PRONOUNS AND AGREEMENTS IN LAI

by Roland Siang Nawl, M. Div.

Pronouns

Lai has six personal pronouns, which stand both as subjects and as objects.

Persons Singular Plural
First person: keimah kanmah
Second person: nangmah nanmah
Third person: amah anmah

Pronominal Agreements

Lai has six subject and possessive pronominal agreement markers, which are obligatory in utterance or making a sentence.

Many, if not all, the Lai speakers have been convinced that particles such as ka, kan, na, nan, a, an are nominal or pronominal agreement markers copulating with verbs and nouns (as possessive) by Dr. George Bedell.1 Prior to that time, all the Lai speakers considered that these particles as pronouns, though they are not used in place of nouns.

Persons Singular Plural
First person: ka kan
Second person: na nan
Third person: a an
  1. Ral Mang cu ralkap a si. Amah cu miralṭha a si.
    Ral Mang is a soldier. He is a brave man.
  2. Ral Mang le Lian Mang cu unau an si. Anmah cu zohchun awk tlaak mino an si.
    Ral Mang and Lian Mang are siblings. They are exemplary youths.
  3. Keimah cu miṭha si ka duh.
    I want to become a good man.
  4. Nangmah cu ka dawtmi ka fa na si.
    You are my son, who I love.
  5. Nanmah nan kal a hau lai.
    It will be necessary that you go (because no other person is ready to go).

In Lai (Chin-Hakha), the agreement markers are obligatory whereas the pronouns are optional in most situations. Pronouns may be omitted in some sentences unless they are required for identification of the entity or for semantic clarification.

Pronouns in the above sentences may be eliminated to make the same sentences with little or some alterations in sense as in sentences (6) ṭhough (10).

  1. Ral Mang cu ralkap a si. Miṭha a si.
  2. Ral Mang le Lian Mang cu unau an si. Zohchun awk tlaak mino an si.
  3. Miṭha si ka duh.
  4. Ka dawtmi ka fa na si.
  5. Nan kal a hau lai.
    It will be necessary for you to go. (or You must go.)

Sentences (5) and (10) can be understood in one sense, but they are different in another sense.

The sentence Nanmah nan kal a hau lai in (5) suggests “Obligation falls on you to go because there is no other person ready to go” while Nan kal a hau lai in (10) renders “You will have to go (otherwise something wrong may happen with you if you remain here).”

More about the agreement markers will be discussed in latter chapters.

Variants of pronouns

Functionally, Lai pronouns are of two types with similar senses but different uses according to the contexts they are used in. These functionally different types of pronouns, also known as variants of pronouns, are classified as focus and contrast as shown below. 2

FocusContrast
1keimahkei
2kanmahkannih
3nangmahnang
4nanmahnannih
5amahanih
6anmahannih

Except the first person and second persons singular in (1) and (3), all the pronouns of focus have alterations in the second suffixes mah into nih in their variants of contrast as under:

FocusContrast
7kanmahkannih
8nanmahnannih
9amahanih
10anmahannih

Unlike the above rules of alterations in the endings, the first and second person singular pronouns of focus—keimah and nangmah— decline in the contrast with the final endings dropping as in (11) and (12);

FocusContrast
11keimahkei
12nangmahnang

Uses of Pronominal Variants

It is noteworthy that the frequency of pronominal uses varies in terms of singularity and plurality. Singular pronouns are more frequently used focally than contrastively whereas plural pronouns are more frequent in the contrast than in the focus.

The following table shows the frequencies in use of focus and contrast pronouns in Lai Baibal Thiang (the Holy Bible (the translated version in Hakha-Chin).3

Singular

Focus

contrast

Pronoun

numbers found

Pronouns

numbers found

keimah

1539

kei

433

nangmah

2079

nang

257

amah

3452

anih

308

Plural

Focus contrast
Pronoun

numbers found

Pronouns

numbers found

kanmah

227

kannih

485

nanmah

653

nannih

1157

anmah

676

annih

1865

Use of Focus Pronouns

Pronouns of focus, not contrast, are used when they stand as the complement of a subject.

(13) Khen Tling cu amah hi a si.
3 comp. dem 3agrS be
Khen Tling is him.

(14) A rak in cawmkengtu kha amah hi a si.
3AgrSg Aspect 2AgrO raiser dem 3-comp dem 3Agr be.
The one who raised you in the past is him.

(15) Na zohmi ngaknu pawl kha, kanmah pei kan si cu.
2AgrSg look-Rel girls Pl dem 3-compl posp 1AgrPl be pp
The girls you were looking at were us.

Focus pronouns are used to indicate who the particularized person is.

  1. Amah cu David tefa a si.
    3Sg topicalizer descendant 3AS be
    He is the descendant of David.
  1. Fon a ring. Fon tlaitu nih,
    1. “Pa Kung, nangmah an in auh,” a ti.
    2. “Keimah maw?” Pa Kung nih a hal.
    The phone was ringing. The operator said,
    1. “Pa Kung, it is you who is called.”
    2. “Is it me?” asked Pa Kung.

