The Ahom language is a dead language[3] that was spoken by the Ahom people that is undergoing revivalism. The Ahom people established the Ahom kingdom and ruled parts of the Brahmaputra river valley in the present day Indian state of Assam between the 13th and the 18th centuries. The language was the court language of the kingdom, till it began to be replaced by Assamese language in the 17th century. Since the early 18th century, there has been no native speakers of the language, though extensive manuscripts in the language still exists today. The tonal system of the language is entirely lost. The language was only partially known by a small group of traditional priests of the Ahom religion[4] and it was being used only for ceremonial or ritualistic purposes.

Native toIndia
EthnicityAhom people
Extinct18th or 19th century AD[1]
used in religious chants and literary materials
Ahom script
Language codes
ISO 639-3aho

The language is classified in a Northwestern subgrouping of Southwestern Tai owing to close affinities with Shan, Khamti and, more distantly, Thai.

Although the language is no longer spoken, the exhaustive 1795 Ahom-Assamese lexicon known as the Bar Amra preserves the form of the language that was spoken during the Ahom Kingdom. Ahom is an important language in Tai studies. It was relatively free of both Mon-Khmer and Indo-Aryan influences and has a written tradition dating back to the 13th century.

Language characteristicsEdit

Ahom is classified as a Southwestern Tai language. It has its own script. Ahom has characteristics typical of Tai languages, such as:

  • Subject Verb Object (SVO) word order [5][6][7]
  • Tonality [5][6][8][7]
  • Monosyllabic roots [5][6][8][9]
  • Each syllable is tonal, and begins with a consonant or consonant cluster. A vowel or diphthong follows. A final consonant may be added, but is not necessary.[9]
  • Lack of inflection [5][8]
  • Analytic syntax [6]

When speaking and writing Ahom, much is dependent upon context and the audience interpretation. Multiple parts of the sentence can be left out; verb and adjectives will remain, but other parts of speech, especially pronouns, can be dropped. Verbs do not have tenses, and nouns do not have plurals. Time periods can be identified by adverbs, strings of verbs, or auxiliaries placed before the verb.[9] Ahom, like other Tai languages, uses classifiers to identify categories, and repetitions of words to express idiomatic expressions. However, the expressions, classifiers, pronouns, and other sentence particles vary between the Tai languages descended from Proto-Tai, making Tai languages mutually unintelligible.[9]

History of the languageEdit

The immediate parent language from which Ahom is descended has been reconstructed as Proto-Tai, a language from 2000 years ago,[8][9] in the Tai–Kadai family (unrelated to Chinese, but possibly related to the Austronesian languages),[6] within the (proposed but debated) subgroup of Kam–Tai,[9] although some say that Tai languages are a discrete family, and are not part of Tai–Kadai.[8]

The Ahom people and their language originated in Yunnan in south-west China and they migrated, from the border between Northern Vietnam and the Guangxi province of China,[8] into the south-east Asian peninsula and northern Burma. Ahom was then spoken by the Ahom people who ruled most of Assam, a civilization in the Brahmaputra river valley, in Southeast Asia,[5] from 1228 to 1826. It was the exclusive court language of the Ahom kingdom till about the 15th–16th century, when it gave way to Assamese, an Indo-Aryan language. The language fell into complete disuse by the 19th century[9] and the phonology has completely been lost. The language today is used chiefly for liturgical purposes, and is no longer used in daily life. It retains cultural significance and is used for religious chants and to read literature.[5] An effort has been made to revive the language by following the phonology of existing sister languages, especially Tai-Aiton and Tai-Phake.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Ahom at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Ahom". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ "Linguists and historians are generally united in the view that the Ahom language has been dead for about two hundred years, and that all Ahom use Assamese as their mother tongue." (Terwiel 1996:283)
  4. ^ "(In 1980) six leading Ahom readers spent two weeks reading and re-reading the ancient text (of 27 pages). The disappointing result was that, whereas they could readily decipher the script and read the words aloud, they did so without assigning tones, as soon became obvious, and without any idea of the meaning of the words except for a few of the simplest expressions." ( & Terwiel 1996:283–284)
  5. ^ a b c d e f Diller, A. (1993). Tai Languages. In International Encyclopedia of Linguistics (Vol. 4, pp. 128-131). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  6. ^ a b c d e Blake, B. J. (1994). Language Classification. In The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (Vol. 4, pp. 1952-1957). New York, NY: Pergamon Press Press.
  7. ^ a b Buragohain, Dipima (2011). "Issues of Language Contact and Shift in Tai Ahom". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ a b c d e f French, M. A. (1994). Tai Languages. In The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (Vol. 4, pp. 4520-4521). New York, NY: Pergamon Press Press.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Hongladarom, K. (2005). Thai and Tai Languages. In Encyclopedia of linguistics (Vol. 2, pp. 1098-1101). New York, NY: Fitzroy Dearborn.


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