Assamese Language : Origin and Development

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The principal language spoken in Assam is Assamese or Asamiya. Assamese is regarded as the lingua-franca of the whole northeast India. Assamese is one of the languages recognized and listed in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution of India. Majority of its speakers live in the Brahmaputra valley of the Assam, which accounts for two third of total Assam population (approximately 20 million as per Census Report 2011).

Assamese and Bodo are the official languages in Assam, whereas in some of the districts in the Barak Valley, Bengali enjoys the official status. It is the eastern-most language of the Indo-Aryan European family of languages. It gradually evolved from the Sanskrit language about the 7th century AD. However, its vocabulary, phonology and grammar have substantially been influenced by the original inhabitants of Assam, such as the Bodos and the Kacharis. (Satyendranath Sarma)

Assamese uses the Assamese script, a variant of the Eastern Nagari Script, which traces its descent from the Gupta Script. Developed from Brahmi through Devanagiri, Assamese script is similar to that of Bengali except the symbols for /r/ and /w/ and highly resembles the Devanagiri script of Hindi, Sanskrit and other related Indic languages. As such it is a syllabary script and is written from left to right. The alphabet consists of 12 vowel graphemes and 52 consonant graphemes.

The history of the Assamese language may be broadly divided into three periods:

Assamese languageEarly Assamese: 6th to 5th century AD:

This period may again be split into a) Pre-Vaishnavite and b) Vaishnavite sub-periods. The earliest known Assamese writer is Hema Saraswati, who wrote a da Charita. “In the time of the king Indranarayana small poem “Prahra (1350-1365) of Kamatapur the two poets Harihara Vipra and Kaviratna Saraswati composed Asvamedha Parva and Jayadratha Vadha respectively.

Assamese languageMiddle Assamese: 17th to 19th century AD:

This is a period of the prose chronicles (Buranji) of the Ahom court. The Ahoms had brought with them an instinct for historical writings. In the Ahom court, historical chronicles were at first composed in their original Tibeto-Chinese language, but when the Ahom rulers adopted Assamese as the court language, historical chronicles began to be written in Assamese.

Assamese languageModern Assamese:

The modern Assamese period began with the publication of the Bible in Assamese prose by the American Baptist Missionaries in 1819. The currently prevalent Asamiya has its roots in the Sibsagar dialect of Eastern Assam. As mentioned in Banikanta Kakati’s “Assamese, its Formation and Development” (1941). The Missionaries made Sibsagar in Eastern Assam the centre of their activities and used the dialect of Sibsagar for their literary purposes. The American Baptist Missionaries were the first to use this dialect in translating the Bible in 1813. The Missionaries established the first printing press in Sibsagar in 1836 and started using the local Asamiya dialect for writing purposes. In 1846 they started a monthly periodical called Arunodoi, and in 1848, Nathan Brown published the first book on Assamese grammar. The Missionaries published the first Assamese-English Dictionary compiled by M. Bronson in 1867.

The period of modern literature began with the publication of the Assamese journal Jonaki (1889), which introduced the short story form first by Laxminath Bezbarua. Thus began the Jonaki period of Assamese literature. In 1894 Rajnikanta Bordoloi published the first Assamese novel Mirijiyori. The modern Assamese literature has been enriched by the works of Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla, Hem Barua, Bhabendra Nath Saikia, Lakshinandan Borah, Saurabh Kumar Chaliha and others.

In 1917 the Asom Sahitya Sabha was formed as a guardian of the Assamese society and the forum for the development and enrichment of Assamese language and literature.

Reference:

Assamese, its Formation and Development by Dr Banikanta Kakati.

Indian Census report 2011.

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