Languages of the NE->Assamese
 

Name of the Language: ASSAMESE                                                     

The currently prevalent standard Assamese dialect had its roots in Sibsagar located in eastern Assam, when it was made the official language of the state by the British in 1872. Moreover the American Baptist Missionaries used it for literary activities at the same time and gradually it was accepted by the entire Assamese community as the standard norm. However the shift of activity from Sibsagar to Guwahati in the early part of this century has also resulted in a change gradually to this dialect to arrive at its present form which will be referred to as the contemporary standard. For the sake of linguistic interest it may be noted that Guwahati was largely instrumental in reshaping it.

Geographical Location

Banikanta Kakati has divided the Assamese dialects into two major groups: Eastern Assamese and Western Assamese (Kakati, 1941). However recent studies have shown that there are four dialect groups namely 1) the eastern Assamese dialects spoken in the districts of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Sibsagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and Sonitpur. 2) the central Assamese group of dialects spoken primarily in Nogaon and Morigoan districts and in some parts of Sonitpur and Jorhat districts also. 3) the Kamrupi group of dialects are spoken in the districts of Kamrup, Nalbari, Barpets, Darrang, Kokrajhar and Bongaigoan and 4) the Goalparia group of Assamese dialects spoken primarily in the Dhubri and Goalpara districts and in certain areas of Kokrajhar and Bongaigoan districts. (Moral, 1992).

Number of Speakers

According to the 1991 census the population of Assamese speakers is stated at 1,29,38,088 persons.

PHONOLOGY OF ASSAMESE

I. PHONEMIC INVENTORY:

The phonemic inventory of Assamese are made up of eight oral vowel phonemes, three nasalized vowel phonemes, fifteen diphthongs (two nasalized diphthongs) and twenty-one consonant phonemes. These can be given in the following way:

Click on the links for pronounciation

(a) Oral Vowels:

Front unrounded

Central unrounded

Back unrounded

High

i

u

Lower High

U

Mid

e

o

Lower Mid

E

O

Low

a

(b) Nasalized Vowels:

High

i)

 

u)

Low

 

a)

(c) Diphthongs:

ei

iu

ia

ui

ou

ua

oi

eu

Ea

Oi

Ou

 

ai

au

(d) Nasalized Diphthongs:

a )u

u )a

(e) Consonants:

Bilabial

Alveolar

Velar

Glottal

Stops

p b

t d

k g

pH bH

tH dH

kH gH

Nasals

m

n

N

Fricatives

s z

x

h

Approximant

r

Lateral

l

 

II. ILLUSTRATION OF CONTRASTS:

Lists of contrastive pairs of words illustrating the phonemes are given below:

i) Oral Vowels:

For the purpose of establishing contrasts between the various oral phonemes we have to recognize the following sets that exhibit certain distributional patterns. Leaving aside the vowels /i/ and /a/, the other six vowels can be grouped into three related sets, they being: /e/ and /E/, /u/, /o/ and /O/. From each set one member contrasts with the other member in various contrasts in a word as given below. However, it should be noted that some degree of vowel harmony controls the occurrence of one member of the set as apposed to the other; thus in a poly-syllabic word, only the higher member of each set occurs when it is followed by one of the high vowels /iu/, conversely the lower member occurs when the following vowel is a lower one. For convenience we shall henceforth call /ieuUo/ as the non-low vowels, and /EaO/ as the low vowels both individually and as a group. Hence contrasts between the members of each set are available only in mono-syllabic words or in word final position. So, after establishing such a contrast we can view the above vowel harmony as a matter of neutralization of contrasts.

