Tangkhul is a language spoken in the northernmost district of the Indian state of Manipur. Like Manipuri (or Meitei) and many other languages of Northeast India, Tangkhul is related to Tibetan and Burmese rather than to Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, or other well-known languages of India.

Tangkhul words can be very long and quite complicated in their structure. Sometimes single words may have to be translated with whole sentences in English. Also, pronouns (words like he, she, it, and they) can be left out if their meanings can still be filled in from context. Following are a list of sentences from Tangkhul and their English translations (in alphabetical order). In the English translations, pronouns are enclosed in parenthesis when they are left out of the Tangkhul sentences.

Tangkhul, unlike Modern English (but like Old English), distinguishes three different grammatical numbers: singular (referring to one person or thing), dual (referring to two persons or things), and plural (referring to three or more persons or things). The abbreviations sg., dl., and pl. indicate "singular," "dual" and "plural," respectively.

Question: Match the Tangkhul phrases with their original English translations.

Tangkhul phrases English Translations
a) a masikserra 1. 1) Do they (pl.) want to pinch one another?
b) āni masikngarokei 2) Do you (sg.) see it?
c) āthum masikngarokngāilā 3) Have you (pl.) all come?
d) ini thāingarokei 4) He/she will pinch all (of them).
e) na thāilā 5) (They) all have come.
f) ithum thāingāihāirara 6) They (dl.) pinched one another.
g) rāserhāira 7) They (dl.) will come.
h) āni rāra 8) We (pl.) will have wanted to see (it).
i) nathum rāserhāiralā 9) We (dl.) saw one another.

My attempt:

The Tangkhul phrases (a), (b) and (c) refer to a common word. Similarly, (d), (e) and (f) is a set, while (g), (h) and (i) is a set.

Similarly in the English translations, (1, 4, 6) is a set, and so is (2, 8, 9) and (3, 5, 7).

The tenses vary too, and it looks like I am getting confused as to what is what.

The answer:

a=4, b=6, c=1, d=9, e=2, f=8, g=5, h=7, i=3.

Source of the question: Previous Year Questions of UGEE by IIIT Hyderabad.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't have enough time to write a full answer, but the key insight for me was that rot13(Gnatxuhy cuenfrf frrz gb nyy unir n fhowrpg-cerqvpngr fgehpgher rkprcg bar gung unf bayl gur cerqvpngr, naq bayl bar Ratyvfu genafyngvba nf n fhowrpg znexrq jvgu oenpxrgf nf bzvggrq va gur bevtvany irefvba) $\endgroup$
    – Leo
    Commented Apr 25 at 4:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Please don't post decoded versions of rot13 comments, they are used on this site to avoid spoiling the solution to people who would like to figure it out themselves (and whoever is interested can use a website like rot13.com to easily decode the comment themselves). For a similar reason you could also have avoided including the answer in the original post, and only told answerer whether they were right or wrong. This was a fun puzzle to solve, thank you! $\endgroup$
    – Leo
    Commented Apr 29 at 2:17

1 Answer 1


My solution

a-4 b-6 c-1 d-9 e-2 f-8 g-5 h-7 i-3 (same as the original post, but I figured this out before revealing it)

How I got there

Looking at the Tangkhul phrases we can notice that

They are all made of two words, likely a pronoun/subject and a verb/predicate. The only exception to this is g) rāserhāira

The corresponding English translations have a similar feature

Only one of them marks the subject in parentheses as left out from the corresponding Tangkhul phrase. This lets us match g-5

We can now look at the main root in each phrase as suggested in the question

And see that rā- is likely the verb to come, so h and i should be 3 and 7 in some order.

To disambiguate, we go back to the pronouns

Where āni appears in both h and b, and while you(pl.) is only in 3, they(dl.) is in both 7 and 6. We can then match h-7, b-6, and i-3.

Now we have a new starting point

From b-6 we infer that masik- means to pinch, so a and c are 1 and 4 in some order, and def correspond to 289 (thāi- = to see). b, c, and d all share the same -ngarok- infix: this could mean one another since it is present in two "pinching" sentences and one "seeing" sentence. With that we get c-1, a-4 and d-9.

A final couple remains to disambiguate

e, f and 2, 8.

For this, several clues make me think that

e-2 f-8

is the right answer. Here they are:

Comparing g and i we see that the only change in the verb is the final suffix -lā, which could mean that this is what turns all have come in 5 into have all come? in 3. Then e, ending with the same suffix, should be a question. This is consistent with the other question c-1 also ending with -lā.

The pronoun ithum is very similar to āthum and nathum, which mean they(pl.) and you(pl.) respectively. It makes sense that ithum would complete the set as we(pl.), leading to f-8.

We will have wanted to see is grammatically more complex than Do you see it?, so it makes sense that the corresponding Tangkhul phrase (especially the verb part) is more complex as well.

At the end there is one detail that I still cannot make sense of, and after double- and triple-checking my reasoning I will claim that the original puzzle has a mistake:

2) Do you (sg.) see it?

Should be

2) Do you (sg.) see (it)?

This is because

In na thāilā, na is the subject (you), thāi- means to see, and -lā makes this phrase a question. This would then translate as Do you see?, without an object. However, from the other sentences using it we can deduce that thāi- is likely a transitive verb in Tangkhul, so the English translation needs to add an object pronoun even if it is implicit in the original version, the same thing that happens in f-8.


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