Volume 40, Issue 1
  • ISSN 0731-3500
  • E-ISSN: 2214-5907
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I will first describe (1) the linguistic situation in modern-day Assam (Northeast India) and the historical hypotheses that might explain it. These hypotheses are subjected to criticism. Next, I will analyse (2) in detail, the phonological concordances in the Tibeto-Burman languages and dialects of Central Assam that form the Boro-Garo group. I will present detailed criteria – the most detailed of all will concern the diphthongs – with examples, which will enable us to classify the languages. Using these criteria will also allow us to take advantage of certain ancient sources of information on dialects which are, in some cases, extinct. The study (3) of other Tibeto-Burman languages will consolidate our criteria and specify their historical development. Finally (4), I will propose a historical reconstruction of linguistic layers, after which (5) I will emphasise the importance of the distinction, central to our discussion, between language change and ethnic change (where cultural and physical anthropology follow distinct paths) before proposing a basis for a more general investigation of the Boro-Garo languages.

Northeastern India is home to a great number of languages, mainly from the Tibeto-Burman, Mon-Khmer, Tai and Indo-Aryan groups. This paper first summarises the current historical interpretations of this plethora, and concentrates on the Tibeto-Burman languages spoken in the lowlands, sc. the Boro-Garo subgroup. A phonological comparative assessment of the data provides a classification with definite criteria, and suggests historical interpretation. Central to this comparative study are the vowel systems, the analysis of which allows us to understand far better (and to use more appropriately) the older lexical lists from 1805. The result of this assessment is a new direction of research, when it appears that the Zeliangrong languages (traditionally taken as Southern Naga) offer a remarkable and certainly unexpected linguistic link between the Boro-Garo and the Kuki Chin (and Naga) languages. The paper exemplifies how language histories remain distinct from ethnic and political developments, and makes a useful contribution to a finer historical understanding of complex human situations.


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