[Assam] Assamese National Dictionary

Rajen Barua barua25 at hotmail.com
Sun Apr 11 01:13:10 IST 2010

Some Comments on the Assamese word spellings and the Assamese National Dictionary etc:
In January 2010, the first two volumes of the new mega dictionary, Assamese National Dictionary (Oxom Jatiyo Obhidhan) was published in Jorhat. I was one of the fortunates to attend the function. The main editor is Dr Debebrata Sharma (author of famous book 'Oxomiya Jati Gothon Prokriya', Dr Sharma's doctoral thesis under Dr. Hiren Gohain. This book is a must read in my opinion for all Assamese who want to know what went wrong with the Assamese unity).   Anyhow, the dictionary has, as we all know,  attracted lot of criticism from traditional scholars for and against some changes in proposd spellings of Assamese words used in the dictionary.
For those who want to know the brief historical background of Assamese word spellings, it may be said that Miles Bronson was the first to publish a modern Assamese dictionary in 1867 based on the correct pronounciation of the people.  Miles Bronson's dictionary used a very simplified spelling system for Assamese. Some of the charactersitics of the dictionary was the use of only the horso E (i) and horso U (u) (no dirgho E and dirgho U), use of only the prothom SO, only the dontiyo XO for all XO sounds etc. To our fortune the dictionary is available in pdf version (see link below). For your information this dictionary is also available in Delhi (Asian Publication) book market. (We are now glad to see that the Chief Minister proposed in his recent budget a provision to erect a statue of Miles Bronson in Sibsagar his workplace.)
However, Miles Bronson's dictioary was not allowed to go too far. That was the time when Assamese were brought into wider contacts with the pan Indian culture. Under that influence, Hemchandra Barua prepared a new dictionary, the Hemkox and published in 1889(?) after much debates with the Baptist Missionaries who opposed his spelling system which was based on Sanskrit and Hindi dictionaries. However the Miles Bronson and his group of Baptist Missionaries lost the debate. (Please note that was also the time when Bengali was the official language of Assam till 1885, and people were also influenced by Bengali language).  
Hemkox introduced a rather complex spelling system of Assamese word spelling not necessarily connected with the actual pronunciation of the people. Basically the Hemkox unnecessarily Sanskritised the Assamese language and the Assamese spellings have been plagued ever since. It may be noted the Bengali language was also Sanskritised, may be more heavily, by scholars like Iswar Ch Bidyasagar and others in the eighteenth century. In the tenth century and earlier, it may be noted, both the Assamese and Bengali were basically the same language as can be seen by writings in Charyapada and other ancient writings which now both the Bengalis and the Assamese claim to be their own. Incidently the Charyapada still retain the Assamese X sound, a point in favour of the Assamese originality.
During the last hundred years, many scholars tried to simplify the unncessary complex Assamese spellings,  and thus the Assamese spellings have gone through a evolutionary  process of simplification. One proponent of the change to the modern is Dr. Golok Chandrda Goswami who may be said to be an authorty on Assamese language at this time after Dr. Banikanta Kakoty.
I wrote the above in length, because it will help us to know where the new Oxom Jatiyo Obhidhan stands in case of word spellings. To clarify the situation, I discussed with Dr Debebrata Sharma, the editor and asked him to write a brief clarification of his proposed new spelling system. He was kind enough to furnish the following enlightening clarification. In his own words:
"Regarding spelling system of Jatiya Abhidhan, I have to say that we have preserved the prevailing spelling system in the entry words.However, each entry word is followed by,within bracket,a simplified spelling proposed for the future.For example,there would be no long i or long u letter.Similarly there would be only dontyo barga and no murdhonyo barga,only pratham sa but no dwitiya sa.Instead of three xa letters,only dontyo xa. There would also be a considerable reduction in the 400 plus yuktaksars,which has made the language a difficult one to be learnt.To recall,this was THE spelling system broadly used by Hem Saraswati in 12 th century, Shankardeva in 15-16th centuries,Buranjis till 17-18th centuries,and systematised by Jaduram Deka Barua in 19th century,to be upheld by Bhasacharya Golok Goswami in 20th century.Asomiya Jatiya Abhidhan has again proposed it vigorously in 21st century.It is thus a continuation of nearly 1 millenium of orthography in Assam,with the sole exception of Hemkosh.Not that we have enforced or implemented it already.It is only a humble proposal for which ,however,we have strong historical support.I request u to go through the 37 page preface (see note below)  where we have discussed it in great details." 
- Debabrata Sharma
Hope this would clarify the situation. Thus the OJO preserves the present spelling system, more or less, in the entry word spelling. But it would seem that OJO is proposing to go back to the spellings of Miles Bronson and the earlier Assamese spellings which OJO considers to be the correct spellings. Besides spellings, there may be some other comments of definitions of some words proposed by OJO which however need to be discussed and resolved. 
Obviously, OJO is putting the truth in front of the people and it is the people who would decide which one to adopt. A language is like a river. There is no right or wrong course.   Dictionaries of all language basically manipulate the language by building dams and dikes, and allowing the language to flow in a  certain way.
If we say that the last century to be that of Hemkox, can we say that the future will be that of the OJO?. I think it is too early to say. 
Hope this would clarify the present controversy a little.
Rajen Barua

Note: I have the 32 page pdf version of the preface to the OJO (courtsey Bulji Buragohain). It is a big file. If anyone wants a copy, please write to me.
1)  Regarding the excution process of the dictionary iteself, please find below a write up by Manjit Nath of Hyderabad in the FASS magazine FRIENDS published in Janauary 2010.
http://magazine. assamfoundation. net/index. php?option= com_content&view=article&id=21:asomiya- jatiya-abhidhan&catid=3:literature&Itemid=6
 2). Bronson's Assamese-English Dictionary - http://books. google.com/ books?id= Ivw_AAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_slider_ thumb#v=onepage&q=&f=false
3). Chandrakanta Abhidhan - http://dsal. uchicago. edu/dictionaries /candrakanta/



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