Assamese language

From Academic Kids

Assamese (অসমীয়া)
Spoken in: India, Bangladesh, Bhutan
Region: Asia
Total speakers: 20,000,000
Ranking: 65
Genetic classification: Indo-European

   Eastern Zone
    Assamese      Assamese

Official status
Official language of: Assam
Regulated by: not regulated
Language codes
ISO 639-1as
ISO 639-2asm
See also: LanguageList of languages

Assamese (অসমীয়া) or Asamiya or Oxomiya is the language spoken by some of the natives of the state of Assam in northeast India. It is also the official language of Assam. It is spoken in parts of Arunachal Pradesh and other northeast Indian states. Small pockets of Assamese speakers can be found in Bhutan and Bangladesh. Immigrants from Assam have carried the language with them to other parts of the world. The eastern most of Indo-European languages, it is spoken by over 20 million people.


Formation of Assamese

Assamese and the cognate languages, Bengali and Oriya, developed from Magadhi apabhramsa, the eastern branch of the apabhramsa that followed Prakrit. Written records in an earlier form of the Assamese script can be traced to 6th/7th century AD when Kamarupa (part of present-day Assam was a part of ancient Kamarupa) was ruled by the Varman dynasty. Assamese language features have been discovered in the 9th century Charyapada, which are Buddhist verses discovered in 1911 in Nepal, and which came from the end of the Apabhramsa period. Earliest examples of the language appeared in the early 14th century, composed during the reign of the Kamata king Durlabhnarayana. Since the time of the Charyapada over the passage of the centuries it has been influenced by the languages belonging to the Tibeto-Burmese and Austric families giving it a characteristic expressiveness and charm.


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 and other Kamrupi texts were written. The Assamese script traces its ancestry to Nagari, an earlier form of Devanagari script which is used in India's national language Hindi. The standardized script used to write modern Assamese is a variation of the standardized Bengali script. The spellings in Assamese are not necessarily phonetic. Hemkosh, the second Assamese dictionary, introduced spellings based on Sanskrit which are now the standard.

  • The native Assamese speakers wrote only buranji puthi in the native Assamese language which is now the state language of Assam or modern Assamese. But the Kamrupi was the language used to write volumes of yesteryear scriptures.
  • A lot Kamrupi words have been miss-spelled in Hemkosh. It is also observed in some cases that Hemkosh does not follow Sanskrit pronunciation/style, e.g., mahush is written as manuh in Hemkosh, but this is not the case in presently spoken Kamrupi.
  • The words listed in Hemkosh are spoken in the old district Sibasagar in upper Assam. As a result, it is difficult for ordinary native Assamese to make the meaning of yesteryear Kamrupi scriptures.


Assamese phonetics has two distinguishing features vis--vis the other Indic languages of the Indo-European family: the complete absence of the retroflex sound which is particularly strong in Dravidian languages, and strong in Sanskrit; and the presence of the voiceless velar fricative [1] ( which is completely absent in the present forms of other Indian languages. As an example of the second, some Assamese prefer Oxomiya to Asomiya while writing the name of their language to denote the sound, represented by 'x' in the International Phonetic Alphabet. This sound present in the Proto-Indo-European language and in old (Vedic) Sanskrit disappeared in classical Sanskrit. In the Assamese context, the sound is the result of a process of lenition.

Dr. Rabin Deka has demonstrated using modern algorithms and technology currently available in Digital Signal Processing discipline that the phoneme /x/ as defined by International Phonetic Alphabet is not same as that of the three phonemes produced by the native Assamese speakers. So IPA authority must incorporate new symbols for such distinctly unique phonemes - (see Talk:Assamese_language for his original research).


The Assamese spoken in and around Guwahati is now considered standard. 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 (1) Eastern and (2) Western dialects. However, recent linguistic studies have identified four dialect groups [2] ( (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 in Goalpara, Dhubri, Kokrajhar and Bongaigoan districts

It is not surprising that Guwahati is situated geographically between regions that speak the central and the Kamrupi dialects.

