|Ahom script |
|13th century–19th century|
The Ahom script is an abugida that is used to write the Ahom language, a nearly-extinct (but being revived) Tai language spoken by the Ahom people who ruled eastern part of Brahmaputra valley—about one-third of the length of Brahmaputra valley—in the Indian state of Assam between the 13th and the 18th centuries. It is also called Tai Ahom Script.
History of the script
The Ahom script was probably derived from the Indic, or Brahmi script, the root of almost all the Indic and Southeast Asian abugidas. It is probably of South Indic origin. The manuscripts were reportedly traditionally produced on Agar wood or "sachi" paper.
The Brahmi script spread in a peaceful manner, Indianization, or the spread of Indian learning. It spread naturally to Southeast Asia, at ports on trading routes. At these trading posts, ancient inscriptions have been found in Sanskrit, using scripts that originated in India. Asian varieties of these scripts later developed. At first, inscriptions were found in Indian languages, but later inscriptions of southeast Asian languages were found in scripts derived from Indian scripts. Local varieties of the scripts were developed, that did not originate in India. Later, symbols for sounds in Tai languages were developed, and the Indic style of writing was left behind.
It is believed that the Ahom people adopted the script from either Old Mon, or Old Burmese, before migrating to the Brahmaputra Valley. This is supported based on similar shapes of characters between Ahom and Old Mon and Old Burmese scripts. It is clear, however, that the script and language would have changed during the few hundred years it was in use. A print form of the font was developed to be used in the first "Ahom-Assamese-English Dictionary".
The Ahom script is no longer used by the Ahom people to read and write in everyday life. However, it retains cultural significance and is used for religious chants and to read literature. Ahom's literary tradition provides a window into the past, of Ahom's culture.
Unfortunately, fabricated samples of the Ahom script delayed translation of legitimate Ahom texts. Several publications were created based on the fabricated samples, leading to incorrect grammatical analysis and dictionary resources that acted as a barrier to future researchers. A later translation of Ahom Buranji, a major Ahom script was provided by Golap Chandra Barua, the same man responsible for fabricating samples of translated Ahom script. It was discovered years later, by Professor Prasert na Nagara, that the translation was unreliable. Despite these difficulties, along with the lack of native speakers and specific text, studies in Ahom have prevailed, and certain available scripts have been translated and transliterated, using known words, characters and context.
The attempt to revitalize the Ahom culture has encouraged linguists to take interest again in translating Ahom texts. However, main attempts to translate text into Ahom merely rewrites Assamese into the Ahom script, without care for the underlying grammar. The authors of Tai Ahoms and the Stars believe that to properly revive this script, a Tai language must be chosen, Ahom must be recreated from that, tones must be chosen, based on existing Tai languages, and tones must be expressed in the new writing, or "neo-Ahom".
Like most abugidas, each letter has an inherent vowel of /a/. Other vowels are indicated by using diacritics, which can appear above, below, to the left, or to the right of the consonant. The script does not, however, indicate tones used in the language.
The Ahom language has other characteristics typical of Tai languages, such as:
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.
The Ahom script is further complicated, as the script does not cover all of Ahom's tones, and contains inconsistencies; a consonant may be written once in a word, but pronounced twice, common words may be shortened, and consecutive words with the same initial consonant may be contracted.
Ahom script was added to the Unicode Standard in June, 2015 with the release of version 8.0.
The Unicode block for Ahom is U+11700–U+1173F:
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
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