. Together, they have also completed the transcription and translation of a community recording event held at ELA, which can be seen here. All of this data is available in Kratylos here, in the form of an interlinearized text corpus.
Bishnupriya Manipuri people, some of whom came from Assam or Tripura in India and others who migrated from Bangladesh, live within the larger Indian and Bangladeshi immigrant community of New York, particularly in Jackson Heights, Queens, as well as various areas of New Jersey.