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Assamese language

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Different scripts of different languages of India Assamese, also Asamiya, is an Indo-Aryan language spoken mainly in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam, where it is an official language, and it serves as a lingua franca of the wider region. The easternmost Indo-Iranian language, it has over 15 million speakers according to Ethnologue.

Nefamese, an Assamese-based pidgin, is used in Arunachal Pradesh, and Nagamese, an Assamese-based Creole language, is widely used in Nagaland. The Kamtapuri language of Rangpur division of Bangladesh and the Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri districts of India are linguistically closer to Assamese, though the speakers identify with the Bengali culture and the literary language. In the past, it was the court language of the Ahom kingdom from the 17th century.

Along with other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, Assamese evolved at least before the 7th century CE from the middle Indo-Aryan Magadhi Prakrit. Its sister languages include Angika, Bengali, Bishnupriya Manipuri, Chakma, Chittagonian, Hajong, Rajbangsi, Maithili, Rohingya and Sylheti. It is written in the Assamese alphabet, an abugida system, from left to right, with many typographic ligatures.


Table of contents
  1. History
  2. Geographical distribution
  3. Phonology
  4. Writing system
  5. Morphology and grammar
  6. Dialects
  7. Literature
  8. See also

History

Assamese originated in Old Indo-Aryan dialects, though the exact nature of its origin and growth is not clear yet. It is generally believed that Assamese and the Kamatapuri lects derive from the Kamarupi dialect of Eastern Magadhi Prakrit though some authors contest a close connection of Assamese with Magadhi Prakrit. The Indo-Aryan, which appeared in the 4th-5th century in Assam, was probably spoken in the new settlements of Kamarupa--in urban centers and along the Brahmaputra river--surrounded by Tibeto-Burman and Austroasiatic communities. Kakati's (1941) assertion that Assamese has an Austroasiatic substrate is generally accepted - which suggests that when the Indo-Aryan centers formed in the 4th-5th centuries CE, there were substantial Austroasiatic speakers that later accepted the Indo-Aryan vernacular. Based on the 7th-century Chinese traveler Xuanzang's observations, Chatterji (1926) suggests that the Indo-Aryan vernacular differentiated itself in Kamarupa before it did in Bengal, and that these differences could be attributed to non-Indo-Aryan speakers adopting the language. The newly differentiated vernacular, from which Assamese eventually emerged, is evident in the Prakritisms present in the Sanskrit of the Kamarupa inscriptions.

Magadhan and Gauda-Kamarupa stages

The earliest forms of Assamese in literature are found in the 9th-century Buddhist verses called Charyapada the language of which bear affinities with Assamese (as well as Bengali and Odia) and which belongs to a period when the Prakrit was at the cusp of differentiating into regional languages. The spirit and expressiveness of the Charyadas are today found in the folk songs called Deh-Bicarar Git.

In the 12th-14th century works of Ramai Pundit (Sunya Puran), Boru Chandidas (Krishna Kirtan), Sukur Mamud (Gopichandrar Gan), Durllava Mullik (Gobindachandrar Git) and Bhavani Das (Mainamatir Gan) Assamese grammatical peculiarities coexist with features from Bengali language. Though the Gauda-Kamarupa stage is generally accepted and partially supported by recent linguistic research, it has not been fully reconstructed.

Early Assamese

See also: Early Assamese and Assamese literature - Shankari literature (1490 1700 AD)

A distinctly Assamese literary form appeared first in the 13th-century in the courts of the Kamata kingdom when Hema Sarasvati composed the poem Prahrada Carita. In the 14th-century, Madhava Kandali translated the Ramayana into Assamese (Saptakanda Ramayana) in the court of Mahamanikya, a Kachari king from central Assam. Though the Assamese idiom in these works is fully individualised, some archaic forms and conjunctive particles too are found. This period corresponds to the common stage of proto-Kamta and early Assamese.

The emergence of Sankardev's Ekasarana Dharma in the 15th-century triggered a revival in language and literature. Sankardev produced many translated works and created new literary forms--Borgeets (songs), Ankia Naat (one-act plays)--infusing them with Brajavali idioms; and these were sustained by his followers Madhavdev and others in the 15th and subsequent centuries. In these writings the 13th/14th-century archaic forms are no longer found. Sankardev pioneered a prose-style of writing in the Ankia Naat. This was further developed by Bhattadeva who translated the Bhagavata Purana and Bhagavad Gita into Assamese prose. Bhattadev's prose was classical and restrained, with a high usage of Sanskrit forms and expressions in an Assamese syntax; and though subsequent authors tried to follow this style, it soon fell into disuse. In this writing the first person future tense ending -m (korim: "will do"; kham: "will eat") is seen for the first time.

