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ROOTS AND STRINGS OF THE ASSAMESE LANGUAGE

ROOTS AND STRINGS OF THE ASSAMESE LANGUAGE

Devananda Bharali

Devananda Bharali, The pioneer linguist 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

Jorpukhuripar, Uzanbazar

Guwahati, Assam (INDIA)

P.I.N : 781001

Phone : +91 99540 46357

E-mail : sphukan2009@yahoo.in

45 responses »

  1. Very informative. I’m sharing this blog with my Facebook pals.

    Reply
  2. Very informative article. We should publish a complete writings of Debanada Bharali.

    Reply
    • Binayananda Bharali

      We have collection of few books written by Late Debananda Bharali who was my grand father. We have a plan to collect his other books on Assamese Language and publish.

      Reply
  3. Siddhartha Kataki

    Very informative.

    Reply
  4. Muktikam Phukan

    Wonderful!

    Reply
  5. Subhash Chandra Medhi

    Dear sir,
    I beg to differ with you in certain points however. The Ainu people of Japan, though, they appear Caucasoid are actually not Caucasoid. Genetic researches have shown that they do not have Caucasoid haplotypes. Kindly go through the following link for more information:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ainu_people

    While your idea that Assamese people could be linked up with the Nuristanis provides another way of thinking about this whole idea of migration of Kalitas but nevertheless it could not be the only possible explanation.

    And regarding your contention that Assamese is not a Sanskrit-origin Indo-European language but that it is more closely related to the European Indo-European languages, i would say that it is a lovely hypothesis, but the proofs in the form of similarity of the words which you provided is inconclusive. Again, i would like to add that earlier researchers used to think that the Ainus were Caucasoid but now they are convinced that the Ainus are rather more closely related to Aborigines of Australia.

    Subhash

    P.S.: Dear sir, i too am very interested in these type of stuffs related to the Kalitas as i am myself one and so would like to help you in all possible ways. Kindly contact me by mail if you need to.

    Reply
    • Dear Mr Medhi,

      About Ainu I have already published a book titled ” Tonkori, (Affinities of the Ainu language of Japan with Assamese and some other languages)” it is available online from D K Agencies URL http://www.dkagencies.com/doc/from/1063/to/1123/bkId/DK55465233468848747593931371/details.html.

      Regarding presence of Y-haplogroup genes. The presence of that does not mean that they cannot have other contributions most humans racial types are mixed the intermixing more commoner in ancient times.

      I will not be able to divulge details of Kalita, as I am working on it. But that is going to take some time because at the moment I am busy completing my work on the ethno-linguistic roots of the Khasi people on which I have already written and published a book. The book is available for free download from the internet. Link http://ecossais-the-khasi-saga.webnode.com/.

      But some things I can tell about the KALITA PEOPLE

      1. They are the remnant of the people whose language have evolved to become the Assamese language we speak.

      2. They have mixed to considerable extent.

      3. They are by origin a NON-INDIAN PEOPLE who were later Hinduised.

      Once I finish my work on the Kalita you can find it on this website only but only after I finish my work on the Khasis. I have to mention that my book have got far far better response among many Khasi intellectuals compared to the my works on Assamese. So I feel inspired and duty bound to give them the first priority, the works on the Assamese language and people have to wait.

      DR SATYAKAM PHUKAN

      Reply
  6. hey, nice blog…really like it and added to bookmarks. keep up with good work

    Reply
  7. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it.I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

    Reply
  8. I am interested to do some research on the Kalita kingdom that was on the south eastern Tibet which was apparently wiped out by Chinese aggression in 18th century. Any reference in any books will be helpful.

    Reply
  9. We are a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community. Your web site offered us with valuable information to work on. You’ve done an impressive job and our whole community will be grateful to you.

    Reply
  10. I cherished reading this article I will be sure to tell my close friends about this and hyperlink to it too. Thanks

    Reply
  11. Dear Mr. Phukan,

    It is a very informative article. I am involved with a group trying to increase Assamese content on the web by using Assamese fonts in Unicode. Your article will provide enough food for thought for our discussion – specially on the subject of position of Assamese in relation to Bengali language. If you have more information on this subject, pls do share with us.

    Last year in an e-mail exchange I was made aware of the fact that there is hardly any Assamese contents on the Internet and most of the contents which is there, are not accessible to the internet crawlers. There is no support for the Assamese scripts in Yahoo, MSN, Google, WebDuniya etc. That led me to contact a few of my young friends and we formed a group under the name ই-জোনাকী যুগ E-junaki Jug. The URL is http://sites.google.com/site/ejonakijug/home. The primary goal of this initiative is to increase the volume of Assamese content on the Internet.

    Warm regards,
    Wahid Saleh
    The Netherlands

    Reply
  12. Rishav Kumar Roy

    wonderfull imformation

    Reply
  13. Very interesting read. Well, there is almost 90% similarity between the Chakma Language & Assamese Language. And very similar in tradition, culture and festivals, except that Chakmas are Budhist & Assamese are Hindu.
    It is quite astonishing how so much similarity yet no demographic connection have been established yet. A thorough research on the subject might bring many hidden dimension in the history of Chakmas & Assamese community.

    Reply
  14. Really informative and interesting. People not knowing you would think you have done a doctorate in languages but they will be surprised to know you are in fact an accomplished surgeon! I hope you don’t mind if I share the information with our group in Facebook called “Amazing North East”….

    Reply
  15. Thank you sir for making us acquaint with such type of valuable information.

    Reply
  16. Bhaskar Jyoti Goswami

    can i mit u plz? iam interested in areas similar to urs, it seems. n as i seem to teach linguistics to university boys n girls who by the way hate it, may be we may find things interesting together. ii am really interested. after what i accidentally read here. good work.