  • The IIT Guwahati author in the link also carelessly overlooked the original work of Dr. Banikanta Kakati.
  • Not only that the author in the link bundled up three distinct phonemes of the modern Assamese into one phoneme - read more in Phonetics' section of the link Assamese

A phenomenal difference between modern Assamese and present Kamrupi is the usage of present perfect form with Sanskritize pronunciation which is missing in modern Assamese.

This form in Kamrupi is composed using Sanskritized pronunciations while this grammar is dominant in currently spoken versions of Kamrupi throughout undivided Kamrup, Goalpara and all the way further west to Cooch Behar.

"In addition to Kamrupi wisdom, Kamrupi lokageet, Goalparia lokageet and Vaishnava divine song bargeet are also sung in present perfect form. It is spectacular - over 90% of the sloka found in the yester year Kamrupi scriptures were composed using this grammar found in today's spoken Kamrupi." - quoted directly from the paper entitled "Some Kamrupi Wisdom and Recitation Norms" author Dr. Rabin Deka published by Asom Sahitya Sabha (Assam Literary Socity) North America branch in "Luitor Pora Mississippi", 20th publication, July 2003.

The linguist Dr. Banikanta Kakati also took the above-discussed grammar into account in order for him to define the language spoken in Upper Assam area as a dialect of Kamrupi. The Ahom occupation was one of the main factors behind the formation of this dialect (now called modern Assamese) of Kamrupi.

Volumes of ancient scriptures were written in Kamrupi.


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

Early Assamese (6th to 15th century AD)

This period may again be split into (a) Pre–Vaishnavite and (b) Vaishnative sub-periods. The earliest known Assamese writer is Hema Saraswati, who wrote a small poem "Prahrada Charita". In the time of the king Indranarayana (1350-1365) of Kamatapur the two poets Harihara Vipra and Kaviratna Saraswati composed Asvamedha Parva and Jayadratha Vadha respectively. Another poet named Rudra Kandali translated Drona Parva into Assamese. But the most well-known poet of the Pre-Vaishnavite sub period is Madhava Kandali, who rendered the entire Ramayana into Assamese verse under the patronage of Mahamanikya, a Kachari king of Jayantapura.

Hema Saraswati introduced himself in his writing as Vaishnava born in Kamrup or Kamarupa. The language he used is not Assamese but Kamrupi, this is the case with Madhava Kandali too.

Middle 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. From the beginning of the seventeenth century onwards, court chronicles were written in large numbers. These chronicles or buranjis, as they were called by the Ahoms, broke away from the style of the religious writers. The language is essentially modern except for slight alterations in grammar and spelling.

Modern Assamese

Influence of Missionaries

The modern Assamese period began with the publication of the Bible in Assamese prose by the American Baptist Missionaries in 1819. The currently prevalent standard Asamiya has its roots in the Sibsagar dialect of Eastern Assam. As mentioned in Bani Kanta Kakati's "Assamese, its Formation and Development" (1941, Published by Sree Khagendra Narayan Dutta Baruah, LBS Publications, G.N. Bordoloi Road, Gauhati-1, Assam, India) – " 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. These 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.

Effect of British rule

The British imposed Bengali in Assam after the state was occupied in 1826. Due to a sustained campaign, Assamese was reinstated in 1872 as the state language. Since the initial printing and literary activity occurred in eastern Assam, the Eastern dialect was introduced in schools, courts and offices and soon came to be formally recognized as the Standard Assamese. In recent times, with the growth of Guwahati as the political and commercial center of Assam, the Standard Assamese has moved away from its roots in the Eastern dialect.

Beginning of Modern Literature

The period of modern literature began with the publication 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 Rajanikanta Bordoloi published the first Assamese novel Mirijiyori. The modern Assamese literature has been enriched by the works of Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla, Hem Barua and others.

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

The word Assamese is an English one, built on the same principle as Cingalese, Canarese, etc. It is based on the English word Assam by which the tract consisting of the Brahmaputra valley is known. But the people themselves call their state Asam and their language Asamiya.

ISO 639-1: as
ISO 639-2: asm

External links


de:Assami fr:assamais hi:असमिया id:Bahasa Assam pl:Język asamski sv:Assamesiska zh:阿萨姆语


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