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(self-designation—Ahomiya, Assamiya), people living in the state of Assam (northeastern India). The population in 1967 was estimated at 8 million. The language spoken is Assamese; the religion is Hinduism.
The ethnic origins and early history of the Assamese are poorly researched. Aryan-speaking migrants from the northwest, Tibeto-Burmese, and Thai migrants took part in their formation. In the seventh century the territory of Assam became known as Kamarupa. In the 13th century it was conquered by the Ahoms, a Thai people from Burma who established their own kingdom (its name was applied to the people and the country). In the course of time the Ahoms mixed with the local population and assimilated its language and culture.
The Assamese are primarily engaged in farming—rice, millet, corn, legumes, and other crops—and part of the population works on tea plantations and in oil extraction. Various crafts, such as weaving and ceramics, are well-developed. The Assamese are divided into castes, but the caste restrictions among them are less stringent than in other regions of India. Undivided families, in which married sons manage a common household with the parents, are preserved in the villages.
REFERENCENarody Iuzhnoi Azii. Moscow, 1963. (With bibliography.)
S. A. MARETINA
the language of the Assamese, the official language of the state of Assam in India. Approximately 8 million people speak Assamese.
Assamese belongs to the Indian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is divided into two main dialects, Eastern and Western; the Assamese literary language is based on the Eastern dialect. Vowel harmony is a distinctive feature of the sound system of modern Assamese. Word formation is accomplished by compounding, suffixation, and less commonly prefixation.
Nouns are categorized according to four genders: words signifying animate beings are subdivided into nouns of the masculine and feminine genders according to respective sex; nouns belonging to the common gender are words signifying animate objects without any sexual reference (manuh, “person,” and xontan, “child”); words signifying inanimate objects belong to the neuter gender. Only nouns and pronouns are declined. All nouns in the Assamese language may have an intensive form—that is, a special expressive shade of meaning. Any adjective in the Assamese language can be substantivized. Complex verbs occur as denominative compounds and verbal compounds, the latter being made from the combination of two verb forms, the first of which bears a concrete lexical meaning and the second, additional shades of meaning, such as intensity, initiation, completion, permission, repetition of action, and so on. In Assamese the subject, as a rule, occurs in first position and the predicate in the last position.
The formation of the Assamese language dates to the tenth and 11th centuries; it was greatly influenced by the Magadhi and Apabhramsa Prakrit. After the conquest of Assam by the Ahoms (1228), the Assamese language received a large number of words from the Ahom (Shan) language. The spread of Vishnu religious literature in Assam resulted in the borrowing of Sanskrit words. The founder of literary Assamese was Shankardev (1449–1569). The development of literature in the Assamese language came to a halt during the colonization of Assam by the British, when Bengali became the official language. The Assamese syllabary, which can be traced back to ancient Indian Brahmanic writings, attained its final form at the beginning of the 19th century.
REFERENCESBabakaev, V. D. Assamskii iazyk. Moscow, 1961.
Medhi Kaliran. Assamese Grammar and Origin of the Assamese Language. Gauhati, 1936.
Kakati, B. Assamese, Its Formation and Development. Gauhati, 1941.
Sarma, G. Assamese-English Dictionary. Shillong, 1957.
Sarma, G. English-Assamese Dictionary. Calcutta-Jorhat, 1957.