(a) /i/ /e/

Initial

Medial

Final

/iti/

finish

/bis/

twenty

/eti/

one

/bes/

well-done

(b) /i/ /u/

Initial

Medial

Final

/iti/

finish

/xil/

stone

/mani/

respectful

/uti/

floating

/xul/

a bed of nails used

/manu/

personal for punishment name

(c ) /e/ /E/

Initial

Medial

Final

 

 

/bes/

well done

 

 

 

 

/bEs/

sell (2 pa.sg/pl

simp.pres.Hon 3)

 

(d) /E/ /a/

Initial

Medial

Final

/Eta/

one

/tEl/

oil

/manE/

meaning

/ata/

wheat, flour

/tal/

rhythm

/mana/

forbidden

(e) /a/ /O/

Initial

Medial

Final

/ata/

wheat, flour

/dal/

branch of a tree

/la/

lac

/Ota/

rinse

/dOl/

group

/lO/

take

(f) /a/ /o/

Initial

Medial

Final

/anu/

bring

/bal/

pubic hair

/la/

lac

/onu/

personal pronoun

/bol/

hortative

/lo/

Iron particle

(g) /o/ /O/

Initial

Medial

Final

 

 

/bol/

hortative

/lo/

Iron particle

 

 

/bOl/

strength

/lO/

take

(h) /U/ /o/

Initial

Medial

Final

/Ur/

The process of wrapping a shawl

/kUt/

coat

 

 

/or/

finish

/kot/

where

 

(i) /u/ /U/

Initial

Medial

Final

/ur/

fly

/kHul/

open

/balu/

sand

/Ur/

the process of wrapping a shawl

/kHul/

musical drum

 

(j) /e/ /o/

Initial

Medial

Final

/eti/

one

/bel/

bell

 

 

/oti/

very much

/bol/

hortative participle

 

(k) /E/ /O/

Initial

Medial

Final

/Eta/

one

/tEl/

oil

/harE/

lose

/Ota/

rise

/tOl/

below

/harO/

lose

ii) Nasalized Vowels:

In Assamese there are two types of vowel nasalization, phonemic and allophonic. Only the peripheral vowels /iua/ contrast for oral-nasalized distinction. However, all the vowel phonemes derive their nasalized allophones from any preceding nasal or from the /i)/, /u)/ or /a)/ that occurs in the preceding or following syllable.

The distinction between allophonic nasalization and phonemic nasalization can be made clear by applying a word game that is commonly used by Assamese speakers. This game involves the insertion of an echo syllable after an original syllable in a word, creating a kind of pig-Latin. The echo syllable contains the consonant /p/ followed by a vowel which is a copy of the original syllable.

 

Original

Echoed

1. intestines

/nari/ nanri

nan pa ri pi

2. plate

/ka)hi/ kahin

ka) pa) hin pi

Example (1) above illustrates the case of an allophonic nasalization and example (2) of phonemic nasalization. It could not be seen that in example (1) the nasalization does not extend beyond the first syllable in the echo form since, except for the first vowel /a/ the other vowels are not adjacent to a nasal consonant. Thus, the echo syllable /pa/ copies the phoneme /a/ from the parent syllable viz., /na/. It does not copy the allophonic nasalization from the parent syllable.

In example (2), the echo syllable copies the nasalization of the vowel in the parent syllable viz., /ka)/, which results in the formation of the echo syllable /pa)/. This phonemically nasalized /a)/ of the echo syllable /pa)/ in turn influences the vowel in the following syllable and makes it phonetically nasalized.

The following contrastive pairs of words illustrate the nasalized phonemes /i) u) a)/.

/i)/ /i/

Initial

Medial

Final

/i)h/

shaft of a plough

/xi)s/

sow allover

/xi/

sew

/ih/

an exclamation of surprise

/xis/

disciple

/xi/

(3pa.sg.Hon3)

/a)/ /a/

Initial

Medial

Final

/a)h/

fibre

/ba)h/

nest

/sa)/

shade

/ah/

come

/bah/

bamboo

/sa/

look

/u)/ /u/

Initial

Medial

Final

/u)th/

lips

/xu)r/

trunk

/xu)/

right

/uth/

get up

/xur/

tune

/xu/

sleep

The allophonic nasalized vowels of each vowel phoneme are illustrated under the respective vowel phonemes.

 

iii) Diphthongs:

The following contrastive pairs of words illustrate the diphthong phonemes:

(a) /ei/

Initial

Medial

Final

/itu/

the other one (prox.)

/xitu/

the other one (dist.)

/di/

two way

/eitu/

this one (prox.Hon 3)

/xeitu/

that one (dist.)

/dei/

Ok

/eti/

One

 

 

 

 

/eiti/

this one (prox.Hon 1)

/xetu/

bridge

 

(b) /ui/

Initial

Medial

Final

/i/

he (2pa.,sg/pl.prox.

