Assamese (//) or Asamiya অসমীয়া is an Eastern Indo-Aryan language spoken mainly in the Indian state of Assam, where it is an official language. It is the easternmost indigenous Indo-European language; it is spoken by over 15 million native speakers, and serves as a lingua franca in the region. It is also spoken in parts of Arunachal Pradesh and other northeast Indian states. Nagamese, an Assamese-based Creole language is widely used in Nagaland and parts of Assam. Nefamese is an Assamese-based pidgin used in Arunachal Pradesh. Small pockets of Assamese speakers can be found in Bangladesh. The Indo-Aryan dialects of North Bengal and northwest Bangladesh are linguistically closer to Assamese, have cultural and literary affinities with Bengali. In the past, it was the court language of the Ahom kingdom from the 17th century.
The word Ôxômiya ('Assamese') in Assamese script
|Region||Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland|
|15 million (2010)|
|Eastern Nagari (Assamese)
Latin alphabet (Nagamese Creole)
Official language in
|Regulated by||Asam Sahitya Sabha (literature/rhetorical congress of Assam)|
Assamese speakers in South Asia (with lighter shades of green signifying non-majority amount of speakers)
The origin of Assamese language is not clear. Some believe that it originated from Kamarupi Prakrit used in the ancient Kamarupa Kingdom. However it is believed that along with other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, Assamese evolved at least before 7th century CE from the middle Indo-Aryan Magadhi Prakrit, which developed from dialects similar to, but in some ways more archaic than Vedic Sanskrit. Its sister languages include Maithili, Odia, Chittagonian, Sylheti, Angika, Bishnupriya, Rohingya and Chakma. It is written in the Assamese script, an abugida system, from left to right, with a large number of typographic ligatures.
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 (Assam) and the Kamatapuri lects (Cooch Bihar and Assam) derive from the Kamarupi dialect of Eastern Magadhi Prakrit by keeping to the north of the Ganges; though some authors contest a close connection of Assamese with Magadhi Prakrit. The Indo-Aryan language in Kamarupa had differentiated by the 7th-century, before it did in Bengal or Orissa. These changes were likely due to non-Indo-Aryan speakers adopting the language. The evidence of this language (Kamarupi Prakrit) is found in the Prakritisms of the Kamarupa inscriptions. The earliest forms of Assamese in literature are found in the ninth-century Buddhist verses called Charyapada (চৰ্যাপদ [saɹzɔpɔd]), and in 12-14th century works of Ramai Pundit (Sunya Puran), Boru Chandidas (Krishna Kirtan), Sukur Mamud (Gopichandrar Gan), Durllava Mullik (Gobindachandrar Git) and Bhavani Das (Mainamatir Gan). In these works, Assamese features coexist with features from other Modern Indian Languages.
A fully distinguished literary form (poetry) appeared first in the fourteenth century—in the courts of the Kamata kingdom and in the courts of an eastern Kachari king where Madhav Kandali translated the Ramayana into the Assamese (Saptakanda Ramayana). From the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, songs – Borgeets, dramas – Ankiya Naat and the first prose writings (by Bhattadeva) were composed. The literary language, based on the western dialects of Assam moved to the court of the Ahom kingdom in the seventeenth century, where it became the state language. This period saw the widespread development of standardized prose infused with colloquial forms in Buranjis.
According to Goswami (2003), this included "the colloquial prose of religious biographies, the archaic prose of magical charms, the conventional prose of utilitarian literature on medicine, astrology, arithmetic, dance and music, and above all the standardized prose of the Buranjis. The literary language, having become infused with the eastern idiom, became the standard literary form in the nineteenth century, when the British adopted it for state purposes. As the political and commercial center shifted to Guwahati after the mid-twentieth century, the literary form moved away from the eastern variety to take its current form.
Assamese is native to Brahmaputra Valley consisting of western and eastern Assam. It is also spoken in states of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. Presence of Assamese script can be found in Rakhine state of present Myanmar. Pashupati temple in Nepal also have inscription in Assamese showing its influence and prosperity in the past. There are also significant Assamese-speaking communities in Australia, Dubai, the United Kingdom, Canada, Nepal and the United States.
The first twenty-five consonants letters are called "sparxa barna"[pronunciation?]. These "sparxa barnas" are again divided into five "bargs". Therefore, these twenty-five letters are also called "bargia barna".[clarification needed][verification needed]
The Assamese phoneme inventory is unique in the Indic group of languages in its lack of a dental-retroflex distinction among the coronal stops. 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 eastern dialects of Bengali (although a contrast with dental stops remains in those dialects). Note that /r/ is normally realized as [ɹ] or as a retroflex approximant.
