Teaching a Language

In all teaching it must be an advantage for both teacher and student if both parts are aware of elements that can become specific obstacles for learning. This little article is an (amateurish) attempt to point at a few of these elements when it is about Chins learning English. Hakha Chin (hereafter called Lai) and English are so structurally different that what is obvious to a westerner may be completely new and unexpected to a Chin, and vice verca.

Actually, a number of scientists have dealt with Haka Chin, and some of their articles can be accessed at the internet:

Matthew S. Dryer: Word Order in Tibeto-Burman Languages.
David A. Peterson: Hakha Lai.
David A. Peterson: The Morphosyntax of Transitivization in Lai (Haka Chin). 1998
Larry M. Hyman & Kenneth VanBik: Tone and Stem2-formation in Hakha (Lai Chin).
Larry M. Hyman & Kenneth VanBik: Tone and Syllable Structure in Hakha-Lai.
No Than Kap: The Written Word of Chin.
Andreas Kathol: Cooperating Constructions in Lai "Lexical Insertion". 2003
George Bedell: Causatives and Clause Union in Lai (Chin). 1997
George Bedell: Word Combination in Lai. 2001
George Bedell: Nominal Auxiliaries in Lai. 2007
George Bedell: Genitive Constructions in Lai. 2007
George Bedell: Agreement in Lai. 1998
George Bedell: Passives and Clefts in Lai. 2001
George Bedell: Benefactives and Clause Union in Lai. 2003
George Bedell: Negation in Lai. 2007
George Bedell: The Syntax of Deixis in Lai. 2001
George Bedell and K. VanBik: Lexical and Syntactic Causatives in Lai. 2002
George Bedell & Roland Siang Nawl: Lai Reflexives and Reciprocals. 2012
F. K. Lehman (Chit Hlaing): Relative Clauses in Lai Chin ... 1996
F. K. Lehman (Chit Hlaing): On the Use of Dah in Lai Chin Questions and the Operator Synax of Functions. 1998
F. K. Lehman with A. Ceu Hlun: Number Marking in Lai Chin and its Theoretical Consequenses. 2002
F. K. L. Chit Hlaing and Ceu Hlun: The Proper Syntax of Case and the Determiner Phrase (DP) in Lai Chin. 2003
Ceu Hlun: Pragmatic Influence of Pronouns in Lai (Hakha) Chin, with Especial Reference to Focus and Contrast. 2007
Darya Kavitskaya: Tense and Aspect in Lai Chin. 1997
Nurit Melnik: Verbal Alternations in Lai. 1997
Jason D. Patent: Lai Verb Lists. 1997

Most of the articles are from Sealang.net and CSLI Publications, and from Language in India. The problem for us laymen is that they are so hard to understand because of the highly refined technical vocabulary they are using. So what has come out of my reading can only be fragmentary and insufficient. But let's try:



In our western languages we use different verbal forms to indicate difference in tense and aspect. Not so i Lai. Most verbs have two forms, but their function is completely different from what we are used to. Very roughly spoken (and maybe not even quite correct) one form is used in main clauses and another in subordinate clause1). We even see specific forms of some verbs when the action that the verb indicates is done for somebody else than the subject of that verb.

For indication of tense and aspect Lai has a number of adverbial particles that can be added to the clause. They can express i.a. future, past tense, perfect tense, ongoing action, repeated action.

There is quite a bit of such adverbial particles and some of them can express more than we can do in a whole sentence. - One of the above authors has given a list like this: 2)


There is no specific genetive form and not really any plural form.
If the speaker feels it necessary to indicate plurality, he can add the suffix '-le' to the noun.
In genitival constructions the owner simply comes before the owned .
Van mawṭaka = Van's motorcar.


Relative clauses

A relative clause comes before the noun it is related to. Example:
Sibawi nih a ka pekmi si kaa ziak ngai = The medicine the doctor gav me helps me very much.
The clause ' Sibawi nih a ka pek ' means in itself 'The doctor gave (it)  me; the 'mi' makes the clause relative to 'si' which means medicine.


Opposite in our languages prepositions come after the word they are relatet to. So they are actually postpositions.
'Falam ah' = 'to Falam'.
That is also true if  they relate to a clause:
'A ei dih hnu ah a kal' = After he had finished eating, he went.
'A ei dih' = 'He finished eating'; 'hnu ah' = after; 'a kal' = he went.

Object before verb

This is again the opposite of what we do in our languages.

Mipa nih rawl a chuan = The man cooked the food
'Mipa nih' = 'the man' + 'nih' which marks that he is the subject in a transitive clause; 'rawl' = food; 'a chuan' = he cooked.

It is the same if the object is a clause:
Amah bawm ka duh = I want to help him.
'Amah' = him; 'bawm' = help; 'ka duh' = I want to.


Roland Siang Nawl, M. Div., now living in Melbourne, Australia, is writing the first ever Chin grammar. He has generously permitted me to publish some of his articles. Verbal Alternation (here slightly shortened) explains in detail how the verbal forms are used. The orther two rendered here are Pronouns and Agreements in Lai and Auxiliaries.

Johs. Lind

1) A bit more (but not completely) precise:

2) Darya Kavitskaya has this list of particles. He has written it with phonetic transcription; I have tried to use ordinary writing:


rak: perfective
von: immediate action (in close proximity, immediately reachable)
hung: directional (ma be used as aspectual)


lai: future / irrealis
cang: perfective/completive (cf. cang ‘happen’; ‘become’)
dih: completive / exhaustive (cf. dih ‘to finish’)
beh: immanent (cf. beh ‘to stick’)
bal: experiential
tawn: habitual
lio: progressive
lengmang: continuous
zungzal: continuous
cuahman: iterative
peng: continuative
len: cuntinuative (with great effort)
sek: continuous effort in vain
hoi: repeated regretative
ta: durative
chom: action for the moment / immediately
colh, cawlh: to V immediately
duak: same as colh
deng: to be about to
dengmang: to be about to
hnik: to be about to (more immediate than dengmang)
kahn: prioritive
ka: the beginning point of V-ing
ceu: just (supposed to happen earlier , long overdue)
ṭhan: again
rih: still