Words with the suffix string -laroige (or -raroige) began to trickle in to my ears at least fifteen years ago. Considering the remarkably small scope of my social interaction, specially where Manipuri is the air, it must certainly have been writers that I heard such words spoken by for the first time. The first mention of any such words as far as I can remember was by a writer friend of mine, Thokchom Kiran, from Wangoo Mamang Sabal when he spoke in a Sahitya Seva Samiti literary function at Yambem Mani Sahitya Bhawan, Kakching, around 2005. He was–I don’t know if he still “is”–a Meitei or Meetei (not sure which one) revivalist at least in language. When he mentioned a -laroige or -raroige word, he was not just using it unconsciously–he was damning it, he said it was wrong, meaningless and unreasonable, and symptomatic of shameful degradation of the so beautiful and dignified language of Manipuri.
Why I assume it must be the first time I heard a word with the suffix string -laroige or -raroige said or written is that I was surprised when he used those example words. He used more words than one (one word I can remember is touraroige), I think, and he was mentioning them as examples. The first time I heard such words said was when they were sad by one of their die-hard critics. Interestingly I did not find anything wrong or so degraded in the words. I must have heard such words so many times after that day and I must not have paid much attention to them that three years ago, I found–when I paid attention to what I talked with people on the phone–many such words to have crept into my speech.
Then, in recent years after I find myself saying such words, I find a new wave of language saints (writers, especially elderly ones) outspokenly hating such words and doing all they can to throw them into the sea.
Now the question is: Is chatlaroige a word? Are such formations words?
In the last few years I have heard several people who do things with words as the primary occupation of their life–poets, columnists, general language lovers–damning words of the form verb+la/raroige and cursing those who say these words.
One of their arguments is that such words are formed of two negative elements making the word something like the English word irregardless, blamed equally and for similar reasons. A teacher of mine, P. Kunjo, who taught me English in the late 1990s, has criticized this word in a couple of public speeches, one being when he presided over my third book, the Manipuri translation of some of Tomas Transtromer’s poems. P. Kunjo is an MA in Manipuri, has taught Manipuri at college (he was the Principal of Kakching Girls College), has tutored hundreds of students in English grammar at his residence, writes prose and poetry in Manipuri, often contributes articles to the most widely circulating local vernacular newspaper, Poknapham. His major argument against verb+la/raroige is that it is double negative. I also have read poet Birendrajit Naorem appealing to his follow poets against such words.
However, I don’t see no double negative here. -loi/roi is negative but -ge is not negative. I would rather say what is apparently problematic and troubling the sprachgefühl of the peevers is this unlikely combination of the negative and the affirmative-looking element in a single word. Still I don’t think it should necessarily be a problem because, not just in linguistics but in all human realms of understanding, we first conceive of something affirmative and make the negative counterpart of it. Even the philosophers who believe in the harmony and unity of things base their negatively polarizing terms on already existing affirmative terms–advaita, non-dual, etc. Moreover, I think -ge is not really an affirmative polarity item. In linguistics, polarity is a grammatical category associated with affirmative and negative. -ge functions as a maker of four things in different cases:
- Asking permission for what you want to do. For example, Ima, imannaba mayam chak chanadouri. Ei yaoruge?
- Asking somebody’s opinion about what you are going to do. For example, Sigi hidaksi thajillaga yenge. Bera kadourijatla?
- Making your intention (what you are going to do) known, at least just for information or for your own pleasure. For example, Hayengdi furit fajaba ama leiruge.
- Telling somebody that you will do what they have told you to do. For example, Hoi, ngaihak leirage touge.
The four above uses of -ge (and its phonetic variant -ke) are distinct. Interestingly these sentences are all in the affirmative and this polarity is not because of -ge. How will you ask the opinion of your superior when you say you are wondering if it is OK not to do something, or when you ask the permission for not doing something, using the negative equivalents of the first two examples above, without introducing new words or phrases? Normally we add negative polarizing items at the end of verbs–chat-te, chat-loi, etc. But these straight negatives don’t carry the additional senses or nuances that could have been conveyed with -ge.
To be continued.