Middle Assamese

The language moved to the court of the Ahom kingdom in the seventeenth century, where it became the state language. In parallel, the proselytising Ekasarana dharma converted many Bodo-Kachari peoples and there emerged many new Assamese speakers who were speakers of Tibeto-Burman languages. This period saw the emergence of different styles of secular prose in medicine, astrology, arithmetic, dance, music, besides religious biographies and the archaic prose of magical charms.

Most importantly this was also when Assamese developed a standardized prose in the Buranjis--documents related to the Ahom state dealing with diplomatic writings, administrative records and general history. The language of the Buranjis is nearly modern with some minor differences in grammar and with a pre-modern orthography. The Assamese plural suffixes (-bor, -hat) and the conjunctive participles (-gai: dharile-gai; -hi: pale-hi, baril-hi) become well established. The Buranjis, dealing with statecraft, was also the vehicle by which Arabic and Persian elements crept into the language in abundance. Due to the influence of the Ahom state the speech in eastern Assam took a homogeneous and standard form. The general schwa deletion that occurs in the final position of words came into use in this period.

Modern Assamese

The modern period of Assamese begins with printing--the publication of the Assamese Bible in 1813 from the Serampore Mission Press. But after the British East India Company (EIC) removed the Burmese in 1826 and took complete administrative control of Assam in 1836, it filled administrative positions with people from Bengal, and introduced Bengali language in its offices, schools and courts. The EIC had earlier promoted the development of Bengali to replace Persian, the language of administration in Mughal India, and maintained that Assamese was a dialect of Bengali.

Amidst this loss of status the American Baptist Mission (ABM) established a press in Sibsagar in 1846 leading to publications of an Assamese periodical (Orunodoi), the first Assamese grammar by Nathan Brown (1846), and the first Assamese-English dictionary by Miles Bronson (1863). The ABM argued strongly with the EIC officials in an intense debate in the 1850s to reinstate Assamese. Among the local personalities Anandaram Dhekial Phukan drew up an extensive catalog of medieval Assamese literature (among other works) and pioneered the effort among the natives to reinstate Assamese in Assam. Though this effort was not immediately successful the administration eventually declared Assamese the official vernacular in 1873 on the eve of Assam becoming a Chief Commissioner's Province in 1874.

Standardisation

In the extant medieval Assamese manuscripts the orthography was not uniform. The ABM had evolved a phonemic orthography based on a contracted set of characters. Working independently Hemchandra Barua provided an etymological orthography and his etymological dictionary, Hemkosh, was published posthumously. He also provided a Sanskritised approach to the language in his Asamiya Bhaxar Byakaran ("Grammar of the Assamese Language") (1859, 1873). Barua's approach was adopted by the Oxomiya Bhaxa Unnati Xadhini Xobha (1888, "Assamese Language Development Society") that emerged in Kolkata among Assamese students led by Lakshminath Bezbaroa. The Society published a periodical Jonaki and the period of its publication, Jonaki era, saw spirited negotiations on language standardization. What emerged at the end of those negotiations was a standard close to the language of the Buranjis with the Sanskritised orthography of Hemchandra Barua.

As the political and commercial center moved to Guwahati in the mid-twentieth century, of which Dispur the capital of Assam is a suburb and which is situated at the border between the western and central dialect speaking regions, standard Assamese used in media and communications today is a neutral blend of the eastern variety without its distinctive features. This core is further embellished with Goalpariya and Kamrupi idioms and forms.


Geographical distribution

Assamese is native to Assam. It is also spoken in states of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland. The Assamese script can be found in of present-day Burma. The Pashupatinath Temple in Nepal also has inscriptions in Assamese showing its influence in the past.

There is a significant Assamese-speaking diaspora worldwide.

Official status

Assamese is the official language of Assam, and one of the 22 official languages recognised by the Republic of India. The Assam Secretariat functions in Assamese.


Phonology

The Assamese phonemic inventory consists of eight vowels, ten diphthongs, and twenty-three consonants (including two semivowels).

