PRONOUNS AND AGREEMENTS IN
by Roland Siang Nawl, M.
Lai has six personal pronouns, which stand both as subjects
and as objects.
Lai has six subject and possessive pronominal agreement
markers, which are obligatory in utterance or making a
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.
- Ral Mang cu ralkap a si. Amah
cu miralṭha a si.
Ral Mang is a soldier. He is a brave man.
- 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
- Keimah cu miṭha si ka duh.
I want to become a good man.
- Nangmah cu ka dawtmi ka fa na si.
You are my son, who I love.
- 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).
- Ral Mang cu ralkap a si. Miṭha
- Ral Mang le Lian Mang cu unau an si. Zohchun
awk tlaak mino an si.
- Miṭha si ka duh.
- Ka dawtmi ka fa na si.
- Nan kal a hau lai.
It will be necessary for you to go. (or You must
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
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
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:
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
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
Use of Focus Pronouns
Pronouns of focus, not
contrast, are used when they stand as the complement of a
(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
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.
- Amah cu
David tefa a si.
3Sg topicalizer descendant 3AS be
He is the descendant of David.
- Fon a ring. Fon tlaitu nih,
The phone was ringing. The operator said,
- “Pa Kung, nangmah an in auh,” a ti.
- “Keimah maw?” Pa Kung nih a hal.
- “Pa Kung, it is you who is called.”
- “Is it me?” asked Pa Kung.
- Anmah kha zung ah a chuak ding an si.
dem office dat 3agr go out Oblig 3AgrPl be
It is they who are to go out into the (court) office.
- Kanmah mui an keng lai i kanmah he an i lo
1Pl image 3AP hold fut and 1Pl with 3AgrPl Agr-Midbe like
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
- Kan ram nih nangmahtheng aan
country erg 2Sg Posp. 3AgrSub+2AgrObj need
Our country particularly needs you.
- Mah cakuat hi nangmah hrimhrim nih
zung ah na va peek lai.
letter dem 2Sg particularly erg office to 2AgrSg dir give
You yourself will deliver this letter to the office.
- Amahlawng nih hi rian hi a tuan kho
only erg this work this 3S work able Fut neg
He will not be able to finish this work on his own.
- Nuva thar hna cu anmah pahnih
telawng khual an tlawng.
new pl that they two alone journey 3Pl travel
The new couple went for a trip on their own.
(Hakha-Chin), the intensifying words are in the postpositional
category while their translated equivalences in English are
Focus pronouns are
used to indicate reflexive, reciprocal and emphatic
- Nangmah le nangmah i fak hlah.
and You Reflexive praise neg
Do not praise yourself.
Nang le nang i fak hlah.*
- Amah le amah aa hlengmi cu hlen thiam taktak
and they 3reflexive lie-Rel that lie know-how really 3sS
Anih le anih aa hlengmi cu hlenthiam bik a
He who lies to himself is really a good liar.
- 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.
- Kanmah le kanmah kan i doh ahcun kan bu a
rawk lai. (reflexive)
we 1sS Reflexive fight if 1PosPl org 3sS ruin fut
Our organization will be shattered if we fight against
- Nanmah le nanmah kha i bawmchan u.
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
- 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
- Kei ka pennak cu hi vawlei ta hi a si
My kingdom is not of this world. (Different from other
- Nang lebang cu mah tlaang cung ah na kai kho
You especially will not be able to climb the mountain.
- Kei ka nawlbia cu hihi a si. (midang nawlbia
he a danter)
My command is this. (Different from others’)
- 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
Contrast pronouns are used when two entities are in opposite
- Anih cu a ṭhangcho lai;
kei cu ka ṭumchuk lai.
He will become great; I will become less.
- Kannih cu kan der nain
nannih cu nan ṭhawng.
We are weak; but you are strong.
- 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
- Min an au tikah kei zong ka um ve lai.
3Ap call when 1sS too 1As be too future
When the roll is called up, I will be there too.
- ‘Nihin cu ka khua a sik ngai.’
‘Kei zong ka khua a sik ve.’
‘I feel cold today.’ ‘Me too, I feel the
- 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.
- 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?’
- 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
B: Kei zong ka ra ve lai.
I, too, will come along with you.
- 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
- 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.*
- Nang rawl chum law kei ti
You take cooking and let me fetch water.
- Anih hmun piak seh.
Let her take cleaning.
- 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.
- Keimah ka min cu Chum Nawl a si.
My name is Chum Nawl.
- Kei ka min cu Ngun Tling a si.
My name is Ngun Tling.
- Anih min cu Zing Iang a si.
Her name is Zing Iang.
- Nang na min tah ahodah a si?
And you? What is your name?
- Annih khi cu an min ka hngal hna lo.
As for them, I don’t know their names.
- 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.
- Voi khat ah, keimah lawng zung in ka rak
Once, I was walking home alone from office.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Keimah nih zuanhnawh hmasa ning law ka
Let me be the first to attack, I thought to myself.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ka sam in a ka tlaih. Kei nih a hrom in ka
He dragged me by the hair. I squeezed him on the thrhoat.
- Cuticun, anih/amah zong cawl kho lo,
kei/keimah zong cawl kho lo in kan i
In this way, we keep grappling against each other till neither he
nor I could move any longer.
- 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
- Kei nih “Amah a sual
hmasa,” ka ti.
I said, “He was the first to wrong me.”
- Anih nih keimah sual hmasat
a ka puh ve.
He accused me of being the first to wrong me.
- 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
- Anih nih, “Nangmah
nih pei na ka zuanhnawh hmasa ko kha,” a ka ti ve.
He said, “You started the attack on me first.”
- 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.”
- 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.
- Palik kha ra hna hlah seh law, amah nih maw
ka tei hnga keimah nih dek a ka tei hnga?
- If the police had not arrived there, I wonder if I would have
beaten him or he would have beaten me.
- 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
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