  2. Anmah kha zung ah a chuak ding an si. (who?)
    3Pl dem office dat 3agr go out Oblig 3AgrPl be
    It is they who are to go out into the (court) office.

  3. Kanmah mui an keng lai i kanmah he an i lo lai.
    1Pl image 3AP hold fut and 1Pl with 3AgrPl Agr-Midbe like fut
    They will have our image and will be like us.

Focus pronouns are used before intensifiers such as theng, bak, lehtuk, lila, hrimhrim, pei, rumro, te in, telawng, etc, that indicate emphases on the person itself.

  1. Kan ram nih nangmahtheng aan herh.
    1AgrPl country erg 2Sg Posp. 3AgrSub+2AgrObj need
    Our country particularly needs you.

  2. Mah cakuat hi nangmah hrimhrim nih zung ah na va peek lai.
    This letter dem 2Sg particularly erg office to 2AgrSg dir give fut
    You yourself will deliver this letter to the office.

  3. Amahlawng nih hi rian hi a tuan kho lai lo.
    He/She only erg this work this 3S work able Fut neg
    He will not be able to finish this work on his own.

  4. Nuva thar hna cu anmah pahnih telawng khual an tlawng.
    Couple new pl that they two alone journey 3Pl travel
    The new couple went for a trip on their own.

In Lai (Hakha-Chin), the intensifying words are in the postpositional category while their translated equivalences in English are adverbs.

Focus pronouns are used to indicate reflexive, reciprocal and emphatic actions.

  1. Nangmah le nangmah i fak hlah.
    You and You Reflexive praise neg
    Do not praise yourself.
    Nang le nang i fak hlah.*
  2. Amah le amah aa hlengmi cu hlen thiam taktak a si.
    They and they 3reflexive lie-Rel that lie know-how really 3sS be

    Anih le anih aa hlengmi cu hlenthiam bik a si.*
    He who lies to himself is really a good liar.

  3. Keimah ruangah ṭap hlah u, nanmah le nan fale caah khan ṭap deuh u.
    Do not weep because of me, but because of your own children.

  4. Kanmah le kanmah kan i doh ahcun kan bu a rawk lai. (reflexive)
    We and we 1sS Reflexive fight if 1PosPl org 3sS ruin fut
    Our organization will be shattered if we fight against ourselves.

  5. Nanmah le nanmah kha i bawmchan u. (reciprocal)
    You and you that Reciprocal help 2Pl Imperative
    Help each other.

Use of Contrast Pronouns

Contrast pronouns are used in situations that express peculiarity of the entity from its type as in the following sentences.

  1. Ka pa kuli pawl hmanh nih ei awk an ngei. Kei vial hika hin ka thi cuahmah.
    Even my father’s servants have enough to eat. But me, I am dying here.
  2. Kei ka pennak cu hi vawlei ta hi a si lo.
    My kingdom is not of this world. (Different from other kingdoms)
  3. Nang lebang cu mah tlaang cung ah na kai kho lai lo.
    You especially will not be able to climb the mountain.
  4. Kei ka nawlbia cu hihi a si. (midang nawlbia he a danter)
    My command is this. (Different from others’)
  5. Sianginn in midang an i phuah dih hmanh ah nang cu kai peng ko.
    Even if others drop out of school, as for you, please keep studying.

Contrast pronouns are used when two entities are in opposite situations.

  1. Anih cu a ṭhangcho lai; kei cu ka ṭumchuk lai.
    He will become great; I will become less.
  2. Kannih cu kan der nain nannih cu nan ṭhawng.
    We are weak; but you are strong.
  3. Nannih duhdim in nan nun lio, annih vial rawlṭaam in um.
    While you are in abundance, they are in starvation.

Contrast pronouns are used in the contexts where there is the additive zong

  1. Min an au tikah kei zong ka um ve lai.
    Name 3Ap call when 1sS too 1As be too future
    When the roll is called up, I will be there too.
  2. ‘Nihin cu ka khua a sik ngai.’ ‘Kei zong ka khua a sik ve.’
    ‘I feel cold today.’ ‘Me too, I feel the same.’
  3. Keimah na cungah zumh awk tlaak in ka um bantuk in nang zong ka cung ah um ve.
    As I am faithful to you, be faithful to me too.
  4. Kei zong, amah cu ka bia ve lai.
    I, too, will worship him.

Contrast pronouns are used in contexts when you are making an offer or a suggestion in questions, for example, like ‘how/what about you?’

  1. A: Kannih cu kan leeng lai. Nang tah, na ra ve lai maw?
    We are going out. What about you? Are you coming along with me?
    B: Kei zong ka ra ve lai.
    I, too, will come along with you.
  2. Keimah ka min cu Ram Lian a si. Nang tah? (Na min aho dah a si?)
    My name is Ram Lian. And you? (What is your name?)

Contrast pronouns are used in situations that suggest distribution of things or duties as shown in the following examples.