Consonant clusters

Main article: Assamese consonant clusters

Alveolar stops

The Assamese phoneme inventory is unique in the group of Indo-Aryan languages as it lacks a dental-retroflex distinction among the coronal stops as well as the lack of postalveolar affricates and fricatives. Historically, the dental and retroflex series merged into alveolar stops. This makes Assamese resemble non-Indic languages of Northeast India (such as Austroasiatic and Sino-Tibetan languages). The only other language to have fronted retroflex stops into alveolars is the closely related group of eastern dialects of Bengali (although a contrast with dental stops remains in those dialects). Note that /r/ is normally realised as [?] or as a retroflex approximant.

Voiceless velar fricative

Assamese is unusual among Eastern Indo-Aryan languages for the presence of the /x/ (it varies between velar ([x]) and a uvular ([?]) pronunciations, depending on the speaker and speech register), due historically to the MIA sibilants' lenition to /x/ (initially) and /h/ (non-initially). The use of the voiceless velar fricative is heavy in the eastern Assamese dialects and decreases progressively to the west--from Kamrupi to eastern Goalparia, and disappears completely in western Goalpariya. The change of /s/ to /h/ and then to /x/ has been attributed to Tibeto-Burman influence by Dr. Chatterjee.

Velar nasal

Assamese, Odia, and Bengali, in contrast to other Indo-Aryan languages, use the velar nasal (the English ng in sing) extensively. In many languages, while the velar nasal is commonly restricted to preceding velar sounds, in Assamese it can occur intervocalically. This is another feature it shares with other languages of Northeast India, though in Assamese the velar nasal never occurs word-initially.

Vowel inventory

Eastern Indic languages like Assamese, Bengali, Sylheti, and Odia do not have a vowel length distinction, but have a wide set of back rounded vowels. In the case of Assamese, there are four back rounded vowels that contrast phonemically, as demonstrated by the minimal set: ??? kola [k?la] ('deaf'), ?'?? kla [kola] ('black'), ??? kwla [k?la] ('lap'), and ???? kula [kula] ('winnowing fan'). The near-close near-back rounded vowel /?/ is unique in this branch of the language family. But in lower Assam, ? is pronounced same as ?' (). ??? kwla [kla] ?? mwr [mr]

Vowel harmony

Assamese has vowel harmony. The vowels [i] and [u] cause the preceding mid vowels and the high back vowels to change to [e] and [o] and [u] respectively. Assamese is one of the few languages spoken in India which exhibit a systematic process of vowel harmony.


Writing system

Main article: Assamese alphabet

Modern Assamese uses the Assamese script. In medieval times, the script came in three varieties: Bamuniya, Garhgaya, and Kaitheli/Lakhari, which developed from the Kamarupi script. It very closely resembles the Mithilakshar script of the Maithili language, as well as the Bengali script. There is a strong literary tradition from early times. Examples can be seen in edicts, land grants and copper plates of medieval kings. Assam had its own manuscript writing system on the bark of the saanchi tree in which religious texts and chronicles were written, as opposed to the pan-Indian system of Palm leaf manuscript writing. The present-day spellings in Assamese are not necessarily phonetic. Hemkosh (????? [hemk?x]), the second Assamese dictionary, introduced spellings based on Sanskrit, which are now the standard.

In the early 1970s, it was agreed upon that the Roman script was to be the standard writing system for Nagamese Creole.

