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About Assamese Language

Assamese (অসমীয়া Ôxômiya) (IPA: [ɔxɔmija]) is the easternmost Indo-Aryan language. It is used mainly in the state of Assam in North-East India. It is also the official language of Assam. It is also spoken in parts of Arunachal Pradesh and other northeast Indian states. Small pockets of Assamese speakers can be found in Bhutan. The easternmost of Indo-European languages, it is spoken by over 13 million people.

The English word "Assamese" is built on the same principle as "Japanese", "Taiwanese", etc. It is based on the name "Assam" by which the tract consisting of the Brahmaputra valley was known. The people call their state Ôxôm and their language Ôxômiya.

Formation of Assamese

Assamese and the cognate languages, Maithili, Bengali and Oriya, developed from Magadhi Prakrit. According to linguist Suniti Kumar Chatterji, the Magadhi Prakrit in the east gave rise to four Apabhramsa dialects: Radha, Vanga, Varendra and Kamarupa; and the Kamarupa Apabhramsa, keeping to the north of the Ganges, gave rise to the North Bengal dialects in West Bengal and Assamese in the Brahmaputra valley. Though early compositions in Assamese exist from the 13th century, the earliest relics of the language can be found in paleographic records of the Kamarupa Kingdom from the 5th century to the 12th century. Assamese language features have been discovered in the 9th century Charyapada, which are Buddhist verses discovered in 1907 in Nepal, and which came from the end of the Apabhramsa period. Early compositions matured in the 14th century, during the reign of the Kamata king Durlabhnarayana of the Khen dynasty, when Madhav Kandali composed the Kotha Ramayana. Since the time of the Charyapada, Assamese has been influenced by the languages belonging to the Sino-Tibetan and Austroasiatic families.

Assamese became the court language in the Ahom kingdom by the 17th century.

Writing

Assamese uses the Assamese script, a variant of the Eastern Nagari script, which traces its descent from the Gupta script. There is a strong tradition of writing 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, the second Assamese dictionary, introduced spellings based on Sanskrit which are now the standard.

Phonology

The Assamese phonemic inventory consists of eight oral vowel phonemes, three nasalized vowel phonemes, fifteen diphthongs (two nasalized diphthongs) and twenty-one consonant phonemes. For a consistent phonemic representation of the Assamese language, all English-language Wikipedia articles that include words in Assamese will use the Romanization scheme.

Alveolar Stops

The Assamese phoneme inventory is unique in the Indic group of languages in its lack of a dental-retroflex distinction in coronal stops. Historically, the dental stops and retroflex stops both merged into alveolar stops. This makes Assamese resemble non-Indic languages in its use of the coronal major place of articulation. 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).

Voiceless Velar Fricative

Unlike most eastern Indic languages, Assamese is also noted for the presence of the voiceless velar fricative x,(x, IITG, pronounced by a native speaker) historically derived from what used to be coronal sibilants. 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/Ôxômiya instead of Asomiya/Asamiya to reflect the sound, represented by [x] in the International Phonetic Alphabet. This sound [x] was present in Vedic Sanskrit, but disappeared in classical Sanskrit. It was brought back into the phonology of Assamese as a result of lenition of the three Sanskrit sibilants. This sound is present in other nearby languages, like Chittagonian.

The sound is variously transcribed in the IPA as a voiceless velar fricative [x], a voiceless uvular fricative [χ], and a voiceless velar approximant [ɰ̥] by leading phonologists and phoneticians. Some variations of the sound is expected within different population groups and dialects, and depending on the speaker, speech register, and quality of recording, all three symbols may approximate the acoustic reading of the actual Assamese phoneme.

Velar nasal

Assamese and Bengali, in contrast to other Indo-Aryan languages, use the velar nasal (the English ng in sing) extensively. In many languages the velar nasal is always attached to a homorganic sound, whereas in Assamese it can occur intervocalically.

Vowel inventory

Eastern Indic languages like Assamese, Bengali, Sylheti, and Oriya 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, including ô [ɔ], o [o], û [ʊ], and u [u]. These four vowels 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 high-mid back rounded vowel ও û [ʊ] is unique in this branch of the language family, and sounds very much to foreigners as something between অ' o [o] and উ u [u]. This vowel is found in Assamese words such as পোত pût [pʊt] "to bury".

Dialects

In the middle of the 19th century the dialect spoken in the Sibsagar area came into focus because it was made the official language of the state by the British and because the Christian missionaries based their work in this region. Now the Assamese spoken in and around Guwahati, Kamrup District, located geographically in the middle of the Assamese spoken region, is accepted as the standard Assamese. The Assamese taught in schools and used in newspapers today has evolved and incorporated elements from different dialects of the language. Banikanta Kakati identified two dialects which he named Eastern and Western dialects. However, recent linguistic studies have identified four dialect groups (Moral 1992, listed below from east to west:

  • Eastern group, spoken in and other districts around Sibsagar district
  • Central group spoken in present Nagaon district and adjoining areas
  • Kamrupi group spoken in undivided Kamrup, Nalbari, Barpeta, Darrang, Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon districts
  • Goalparia group spoken primarily in the Dhubri and Goalpara districts and in certain areas of Kokrajhar and Bongaigoan districts

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 the 8th-12th century. The first examples emerge in writings of court poets in the 14th century, the finest example of which is Madhav Kandali's Kotha Ramayana, as well as popular ballad in the form of Ojapali. The 16th—17th century saw a flourishing of Vaishnavite literature, leading up to the emergence of modern forms of literature in the late 19th century.

 

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