  1. Nang orhlei na kal ahcun kei cu kehlei ah ka kal lai.
    If you take the right side, I will take the left side.
    Nangmah orhlei na kal ahcun keimah keihlei ah ka kal lai.*
  2. Nang rawl chum law kei ti than ning.
    You take cooking and let me fetch water.
  3. Anih hmun piak seh.
    Let her take cleaning.
  4. Cu khawh cun, kannih pahnih cu dawr ah kan kal te lai.
    After that, you and I will go to the market.

In the context where more than three groups of people are introducing themselves, a focus pronoun is used for the first one and contrast pronouns are used for the rest.

  1. Keimah ka min cu Chum Nawl a si.
    My name is Chum Nawl.
  2. Kei ka min cu Ngun Tling a si.
    My name is Ngun Tling.
  3. Anih min cu Zing Iang a si.
    Her name is Zing Iang.
  4. Nang na min tah ahodah a si?
    And you? What is your name?
  5. Annih khi cu an min ka hngal hna lo.
    As for them, I don’t know their names.
  6. Kannih cu kan min i chim a hau lai lo.
    As for us, we don’t need to tell our names.

The following sentences contain both focus and contrast pronouns of the first, second, and third persons.

  1. Voi khat ah, keimah lawng zung in ka rak ṭin.
    Once, I was walking home alone from office.
  2. Lamlai ah mipa pakhat amah lawng sawn lengmang in a rat khi ka hei hmuh.
    I saw a man staggering in the middle of the road coming close to me.
  3. Tanbo aa put. Mah hi cu ral a si cang ti kha ka hngalh.
    He was holding a club. I was aware that he was a danger to me.
  4. Keimah nih ka zuanhnawh hmasa lo ahcun amah nih a ka zuanhnawh ding a fiang cang.
    If I don’t attack him first, it was sure he would attack me.
  5. Kan i naih tuk cang i, a tanbo cu aa thlir i tuk a ka zalh. (Here, no need to use pronouns)
    We got very close to each other. He was about to beat me with the club.
  6. Keimah nih zuanhnawh hmasa ning law ka ti.
    Let me be the first to attack, I thought to myself.
  7. Ka handbag kam khat ah ka chiah zialmal i amah cu ka hei zuanhnawh.
    Putting my handbag somewhere in a corner, I sprang at him.
  8. A tai in ka tlaih i ka tengh. Cutikah annih nih a vun ka leh ve.
    With my arms gripping round the hip, I beat him fall down. So, he fought me back.
  9. Ka sam in a ka tlaih. Kei nih a hrom in ka dih ve.
    He dragged me by the hair. I squeezed him on the thrhoat.
  10. Cuticun, anih/amah zong cawl kho lo, kei/keimah zong cawl kho lo in kan i sualsan.
    In this way, we keep grappling against each other till neither he nor I could move any longer.
  11. Mah lio ah cun palik an ra phaan i an kan ṭhen. “Nanmah pahnih lakah aho dah a sual hmasa?” tiah an kan hal.
    Meanwhile, police came to the scene and separated us apart. “Which of you two started the fight?” they asked.
  12. Kei nih “Amah a sual hmasa,” ka ti.
    I said, “He was the first to wrong me.”
  13. Anih nih keimah sual hmasat a ka puh ve.
    He accused me of being the first to wrong me.
  14. Kei nih ka thawh i, “Nangmah nih pei tuk na ka zalh hmasa kha,” ka ti
    I said to him, “You [not I] meant to beat me first.”
  15. Anih nih, “Nangmah nih pei na ka zuanhnawh hmasa ko kha,” a ka ti ve.
    He said, “You started the attack on me first.”
  16. Palik nih cun, “Nannih nih nan chim veve tikah nan palh veve lo, asinain hihnu ah i vel ti hlah u,” an kan ti i an kan ṭhen.
    The police said, “When you claimed your defense, none of you are not wrong, but don’t quarrel anymore.”
  17. Anih cu an kalter i kei tu cu anmah lila nih inn ah an ka thlah.
    As for HIM, they let him go, but ME, they (the police) themselves took me home.
  18. Palik kha ra hna hlah seh law, amah nih maw ka tei hnga keimah nih dek a ka tei hnga?
  19. If the police had not arrived there, I wonder if I would have beaten him or he would have beaten me.
  20. Keimah nih ka tei khawhnak ding cu, kei cu cungah ka um i, anih cu tang ah a um caah keimah caah teinak lam a um deuh.
    The reason for my conquest is that I was in a better position above him, so I had more chance to defeat him.

1. George Bedell, “Agreements in Lai,” (1996).

2. The pronominal variation in Lai was, as far as I know, first researched by Albert Ceu Hlun in his article “Pragmatic Influence on Pronouns in Lai (Hakha-Chin), with Especial Reference to Focus and Contrast” SEALSXII: papers from the 12th meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society (2002), edited by Ratree Wayland, John Hartmann & Paul Sidwell (Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, 2007), pp.79-88. Retrieved 3 August 2012 http://sealang.net/sala/archives/pdf8/hlun2002pragmatic.pdf.

3. Lai Baibal Thiang, retrieved 17 July 2009. http://www.myanmarbible.com/bible/Hakha/html/index.html