Hon.3)

 

 

 

 

/ui/

white ant

/bisa/

caterpillar

/du/

to bow

 

 

/buisa/

Understand (2pa., sg/pl.simp.pres.Hon.3)

/di/

two way

 

 

 

 

/dui/

Two

/ul/

wool

 

 

 

 

/uil/

will for inheritance

/xusa/

to mention

 

 

 

 

/xuisa/

Sleep (2pa.,sg/pl. sim. Pres Hon.2)

 

(c) /oi/

Initial

Medial

Final

/i/

he (3pa.sg. prox.)

/thila/

peg

/di/

two way

/oi/

interjection (meaning, ‘hey you!’)

/thoila/

sack

/doi/

curd

 

 

/thola/

keep

/loi/

case marker

(d) /Oi/

Initial

Medial

Final

/OnnO/

rice

/pOta/

mortar

/hO/

be (2pa.sg/ pl.simp.pres.Hon3).

/OinnO/

somebody else

/pita/

father

/hOi/

yes

 

 

/pOita/

cockroach

/zi/

Daughter

 

 

 

 

/zOi/

victory

(e) /ai/

Initial

Medial

Final

/i/

he

/kit/

insect

 

 

/za/

husband’s sister

 

 

 

 

/ai/

mother

/kat/

cut (2pa.sg/pl pres.simp.Hon.3)

/zi/

daughter

/a/

a prefix

/kait/

thorn

/zai/

go (3pa., sg/pl.simp.pres)

(f) /iu/

Initial

Medial

Final

 

 

/nita/

personal name

/du/

to bow

 

 

/niuta/

one who takes

/di/

to way

 

 

/duta/

two

/diu/

give

 

 

/diuta/

one who gives

 

(g) /ou/

Initial

Medial

Final

/ur/

fly (2pa.,sg/pl.simp pres.Hon.3)

/koti/

buttocks

/tu/

classifier

 

 

/kuti/

nibbling

/tou/

a big bell-metal vessel

/or/

finished

/kouti/

a crore

 

 

/ou/

a kind of sour fruit

 

 

 

 

(h) /eu/

Initial

Medial

Final

 

 

/duta/

two

/du/

to bow

 

 

/deuta/

father

/deu/

priest

 

 

/deuri/

personal name

 

 

 

 

/deri/

late

 

(i) /Ou/

Initial

Medial

Final

 

 

/kOta/

cut

/nO/

new

 

 

/kuta/

nibbled

/nOu/

nine

 

 

/kOuta/

speaker

/nu/

a negative affix

(j) /au/

Initial

Medial

Final

/uti/

floating

/pata/

to hold

/xu/

sleep

/auti/

cloath-border(2pa.sg/pl.simp.

pres.Hon.3)

/puta/

buried

 

 

/axi/

eighty

/pauta/

one who gets

/xa/

hot breadth

/auxi/

no-moon day

/xau/

curse

 

(k) /ua/

Initial

Medial

Final

/uar/

cover for pillows blankets,etc.

/gal/

cheek

/xu/

sleep(2pa.,sg/pl.simp.
pres.Hon.3)

/ar/

to cover

/gual/

milkman

/xa/

hot breadth

/ur/

fly(2ps,sg/pl. simp.pres.Hon.2)

/gul/

round

/xua/

sleep(2pa., simp.pres.Hon.3)

(l) /Ea/

Initial

Medial

Final

/Eathu/

knee-deep

/khal/

hole in the ground

/da/

elder brother

/athu/

knees

/khEl/

games

/dE/

give(1pa.,sg/pl.simp.pres.Hon.3)

/EthUk/

one bundle

/khEal/

classical raga

/dEa/

burnt

(m) /ia/

Initial

Medial

Final

/iar/

his(2pa.,sg,Hon.3 prox.)

