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Lexicon on 9 NE languages

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  • Published 13.04.14

Jorhat, April 12: The reprinted edition of a dictionary of nine languages of the Northeast compiled by British surgeon Francis Buchanan-Hamilton was released today.

The dictionary, which was initially compiled about 200 years ago, is a treasure trove of words that are extinct and lost and also throws light on hitherto unknown facts of ancestry and culture of different groups of people.

Printed by Asomiya Jatiya Prakash, publishers of the largest dictionary, the Assamese National Dictionary, in four volumes, the scanned photocopy of the book was accessed from the British Library with the help of Rini Kakati, and had been handwritten in ink on paper.

The release ceremony coincided with the observation of the 213th birth anniversary of Assam’s first dictionary writer Jaduram Deka Baruah who had brought out the first modern Bangla-Assamese dictionary 115 years ago.

Devabrata Sharma, editor of the comparative vocabularies of 10 languages of Northeast India, said nearly 20,000 English words ranging from last day of the month, the constellations, to cry and to disband were compiled into the dictionary.

“The fine small handwriting in English had to be painstakingly read after scanning and zooming to make out each word,” he said.

The nine languages of the Northeast in which the meanings of the English words had been written were Prkrta Bangadesiya bhasa (Bengali), Kochardesiya bhasa (Koch), Rabhajatiya bhasa (Rabha), Garojatiya bhasa (Garo), Kacharjatiya bhasa (Kachari), Pani Koch jatiya bhasa (Pani Koch), Mechjatiya bhasa (Mech) Asamdesiya bhasa (Assam) and Manipur Desiya bhasa (Manipuri).

In an introduction, Hamilton wrote that some languages were as characteristic of a country (des), others of a group (jat). Those designated as jat languages are the ones which do not have political status. Sharma said the Pani Koch language was extinct.

“He explained that the language of the Koch country is very much like Bengali but that he had found a village where Pani Koch was spoken. He correctly assumed the Pani Koch language to have been the language of the Koch before “most of them deserted their ancient customs,” and he rightly remarked that this language is not like Garo but very much like Rabha,” Sharma said. “Buchanan Hamilton was wiser than most linguists of his time who still used the Liebnizian idea of tracking ancestry via language: Buchanan had noticed language borrowings and language shifts,” he further said.

Hamilton gives a detailed description of the lives of the Pani Koches and Manipuri Meiteis and refers to Raja Brajanath Singha, the father of the last king of Ahom kings Purandhar Singha and Kamala Kanta Goswami, Bengali religious head, as valuable sources for the compilation.

Today’s ceremony included all the 10 people representing the languages — Tezpur University English department professor Madan Sharma, (English) Pradip Sarkar (Bangla) Tulsi Sakia (Koch), Lakshminath Rabha (Rabha) Dorothy Momin (Garo), Lokesh Bodo (Kachari) Pramod Neog (Pani Koch) and Simu Singha (Manipuri) and Hridikamal Baruah (Assamese).

Representatives of all 10 languages released the book together.