    Reply
  17. This is little off topic. I read some where long ago that the representatives of Assamese language provided about ten sentences in assamese to the british govt. This was accepted as the final evidence to show how Assamese language differed from Bengali language, in the long battle that was finally concluded in 1872. I read that one of these sentences was ” Tita tioni xolai pindhilu”. Are you aware of the other sentences that finally convinced that British that assamese was indeed a different language from Bengali ? If you have the information, please let us all know.

    Reply
  18. Dr Mrinal Das

    Really informative to know lot of fact about my language…great work…please carry on….

    Reply
  19. Thank you sir. Really great information. Can not wait to share this link with my friends. 🙂

    Reply
  20. I want to see u next time in Myanmar Dr Phukan

    Reply
  21. very informative and feels exciting to know our ethnicity

    Reply
  22. It’s remarkable to pay a visit this web page and reading the views of all friends concerning this article, while I am also eager of getting experience.

    Reply
  23. Very much excited to learn so much about my own language.

    Reply
  24. Saurabh Dihingia

    It is indeed an excellent research work. Our intellectuals should make an endeavour to get acquainted with these aspects too.

    Reply
  25. Alpona Kalita

    very informative…bt really sad that we don’t publish such histories in social books at schools. Everyone knows only about the Ahom Kingdom basically..

    Reply
  26. Dhiman kumar kalita

    in Assamese at the old time in between Kalita peoples there was a word “MAAKO” for GIRL.
    if u see the PROTO INDO EUROPEAN (PIE) language then there also a word “MAQA” to indicate girl.
    assamese – MAAKO (girl) — MAQA(girl) in PIE.

    Reply
  27. Read it today … I know, you could add more with the information you have with you so far … Anyway,.. waiting for the same …Regards

    Reply
  28. Dhiman kumar kalita

    some proto indo european words that has similarities with assamese words are listed here….(pie) “AWIJA “means grandmother and its corresponding Assamese word is “AAITA”. in PIE the word for TO DIG is “KANAMI” which in Assamese is “KHANDA”. in PIE the word for TO BURN is ” PREMI” which corresponding word in Assamese is ” PURA”. in PIE the word for FLOW OF AIR is ” WENTOS” which corresponding Assamese is ” BOTAH “. there are many such words. hope there words may bring some favour to prove the proto indo european origin of old Assamese language.

    Reply
  29. Dhiman Jn Kolita

    “Celtic” word for “Enclose ” is “wera” where as there is a word ” Ora ” in Assamese used in similar meaning to enclose.
    Celtic : Wera
    Assamese : Ora
    English: Enclose

    Reply
  30. Dhiman Jn Kolita

    celtic word to ” Buy ” is ” Krina” whereas the assamese word to buy is ” Kina” . it shows considerable similarity.
    celtic word for ” Dog ” is ” kuw” .assamese corresponding is ” kukur”.
    celtic word for ” Deep” is ” Dubno”
    Where as assamese word for Deep Is ” Dou”.
    Again the celtic word for “Carry ” is ” Bhar” .in assamese there was a sentense
    ” bhar bandhi nia” which means ” carrying something”. so probably at ancient time In assamese also Bhar means Carry.

    Reply
  31. Dhiman Jn Kolita

    proto indo european word for eye is ” OKU” where as assamese is “Soku”. PIE WOrd for “Fall” is ” POLNO” where as assamese is ” PORA”. PIE word for Butterfly is ” Popeljos” whereas assamese word is ” Pokhila”.The word for butterfly is slightly different but As Long epoch has elapsed of being seperaed from PIE root so the undergone modification at differnt time we have to consider and then its ok to assign similarty of two words .

    Reply
  32. Pranjit Hazarika

    Eagerly waiting for your book on the Kalitas. It’s very unfortunate not to have an elaborate historical account of the progenitors of the Assamese language. Kalitas are now a Lost Horizon.

    Reply
  33. Dhiman kumar kalita

    In this web you have written the idea of migration of ancestors of Kalitas ancestors through the Himalaya and also argued that they have similarities with hindukush region people. kalitas may be a part of Kambojas that migrated through himalaya towars nepal and it is certain that they migrated through the plane of assam and arrived to bengal and established pala dynesty.old Kambojas also had their land across hindukush and they were also not under brahminism: so you should discuss about the probability of kalitas ancestors offshooting from early kambojas. It is certain that kalitas have some amount of Kamboja ancestry.

    Reply
  34. Dhiman Kumar kalita

    Some words of proto Celtic that similar with Assamese correspondent are below…
    Basket..korajet(proto Celtic)..khorahi
    Wind…weto..botah
    Be empty…wak..uka
    Beat..kewa..KOB
    Cow..damo..damuri
    Cream…soimeno…samoni(gakhiror samoni)
    Daughter…merko..mako(small girls in Assamese in old time)
    Day..din…din
    Desire…meino..maan
    Empty..weko..uka
    Fear…ang-e…khang
    Give…da…dia
    Know…gna…Jana
    Love…ad-kar…aadar
    Short…kerto…khata
    See…drek…dekh
    Shoots(plant)…gasta..gos
    Barden…baskja…boja
    Curve…worako…beka
    Cry…koin-je/o…kanda

    These words shows significant resemblance with assamese .some are present in Sanskrit also.but most are not.those can’t be explained without pie root of old Assamese.Clear indication is for the pie roots is present in those words.

    Reply
  35. Very interesting story between Assamese languages and Chakma languages almost similar . I have found that Chakma languages almost 30 percent similar with samisen language as well as Assamese festival Bihu and Chakma grand festival Bizu or Biju

    Reply
  36. i am a proud assamese from upper assam our people are diversed and intermixed and we are all true assamese joi ai okom and sir thank you a lot for your kind information and please realese your next book about the kalitas and assam

    Reply

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