Voiceless velar fricativeEdit
Assamese and Sylheti are unusual among Eastern Indo-Aryan languages for the presence of the /x/ (which, phonetically, varies between velar ([x]) and a uvular ([χ]) pronunciations, depending on the speaker and speech register), historically the MIA sibilant has lenited to /x/ and /h/ (non-initially). The derivation of the velar fricative from the coronal sibilant /s/ is evident in the name of the language in Assamese; some Assamese prefer to write ⟨Oxomiya⟩ or ⟨Ôxômiya⟩ instead of ⟨Asomiya⟩ or ⟨Asamiya⟩ to reflect the sound change. The voiceless velar fricative is absent in the West Goalpariya dialects though it is found in lesser extent in East Goalpariya and Kamrupi, otherwise used extensively further east. The change of /s/ to /h/ and then to /x/; all these have been attributed to Tibeto-Burman influence by Dr. Chatterjee.
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.
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: কলা kôla [kɔla] ('deaf'), ক'লা kola [kola] ('black'), কোলা kûla [kʊla] ('lap'), and কুলা kula [kula] ('winnowing fan'). The near-close near-back rounded vowel /ʊ/ is unique in this branch of the language family. But in lower Assam, ও is pronounced same as অ' (o') which is also correct. কোলা kola [ko'la] মোৰ mor [mo'r]
Modern Assamese uses the Assamese script, and in the medieval times the script came in three varieties: Bamuniya, Garhgaya and Kaitheli or 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 system of writing on the bark of the saanchi tree in which religious texts and chronicles were written. The present-day spellings in Assamese are not necessarily phonetic. Hemkosh (হেমকোষ [ɦɛmkʊx]), the second Assamese dictionary, introduced spellings based on Sanskrit, which are now the standard.
Morphology and grammarEdit
The Assamese language has the following characteristic morphological features:
- Gender and number are not grammatically marked.
- There is lexical distinction of gender in the third person pronoun.
- Transitive verbs are distinguished from intransitive.
- The agentive case is overtly marked as distinct from the accusative.
- Kinship nouns are inflected for personal pronominal possession.
- Adverbs can be derived from the verb roots.
- A passive construction may be employed idiomatically.
Verbs in Assamese are negativized by adding /n/ before the verb, with /n/ picking up the initial vowel of the verb. For example:
- /na laɡɛ/ 'do(es) not want' (1st, 2nd and 3rd persons)
- /ni likʰʊ̃/ 'will not write' (1st person)
- /nukutʊ̃/ 'will not nibble' (1st person)
- /nɛlɛkʰɛ/ 'does not count' (3rd person)
- /nɔkɔɹɔ/ 'do not do' (2nd person)
Assamese has a huge collection of classifiers, which are used extensively for different kinds of objects, acquired from Sino-Tibetan languages. A few examples of the most extensive and elaborate use of classifiers given below:
- "zɔn" is used to signify a person, male with some amount of respect
- E.g., manuh-zɔn – "the man"
- "zɔni" (female) is used after a noun or pronoun to indicate human beings
- E.g., manuh-zɔni – "the woman"
- "zɔni" is also used to express the non-human feminine
- E.g., sɔɹai zɔni – "the bird", pɔɹuwa-zɔni – "the ant"
- "zɔna" and "gɔɹaki" are used to express high respect for both man and woman
- E.g., kɔbi-zɔna – "the poet", gʊxaɪ-zɔna – "the goddess", rastrapati-gɔɹaki – "the president", tiɹʊta-gɔɹaki – "the woman"
- "tʊ" has three forms: tʊ, ta, ti
- (a) tʊ: is used to specify something, although someone, e.g., loɹa-tʊ – "the particular boy" (impolite)
- (b) ta: is used only after numerals, e.g., ɛta, duta, tinita – "one, two, three"
- (c) ti: is the diminutive form, e.g., kesua-ti – "the infant, besides expressing more affection or attachment to
- "kɔsa", "mɔtʰa" and "taɹ" are used for things in bunches
- E.g., sabi-kɔsa - "the bunch of key", saul-mɔtʰa – "a handful of rice", suli-taɹi or suli kɔsa – "the bunch of hair"
- dal, dali, are used after nouns to indicate something long but round and solid
- E.g., bãʱ-dal - "the bamboo", katʰ-dal – "the piece of wood", bãʱ-dali – "the piece of bamboo"
|/zɔn/||males (adult)||manuh-zɔn (the man - honorific)|
|/zɔni/||females (women as well as animals)||manuh-zɔni (the woman), sɔrai-zɔni (the bird)|
|/zɔna/||honorific||kobi-zɔna (the poet), gʊxai-zɔna (the god/goddess)|
|/ɡɔɹaki/||males and females (honorific)||manuh-ɡɔɹaki (the woman), rastrɔpɔti-gɔɹaki (the president)|
|/tʊ/||inanimate objects or males of animals and men (impolite)||manuh-tʊ (the man - diminutive), gɔɹu-tʊ (the cow)|
|/ti/||inanimate objects or infants||kesua-ti (the baby)|
|/ta/||for counting numerals||e-ta (count one), du-ta (count two)|
|/kʰɔn/||flat square or rectangular objects, big or small, long or short|
|/kʰɔni/||terrain like rivers and mountains|
|/zak/||group of people, cattle; also for rain; cyclone|
|/pat/||objects that are thin, flat, wide or narrow.|
|/sɔta/||objects that are solid|
|/mɔtʰa/||bundles of objects|
|/mutʰi/||smaller bundles of objects|
|/ɡɔsi/||with earthen lamp or old style kerosene lamp used in Assam|
|/zʊpa/||objects like trees and shrubs|
|/kʰila/||paper and leaf-like objects|
|/kʰini/||uncountable mass nouns and pronouns|
|/dal/||inanimate flexible/stiff or oblong objects; humans (pejorative)|
In Assamese, classifiers are generally used in the numeral + classifier + noun (e.g. /ezɔn manuh/ 'one man') or the noun + numeral + classifier (e.g. /manuh ezɔn/ 'one man') forms.
