ROOTS AND STRINGS OF THE ASSAMESE LANGUAGE
Assamese is the easternmost language of the Indo-European language affiliates. Majority of its speakers dwell in the Brahmaputra valley of the Assam state of India. The Rajbangshi dialect of Assamese is also spoken in the so-called north Bengal districts and also in the eastern part of the Terai region of Nepal. Small numbers of Assamese speakers are also found in the Barak valley area of southern Assam. Majority of these people are descendants of those Assamese who fled the Brahmaputra valley during the atrocious and barbaric reign of the Burmese invaders in the early part of the 19th century. They are known by the general name Man-bhaganiya. In addition to them there are another group of Assamese speakers in Barak valley. These are descendants of the soldiers of the great Koch general Bir Chilarai, who stayed behind there. They are known as Dehang. Previously in the northern areas of Sylhet now in Bangladesh and in the adjoining areas of the Khasi hills, there were many settlements of Man-bhaganiyas. During the partition of India in 1947 most of these people returned to Assam and are now mostly located in Lanka and Kaki areas of the Nagaon district.
In Burma or Myanmar there were large -number of Assamese speakers from those who were carried away as slaves by the Burmese and Singphos (Kachins) during the Burmese invasion and occupation of Assam. These people have long back ceased to speak Assamese and have assimilated with the peoples of Burma.
Three languages can be called allied to Assamese. These are Hajong, Bishnupriya and Chakma. They are linguistically very close to the Assamese being similar in many aspects. Hajong speakers are ;resent in the western Assam’s Goalpara district, Garo hills of Meghalaya and the northern frontier areas of Bangladesh. Some of them are also scantily present in Lakhimpur district of Assam and in Arunachal Pradesh. Bishnupriya speakers are found mainly in the Barak valley of Assam, Tripura and in eastern Bangladesh. .Although Manipur is the original homeland of the Bishnupriya speakers, it is nowadays not spoken there. Main place of the Chakma tribe is in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. In addition to that many Chakmas reside in Mizoram, Tripura, Barak Valley of Assam and in Arunachal Pradesh. The Chakmas have a folk dance named Biju which quite similar to the Assamese Bihu dance.
Assamese language exhibits similarities with some languages placed far away. These connections of similarities can be tracked starting with Garhwal-Kumaon of Uttarakhand in the southern Himalayas, moving westwards to Himachal Pradesh, Kashmir, northern areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and thence it leads to Europe. Afghanistan has a province named Nuristan, a mountainous region bordering Pakistan. Nuristan’s previous name was Kaffirstan, the reason being its inhabitants’ long term resistance to Islamic religious expansion. However an Afghan king or Emir succeded in conquering Kaffirstan in the last decade of the 19th century and forcibly converted the Kaffirs into Islam and renamed the province as Nuristan. The main place of importance in Nuristan which serves as its capital is Kamdesh or Kambrom. These names as they are similar to the older name of Assam, Kamrup, so also does its spoken language shows many close similarities with Assamese. Another group of people similar to the Nuristanis live in the northern area of Pakistan. They are known as Kalash, they are not muslim and practise their own religion. Being non-muslim in a muslim dominated region they are also known as Kalash-Kaffir. Their language is called Kalasha or Kalasha-mon and with it also Assamese shows considerable similarities.
With the entire lot of European Indo-European languages Assamese have a large collection of similar sounding words. The Assamese pronunciation transliterated by the Roman alphabet ‘x’ phonetically, is not to be found in any of the Indian languages, which on the other hand is prevalent in common usage in many of the European languages and also in Persian. Common examples are the Scottish word for lake ‘loch’, German proper names ‘Bach’, ‘Ulrich’ etc and the Greek word for dry ‘xeros’.
Those were western connections. In the east Assamese shows considerable similarities with the Ainu language of northeast Asia mainly Japan. Ainu people are the aboriginal inhabitants of Japan, who arrived there prior to the arrival of the primary ancestors of the Japanese people some thousands of years ago. Exampled by words of Assamese like kora (to do), nom (hair), noi (river), mekuri (cat), pasi (basket) and tokari (harp) there are more than a hundred words similar between the Ainu and the Assamese. The author has published a book named “Tonkori (Affinities of the Ainu Language of Japan with Assamese and some other Languages)” on this subject in 2008 of which the read only copy is available on the internet, this link can be followed there TONKORI (The book)
Opinion of different scholars vary on the origin of the Assamese language. As per Dr Bani Kanta Kakati Assamese language originated as an offshoot of the Maghadhan Prakrit. The above mentioned facts were not even considered in Dr Kakati’s thesis on the origin and formation of Assamese language. But in Debananda Bharali’s writings some amount of scientific analysis of these facts could be found. Sadly enough Mr Bharali’s book “Axomiya Bhaxar Moulik Bisar” did not find much acceptance within the Assamese intellectual circles.
Scrutinising the similarities and dissimilarities of the Assamese language, it can be said clearly that the Assamese language has its own separate stream of origin. It has evolved in a different way from the rest of the Indo-Aryan languages of India. It is not a Sanskrit originated language, rather it was later influenced by Sanskrit due to migrations of people from north India in various ages and from the spread of Hinduism. Sanskrit is a highly Dravidian influenced Aryan language. It is from this influence that cerebral pronunciations have found thier way into the Sanskrit phonology. ‘The Assamese and the European Indo-European languages do not have the cerebral pronunciations. The reason behind the Assamese language escaping the Dravidian influence is probably because of the fact that the people who originally spoke the Assamese language never came across the Indian Gangetic civilisation on their itinerary to Assam. The primary ancestors of the Kalita people of Assam who traversed the northern Himalayan tract of southern Tibet on their way to Assam seems likely to be the original speakers of the Assamese language. Mention and description of the Kalita kingdom of south-eastern Tibet is to be found in many writings, but the facts regarding its extinction is not known. It may be concluded that the language of the original Kalita people with lots of additions and subtractions developed into the Assamese language of the modern age.
Some examples of European and Assamese word similarities
French ———————- boue ( boo) ———————- mud
Assamese —————— boka ——————————- mud
French ———————- peigne (PEN-yih) ————– comb
Assamese —————— phoni —————————— comb
Greek ———————– oulon —————————— gums ( of teeth)
Assamese —————— alu ———————————- gums ( of teeth)
German ——————— seig (ZEEK) ——————— victory
Assamese —————— zik ——————————— to win
German ——————— zeige (TSEE-guh) ———— goat
Assamese —————— sagoli —————————– goat
Swedish ——————– hoger (HOG-ehr) ————- right (side)
Assamese —————— xo ———————————- right (side)
Swedish ——————– slicka (SLICK-ah) ———— lick
Assamese —————— selek —————————— lick
English ———————- jump
Assamese —————— jaap ——————————– jump
English ———————- hicket —————————– hiccups
Assamese —————— hikoti —————————– hiccups
Irish ————————– douin —————————– deep
Assamese —————— do ———————————- deep
Some words of Ainu and Assamese languages
Ainu ————————- kara ——————————- to do
Assamese —————— kor ——————————– to do
Ainu ————————- hora ——————————- to fall
Assamese —————— xor ——————————— to fall
Ainu ————————- meko —————————– cat
Assamese —————— mekuri ————————— cat
Ainu ————————- nai ——————————— river
Assamese —————— noi ——————————– river
Ainu ————————- numa —————————– hair ( of any kind )
Assamese —————— nom —————————— hair ( of body)
Dr Satyakam Phukan
Guwahati, Assam (INDIA)
P.I.N : 781001
Phone : +91 99540 46357
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