Sample text

Further information: Romanisation of Assamese

The following is a sample text in Assamese of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Assamese in Assamese alphabet
?? ????????: ?????????? ??? ????? ???????? ??? ??????? ???? ??? ?????????? ??????? ????? ???, ?????? ???? ??????? ????????? ????????? ?????????? ??????? ??? ?????
Assamese in WRA Romanisation
Prthm nussd: Znmgtbhaw xkl manuh mrjyda aru dhikart xman aru stntr. Tlkr bibk as, buddhi as. Tlk prittk prittkk bhratribhaw bywhar kra usit.
Assamese in SRA Romanisation
Prothom onussed: Jonmogotobhabe xokol manuh moirjjoda aru odhikarot xoman aru sotontro. Telkor bibek ase, buddhi ase. Telke proitteke proittekok bhratribhawe bebohar kora usit.
Assamese in SRA2 Romanisation
Prothom onussed: Jonmogotovawe xokolu' manuh morjjoda aru odhikarot xoman aru sotontro. Teulu'kor bibek ase, buddhi ase. Teulu'ke proitteke proittekok vratrivawe bewohar kora usit.
Assamese in CCRA Romanisation
Prothom onussed: Jonmogotobhawe xokolu manuh morjyoda aru odhikarot xoman aru sotontro. Teulukor bibek ase, buddhi ase. Teuluke proitteke proittekok bhratribhawe byowohar kora usit.
Assamese in IAST Romanisation
Prathama anuccheda: Janmagatabhave sakalo manuha maryada aru adhikarata samana aru svatantra. Telokara bibeka ache, buddhi ache. Teloke pratyeke pratyekaka bhratribhave byavahara kara ucita.
Assamese in the International Phonetic Alphabet
/p??th?m ?nus:ed | z?nm?g?t?bhabe x?k?l? manu m?Iz:?da a?u ?dhika??t x?man a?u s?t?nt?? || te?l?k?? bibek ase bud:hi ase || te?l?ke p??It:eke p??It:ek?k bh?at?ibhabe beb?ha? k??a usit/
Gloss
1st Article: Congenitally all human dignity and right-in equal and free. their conscience exists, intellect exists. They everyone everyone-to brotherly behaviour to-do should.
Translation
Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience. Therefore, they should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Schwa deletion

The inherent vowel in the Assamese alphabet, represented by /?/, is generally deleted in the final position unless it is (1) /w/ (?); or (2) /y/ (??) after higher vowels like /i/ (?) or /u/ (?), though it was not deleted in Early Assamese. The inherent vowel is never deleted initially.


Morphology and grammar

The Assamese language has the following characteristic morphological features: Negation process

Verbs in Assamese are negated by adding /n/ before the verb, with /n/ picking up the initial vowel of the verb. For example: Classifiers

Assamese has a large collection of classifiers, which are used extensively for different kinds of objects, acquired from the Sino-Tibetan languages. A few examples of the most extensive and elaborate use of classifiers are given below: In Assamese, classifiers are generally used in the numeral + classifier + noun (e.g. /ez?n manuh/ ejon manuh 'one man') or the noun + numeral + classifier (e.g. /manuh ez?n/ manuh ejon 'one man') forms.

Nominalization

Most verbs can be converted into nouns by the addition of the suffix /?n/. For example, /kha/ ('to eat') can be converted to /kha?n/ khaon ('good eating').

Grammatical cases

Assamese has 8 grammatical cases:

Pronouns

m=male, f=female, n=neuter., *=the person or object is near., **=the person or object is far., v =very familiar, inferior, f=familiar, p=polite, e=ergative form.

Tense

With consonant ending verb likh (write) and vowel ending verb kha (eat, drink, consume).

For different types of verbs.

The negative forms are n + 1st vowel of the verb + the verb. Example: Moi porhw, Moi noporhw (I read, I do not read); Tumi khelila, Tumi nekhelila (You played, You didn't play). For verbs that start with a vowel, just the n- is added, without vowel lengthening. In some dialects if the 1st vowel is a in a verb that starts with consonant, ne is used, like, Moi nakhaw (I don't eat) is Moi nekha. In past continuous the negative form is -i thoka nasil-. In future continuous it's -i na(/e)thaki-. In present continuous and present perfect, just -i thoka nai and -a nai' respectively are used for all personal pronouns. Sometimes for plural pronouns, the -hok suffix is used, like korwhok (we do), ahilahok (you guys came).Content


Dialects

Regional dialects

The language has quite a few regional variations. Banikanta Kakati identified two broad dialects which he named (1) Eastern and (2) Western dialects, of which the eastern dialect is homogeneous, and prevalent to the east of Guwahati, and the western dialect is heterogeneous. However, recent linguistic studies have identified four dialect groups listed below from east to west: Samples

Collected from the book, Assamese - Its formation and development. The translations are of different versions of the English translations:
English: A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, 'I want my share of your estate now before you die.' So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

Eastern Assamese (Sibsagar): Kn ejon manuhor duta putek asil, tare xorute bapekok kole, "Oi bpai! xompottir ji bhag moi pa tak mk diok!" Tate te ter xompotti dui putekor bhitorot bati dile. Olop dinor pasot xorutw puteke tar bhagot ji pale take loi dur dexoloi goi beisali kori gutei xompotti nax korile. Tar pasot xei dexot bor akal hl. Tate xi dux paboloi dhorile. Tetia xi goi xei dexor ejon manuhor asroy lole, aru xei manuhe tak gahori soraboloi potharoloi pothai dile. Tate xi gahorir kha ebidh gosor seire pet bhoraboloi bor hepah korile tak kne ek nidile.

