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Ahom language

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Title: Ahom language  
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Subject: Tai languages, Proto-Tai language, Tai–Kadai languages, Ahom, List of extinct languages of Asia
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Ahom language

Native to India
Region Assam
Ethnicity Ahom people
Extinct used in religious chants and literary materials[1]
Ahom script
Language codes
ISO 639-3 aho
Glottolog ahom1240[2]

The Ahom language is a nearly extinct Tai language spoken by the Ahom people who ruled the Brahmaputra river valley in the present day Indian state of Assam between the 13th and the 18th centuries. The language is classified in a Northwestern subgrouping of Southwestern Tai owing to close affinities with Shan, Khamti and, more distantly, Thai. As the Ahom rulers of the area assimilated to the more numerous Assamese, the Indo-Aryan Assamese language gradually replaced Ahom as a spoken language, a process which became complete during the 19th century. As of 2000, Ahom was only known by approximately 200 priests of the traditional Ahom religion and only used for ceremonial or ritualistic purposes.

Although the language is no longer spoken, the exhaustive 1795 Ahom-Assamese lexicon known as the Bar Amra preserves the form of the language that was spoken during the Ahom Kingdom. Ahom is an important language in Tai studies. It was relatively free of both Mon-Khmer and Indo-Aryan influences and has a written tradition dating back to the 13th century.

Language characteristics

Ahom is classified as a Southwestern Tai language. It has its own script. Ahom has characteristics typical of Tai languages, such as:

  • Subject Verb Object (SVO) word order [3][4]
  • Tonality [3][4][5]
  • Monosyllabic roots [3][4][5][6]
  • Each syllable is tonal, and begins with a consonant or consonant cluster. A vowel or diphthong follows. A final consonant may be added, but is not necessary.[6]
  • Lack of inflection [3][5]
  • Analytic syntax [4]

When speaking and writing Ahom, much is dependent upon context and the audience interpretation. Multiple parts of the sentence can be left out; verb and adjectives will remain, but other parts of speech, especially pronouns, can be dropped. Verbs do not have tenses, and nouns do not have plurals. Time periods can be identified by adverbs, strings of verbs, or auxiliaries placed before the verb.[6] Ahom, like other Tai languages, uses classifiers to identify categories, and repetitions of words to express idiomatic expressions. However, the expressions, classifiers, pronouns, and other sentence particles vary between the Tai languages descended from Proto-Tai, making Tai languages mutually unintelligible.[6]

History of the language

The immediate parent language from which Ahom is descended has been reconstructed as Proto-Tai, a language from 2000 years ago,[5][6] in the Tai–Kadai family (unrelated to Chinese, but possibly related to the Austronesian languages),[4] within the (proposed but debated) subgroup of Kam–Tai,[6] although some say that Tai languages are a discrete family, and are not part of Tai–Kadai.[5]

The Ahom people and their language originated in Yunnan in south-west China and they migrated, from the border between Northern Vietnam and the Guangxi province of China,[5] into the south-east Asian peninsula and northern Burma. Ahom was then spoken by the Ahom people who ruled most of Assam, a civilization in the Brahmaputra river valley, in Southeast Asia,[3] from 1228 to 1826. It was the exclusive court language of the Ahom kingdom till about the 15th–16th century, when it made way for Assamese, an Indo-Aryan language. The language fell into complete disuse by the 19th century[6] and the phonology has completely been lost. The language today is used chiefly for liturgical purposes, and is no longer used in daily life. It retains cultural significance and is used for religious chants and to read literature.[3] An effort has been made to revive the language by following the phonology of existing sister languages, especially Tai-Aiton and Tai-Phake.

See also


  1. ^ Ahom language from
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Ahom". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Diller, A. (1993). Tai Languages. In International Encyclopedia of Linguistics (Vol. 4, pp. 128-131). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ a b c d e Blake, B. J. (1994). Language Classification. In The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (Vol. 4, pp. 1952-1957). New York, NY: Pergamon Press Press.
  5. ^ a b c d e f French, M. A. (1994). Tai Languages. In The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (Vol. 4, pp. 4520-4521). New York, NY: Pergamon Press Press.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Hongladarom, K. (2005). Thai and Tai Languages. In Encyclopedia of linguistics (Vol. 2, pp. 1098-1101). New York, NY: Fitzroy Dearborn.
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