Most verbs can be converted into nouns by the addition of the suffix /ɔn/. For example, /kʰa/ ('to eat') can be converted to /kʰaɔn/ ('good eating').
|Asamiya literary history|
|History of Asamiya literature|
|Asamiya language authors|
|List of Asamiya writers|
|Writers • Dramatists & Playwrights • Poets|
|Books – Buranjis – Poetry|
|Institution & Awards|
|Assam Sahitya Sabha
Assam Valley Literary Award
Kamal Kumari National Award
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:
- Eastern group in and around Sivasagar District, i.e., the regions of the former undivided Sivasagar district, areas of the present day Golaghat, Jorhat and Sivasagar
- Central group in Nagaon, Sonitpur, Morigaon districts and adjoining areas
- Kamrupi group primarily in the Kamrup region, Darrang, Barpeta (Barpetia).
- Goalpariya group in the Goalpara region
Assamese does not have 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:
- Standard dialect influenced by surrounding centers.
- Bhakatiya dialect highly polite, sattra-based dialect with a different set of nominals, pronominals and verbal forms, as well as a preference for euphemism; indirect and passive expressions. Some of these features are used in the standard dialect on very formal occasions.
- The fisherman community has a dialect that is used in the central and eastern region.
- The astrologer community of Darrang district has a dialect called thar that is coded and secretive. The ratikhowa and bhitarpanthiya secretive cult-based Vaisnava groups too have their own dialects.
- The Muslim community have their own dialectal preference, with their own kinship, custom and religious terms, with those in east Assam having distinct phonetic features.
- The urban adolescent and youth communities (for example, Guwahati) have exotic, hybrid and local slangs.
- Ethnic speech communities that use Assamese as a second language, often use dialects that are influenced heavily by the pronunciation, intonation, stress, vocabulary and syntax of their respective first languages (Mising Eastern Assamese, Bodo Central Kamrupi, Rabha Eastern Goalpariya etc.). Two independent pidgins/creoles, associated with the Assamese language, are Nagamese (used by Naga groups) and Nefamese (used in Arunachal Pradesh).
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.
The following is a sample text in Assamese of the Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Assamese in Assamese alphabet
- ধাৰা ১: সকলো মানুহে স্বাধীনভাৱে সমান মৰ্যদা আৰু অধিকাৰে জন্মগ্ৰহণ কৰে । সিহঁতৰ বিবেক আৰু বুদ্ধি আছে আৰু সিহঁতে পৰস্পৰ ভ্ৰাতৃত্বৰে আচৰণ কৰিব লাগে ।
Assamese in phonetic Romanization 1
- Dhara êk: Xôkôlû manuhê sadhinbhawê xôman môrzôda aru ôdhikarê zônmôgrôhôn kôrê. Xihôtôr bibêk aru buddhi asê aru xihôtê pôrôspôr bhratrittôrê asôrôn kôribô lagê.
Assamese in phonetic Romanization 2
- Dhara ek: Xokolú manuhe sadhibhawe xoman morzoda aru odhikare zonmogrohon kore. Xihotor bibek aru buddhi ase aru xihote porospor bhratrittore asoron koribo lage.
Assamese in the International Phonetic Alphabet
- /dʱaɹa ɛk | xɔkɔlʊ manuɦɛ sadʱinbʱaβɛ xɔman mɔɹzɔda aɹu ɔdʱikaɹɛ zɔnmɔgɹɔɦɔn kɔɹɛ || xiɦɔtɔɹ bibɛk aɹu buddʱi asɛ aɹu xiɦɔtɛ pɔɹɔspɔɹ bʱɹatɹitːɔɹɛ asɔɹɔn kɔɹibɔ lagɛ/
- Clause 1: all human free-manner-in equal dignity and right taken birth-take do. their reason and intelligence exist; therefore everyone-indeed one another's towards brotherhood-ly attitude taken conduct do should.