Central Assamese: Manuh ejonor duta putak asil. Tahtor vitorot xoutw putake bapekok kle,

Central/Kamrupi (Pati Darrang): Eta manhur duta putak asil, xehatr xorutui bapakk kolak, "He pite, xompttir mr bhagt zikhini porei, take mk di." Tate te nizr xomptti xehatk bhagei dilak. Tar olop dinr pastei xe xoru putekti xokolke gtei loi kmba dexok legi polei gel aru tate lompot kamt gtei urei dilak. Xi xokol bioe korate xe dext bor akal hol. Xi tate bor kosto paba dhollak. Teten xi aru xe dexor eta manhur asroe lolak. Xe mantui nizr pothark legi tak bora saribak legi pothei dilak. Tate xi aru borai khawa ekbidh gasr sei di pet bhorabak legi bor hepah kollak. Kintu kawei ek tak nedlak.

Kamrupi (Palasbari): Kunba eta manhur duta putak asil. Ekdin xort putake bapiakok kola, "Bapa wa, apunar xompttir moi bhagt zeman kheni pam teman khini mk dia." Tethane bapiake nizr xomptti du putakok bhage dila. Keidinman past xrt putake tar bhagt loi kunba akhan durher dekhok gel, aru tate gundami kri tar gtei makha xomptti nohoa koilla. Tar past xiai dekhot mosto akal hol. Tethian xi bor dukh paba dhoilla. Tar xi tarei eta manhur osark zai asroe asroe lola. Manhti tak bara sarba potharl khedala. Tate xi barai khawa ekbidh gasr sen khaba dhoilla. Te tak kay ak khaba neidla.

Kamrupi (Barpeta): Kunba eta manhr duta putek asil. Ekdin xorutu puteke bapekk kolak, "Pita, amar xompttir moi zikhini mr bhagt pa xikhini mk dia." Tethen bapeke nizr xomptti tahak bhage dilak. Tare keidinmen piste xei xoru putektui tar gotexopake loi ekhen duhrer dekhk gusi gel, ar tate xi lompot hoi tar gotexopa xompttike ure phellak. Tar past xei dekhkhent mosto akal hol. Tethen xi xei dekhr eta manhr osrt zai asroe lolak. Manuhtui tak bara sarbak login pathark khedolak. Tate xi ekbidh barai khawa gasr sei khaba dhollak. Take dekhi kay tak ek khaba nedlak.

Western Goalpariya (Salkocha): Kun ekzon mansir duizon saa asil. Tar stotae bapok koil, "Baba sompttir ze bhag mr, tak mk de." Tat o nizer somptti umak batia dil. Tar olpo din paste i sta saata sk gtea dur desot gel. Ore lompot beboharot or somptti uzar koril. O gtay khoros korar past oi desot boro akal hoil. Ote oya kosto paba dhoril. Sela o zaya i deser ekzon mansir asroe lat i manusi ok suar soraba patharot pothea dil. Ote suare khaa ek rokom gaser sal dia pet bhoroba saile ok kaho kisu nadil.
Non-regional dialects

Assamese does not have many caste- or occupation-based dialects. In the nineteenth century, the Eastern dialect became the standard dialect because it witnessed more literary activity and it was more uniform from east of Guwahati to Sadiya, whereas the western dialects were more heterogeneous. Since the nineteenth century, the center of literary activity (as well as of politics and commerce) has shifted to Guwahati; as a result, the standard dialect has evolved considerably away from the largely rural Eastern dialects and has become more urban and acquired western dialectal elements. Most literary activity takes place in this dialect, and is often called the likhito-bhaxa, though regional dialects are often used in novels and other creative works.

In addition to the regional variants, sub-regional, community-based dialects are also prevalent, namely:
Literature

Main article: Assamese literature

There is a growing and strong body of literature in this language. The first characteristics of this language are seen in the Charyapadas composed in between the eighth and twelfth centuries. The first examples emerged in writings of court poets in the fourteenth century, the finest example of which is Madhav Kandali's Saptakanda Ramayana. The popular ballad in the form of Ojapali is also regarded as well-crafted. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw a flourishing of Vaishnavite literature, leading up to the emergence of modern forms of literature in the late nineteenth century.


See also

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