/xil/

stone

/gathi/

a knot

/ar/

to cover

/xal/

name of a tree

/gathia/

dwarf

/iat/

here

/xial/

fox

/xura/

Wine

/ita/

brick

 

 

/xuria/

tonal

                     iv)       Nasalized Diphthongs:

              The two nasalized diphthong phonemes /~au/ and /~ua/ contrast word finally only, as in-

/xau/  curse

/pua/   250 gms

/x~au/  mucous

/p~ua/  morning

v) Consonant Phonemes:

Lists of contrastive pairs of words illustrating the phonemes are given below:

(i) WORD INITIALLY

a) /p/:b/:ph/:/bh/:/m/:/n/

        /pat/  leaf

        /bat/  road

        /phat/  crack

        /bhat/  cooked rice

        /mat/  voice

        /nat/   drama

b) /t/:/d/:/th/:/dh/:/m/:/z/:/r/

        /tam/  copper

        /dam/  cost

        /tham/  to stop

        /dham/   holy place

        /nam/  name

        /zam/  go(1pa.,sg/pl.,fut.)

        /ram/  personal name

c) /r/:/l/

        /roti/  measure of weight for gold and silver

        /loti/  ear lobe

d) /k/:/g/:/kh/:/gh/:/x/:/s/:/h/

        /kat/  cut(2pa.,sg/pl,simp.pres.Hon.30

        /gat/  hole in the ground

        /khat/  bed

        /ghat/   river bank

        /xat/   seven

        /sat/  house roof

        /hat/  hand

a) /p/:/b/

/zapi/  traditional hat

/zabi/  go(2 pa,sg./pl. fut. Hon.3)

b) /p/:/ph/

/lOpa/  foolish

/lOpha/  a green leafy vegetable

c) /b/:/bh/

/Ebar/  once

/Ebhar/   amount carried by a carrying pole in one time

d) /b/:/m/

/habi/  jungle

/hami/  yawn

e) /ph/:/bh/

/lOpha/  a green leafy vegetable

/lObha/  to achieve something

f) /t/:/d/:/th/:/dh/

/ata/  wheat flour

/ada/  ginger

/atha/  sticky

/adha/  half

g) /d/:/n/:/z/:/r/:/l/

/adi/  first

/ani/  bringing something

/azi/  today

/ari/  a kind of fish

/ali/road

h) /k/:/g/:/N/

/sika/  rodent

/siga/  broken

/siNa/  snapped

i) /kh/:/gh/

/dukhoria/  split into two pieces

/dughoria/  split of a joint family

j) /k/:/kh/

/akOr/  a mine

/akhOr/  letter of an alphabet

k) /g/:/gh/

/pOga/  to boil for a long time

/pOgha/  rope used for trying a cow

l) /k/:/x/

/aki/  the edge shaped joint of wood or bamboo

/axi/  eighty

m) /m/:/n/:/N/

/dami/  costly

/dani/  donor

/daNi/  lifting up

(ii) WORD MEDIALLY

(iii) WORD FINALLY

a) /p/:/b/:/ph/:/m/

        /sap/  pressure

/sab/  imprint of a seal

/saph/  clean

/sam/  see(1.pa,sg./pl.,fut.)

b) /b/:/bh/

/khUb/  very much

/khUbh/  agitation of the mind

c) /ph/:/bh/

/laph/  jump

/labh/  profit

d) /t/:/d/:/th/:/dh/:/n/:/r/:/z/:/l/

/mut/  urine

/mud/  closure of eyes

/muth/  total

/mudh/  the highest point in the roof of a house

/mun/  personal name

/mur/  head

/muz/  to shut(eyes)

/mul/  basis

e) /k/:/g/

/pak/  tangled

/pag/  warmth

f) /kh/:/gh/:do not contrast in final position

g) /g/:/N/

/dag/  stain

/daN/  lift(2 pa,sg/pl,simp.pres.Hon.3)

h) /g/:/gh/

/bag/  garden

/bagh/  tiger

i) /k/:/kh/

/xik/  learn(2pa,sg/pl.simp.pres.Hon.3)

/xikh/  sikh

j) /k/:/x/

/dak/  post(letters)

/dax/  slave

k) In word final positions,/x/freely varies with /kh/

l) /s/:/x/

/bex/  well done

/bex/  apperance

m) /m/:/n/:/N/:/x/:/h/

/dam/  cost

/dan/  donation

/daN/  lift(2pa,sg/pl.simp.pres.Hon.3)

/dax/  slave

/dah/  burnt out

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