- 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.
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- "...Rajbangsi dialect of the Rangpur District (Bangladesh), and the adjacent Indian Districts of Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar, has been classed with Bengali because its speakers identify with the Bengali culture and literary language, although it is linguistically closer to Assamese." (Masica 1993, p. 25)
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- "...the MIA languages are not younger than ('classical') Sanskrit. And a number of their morphophonological and lexical features betray the fact that they are not direct descendants of Rigvedic Sanskrit, the main basis of 'Classical' Sanskrit; rather they descend from dialects which, despite many similarities, were different from Rigvedic and in some regards even more archaic." (Oberlies 2007:163)
- "Axomiya has historically originated in Old Indo-Aryan dialects, but the exact nature of its origin and growth is not very clear as yet." (Goswami 2003:394)
- (Kakati 1941, p. 6)
- Goswami, Golockchandra (1982), Structure of Assamese, Page 3
- There is evidence that the Prakrit of the Kamarupa kingdom differed enough from the Magadhi Prakrit to be identified as either a parallel Kamrupi Prakrit or at least an eastern variety of the Magadha Prakrit (Sharma 1990:0.24–0.28)
- "It is curious to find that according to (Hiuen Tsang) the language of Kamarupa 'differed a little' from that of mid-India. Hiuen Tsang is silent about the language of Pundra-vardhana or Karna-Suvarna; it can be presumed that the language of these tracts were identical with that of Magadha." (Chatterji 1926, p. 78)
- "Perhaps this 'differing a little' of the Kamarupa speech refers to those modifications of Aryan sounds which now characterise Assamese as well as North- and East-Bengali dialects." (Chatterji 1926, pp. 78–89)
- "When [the Tibeto-Burman speakers] adopted that language they also enriched it with their vocabularies, expressions, affixes etc." (Saikia 1997, p. 4)
- Moral 1997, pp. 43-53.
- "... (it shows) that in Ancient Assam there were three languages viz. (1) Sanskrit as the official language and the language of the learned few, (2) Non-Aryan tribal languages of the Austric and Tibeto-Burman families, and (3) a local variety of Prakrit (ie a MIA) wherefrom, in course of time, the modern Assamese language as a MIL, emerged." (Sharma 1978, pp. xxiv-xxviii)
- Medhi 1988, pp. 67–63.
- Guha 1983, p. 9.
- Goswami 2003, p. 434.
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- "Assamese, alone among NIA languages except for Romany, has also lost the characteristic IA dental/retroflex contrast (although it is retained in spelling), reducing the number of articulations, with the loss also of /c/, to three." (Masica 1993, p. 95)
- Moral 1997, p. 45.
- The word "hare", for example: śaśka (OIA) > χɔhā (hare). (Masica 1993, p. 206)
- Whereas most fricatives become sibilants in Eastern Goalpariya (sukh, santi, asa in Eastern Goalpariya; xukh, xanti, axa in western Kamrupi) (Dutta 1995, p. 286); some use of the fricative is seen as in the word xi (for both "he" and "she") (Dutta 1995, p. 287) and xap khar (the snake) (Dutta 1995, p. 288). The /x/ is completely absent in Western Goalpariya (Dutta 1995, p. 290)
- B Datta (1982), Linguistic situation in north-east India, the distinctive h sound of Assamese is absent in the West Goalpariya dialect
- Goswami, Upendranath (1970), A Study on Kamrupi, p.xiii /x/ does not occur finally in Kamrupi. But in St. Coll. it occurs. In non-initial positions O.I.A sibilants became /kʰ/ and also /h/ whereas in St. Coll. they become /x/.
- Chatterjee, Suniti Kumar, Kirata Jana Krti, p. 54.
- Moral 1997, p. 46.
- Bara 1981, p. ?.
- Kommaluri, Subramanian & Sagar K 2005.
- Moral 1997, p. 47.
- Moral 1997, pp. 49-51.
- Moral 1997, p. 48.
- "Assamese may be divided dialectically into Eastern and Western Assamese" (Kakati 1941, p. 16)
- (Goswami 2003:403)
- Kakati 1941, p. 14-16.
- Goswami 2003, p. 436.
- (Dutta 2003, p. 106)
- Goswami 2003, pp. 439-440.
- (Dutta 2003, p. 107)
- (Dutta 2003, pp. 108–109)
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|Wikivoyage has an entry for Assamese phrasebook.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Assamese language.|
|Assamese edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia|
- Axamiyaa Bhaaxaar Moulik Bisar by Mr Devananda Bharali (PDF)
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- A Dictionary in Assamese and English (1867) First Assamese dictionary by Miles Bronson from (books.google.com)
- Assamese computing resources at TDIL
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