By Lakhyajit Nath

1. Introduction
Identity is something by which we can recognize one’s personality, one’s location, one’s customs, beliefs, etc. In simple terms, it is something through which we are constantly building and negotiating all our lives through our interaction with various people. Konwar (2012) revealed that Language has been cited as one of the most important marker of identity of an ethnic community or group.

Assamese is a language which is basically spoken in Assam. Nearly 15 to 20 million people speak the Assamese language (Sharma, 2011). It is also noteworthy that we find many similarities between Assamese language and Bengali language; this can be proved from Charya Padas, which is even being claimed both by the old Assamese and old Bengali. ‘Assamese’, this word is anglicised form of the word Asomiya. If we examine the origin of Assamese language, then we will see that it is a part or branch of Indo- Aryan language which evolved in the 7th century AD. It gradually evolved from the Sanskrit language after the 7th century.  Now Assamese language is declared as one of the major languages by the constitution of India under the 8th schedule.

Now through this article, the author made an attempt to describe how the variations of identity can be constructed through various ways.

1.1 Regional identity
Regional language means the language that is used as a dominant language in a certain region. The same language may have different accents due to various reasons. Dialect means the different regional variations of the same language. Language provides a man with identity. Difference in dialect specifies which place the person has come from. In Assam it is widely considered that the standard Assamese is spoken mainly in the district of Sivasagar. The reason behind considering the Assamese of Sivasagar as the standard form is nothing but the first Assamese press that was established in Sivasagar and, thus the local accent got prominence. If the press was established in districts like Kamrup, Barpeta, Nalbari, the local accents of Assamese would have been given more importance.

Through the pronunciation of certain Assamese words or through the accent, we can distinguish some people from others and can tell where they have come from. Following are some examples of Assamese words spoken in Sivasagar and in Kamrup and Barpeta.

Table1: Variation of Assamese language

1.2       Social identity
It is associated with the economic standard or social status of people living in the same society. People use certain words to show respect to the economically powerful or sound people. That is not exceptional in Assamese language. In Assamese language, people use words like zaminder (জমিনদাৰ), Mohajon (মহাজন), Hakim (হাকিম) to show the hierarchy on the basis of economic status in the traditional agricultural system. On the other hand, some other hierarchical words like Deutaishwar (দেউতাঈশ্বৰ), Malik (মালিক), Babu (বাবু) all show positional differences in society and thus serve to the creation of social identity.

We can also refer to the roles of status of people during Ahom rule. Pike system is a reflection of that hierarchical status.  
1.3 Ethnic identity
The word ethnic means those groups of people, who have common racial, national, religious or cultural origins. Ethnicity is notoriously difficult to define and it is differed from the kinship groups. Ethnic identity is totally different from one’s personal identity as an individual. Linguists formulated four main parts of ethnic identity. They are serially: i) Ethnic awareness, ii) Ethnic attitudes, iii) Ethnic self- identification, and iv) Ethnic behaviors.

In Assamese, words from Austric origin can be found. Words like Maidam (মৈদাম), Chila (চিলা), Anchu (আঁচু) and so on. On the other hand, the Assamese word Riha(ৰিহা) is from Mongoloid origin. These words directly contributed towards a richer vocabulary of Assamese.  On the other hand if we discuss racial identity as a part of ethnic identity, we can trace back to the origin of certain words. Some words in Assamese are there which use racial terms as prefixes to show the excessiveness or severe nature of things. Words like Nagatenga (নগাটেঙা), Nagachang (নগাচাং), Nagada (নগাদা) and so on.

1.4       Gender identity
According to American Psychological Association, gender identity refers to one’s sense of oneself as male, female or as transgender. In Assamese certain sexist words are there, which are prescribed either for male or female. For example, Mangalati (মঙলতী) and Uchepi (উচেপী) are used for female. Purohit (পুৰোহিত) and Deodhai (দেওধাই) are some words used for male only. On the other hand, a new tendency has been growing up in Assamese along with other languages. For example, in English, to show the equality between the genders, we use the word ‘chairperson’ not specifically ‘chairman’ or ‘chairwoman’. Likewise, in colloquial Assamese, we use unisex words like Sabhapati (সভাপতি) to include both the male president and the female president. This is an effort to show the equality between the two sexes.

Binary oppositions from critics can be found in the use of these words. Some say that including both male and female under the above mentioned term is gender bias, because it is prone towards establishing male domination. On the other hand, some say if there are different words for both, where is problem in using both.

1.5       National identity
National identity is a constructed identity.  It is a sense of belongingness to a state or a nation which is represented by distinctive traditions, culture, language and politics. Like other languages, Assamese language has also contributed a lot for the upliftment of national identity. We are proud to be Assamese, it is not only because we live in Assam but also we speak Assamese language as our mother tongue. If we take a view of the history of Assamese language, then we will see that from 1836 to 1872, it was a dark age for Assamese language because Assamese as medium of communication in schools and offices was banned and Bengali was extensively used as official language. Christian Missionaries established first Assamese press and started publishing Arunodoi, the first Assamese newspaper, in 1846 and thus started the process of reviving Assamese and finally in 1872, it got revived. Then in 1988 a group of Assamese students studying in Calcutta formed an organization under the name of Asomiya Bhasha Unnati Sadhini Sabha (অসমীয়া ভাষা উন্নতি সাধিনী সভা) to develop the Assamese language. It was Hemchandra Barua who wrote first Assamese dictionary under the title of Hemkosh (হেমকোষ) to strengthen the vocabulary of Assamese language. This struggle to secure and preserve Assamese language from the deathblow is in a way a stern attempt to make the National Identity secure.

2   Conclusion
One of the great renown Assamese writer wrote that one cannot deny the contributions of three ‘mothers’ in his life- first, who gives birth; second, who gives us space to live and roam around and the third, who gives us the opportunity to speak up our feelings, emotions and desires. Language is the third mother that in a way, gives us identity.  Who are we without our language? It is our mother tongue Assamese that incorporates all our partial identities into one, and gives us a sense of unified identity. The same Bihu song will create ripples in hearts of all Assamese people, even those who are living abroad. So, this is the high time to think about our language and make our identity secure and a grand one.

  • Arpana Konwar. Bhashavigyan Upakramanika. Dibrugarh: Bonlata. 2012
  • Hemanta Kumar Sharma. Asomiya Sahityat Dristipat. Guwahati: Beena Library. 2011

About the author: The author, Mr. Lakhyajit Nath is presently studding MA in English literature at Tezpur Central University.  He is very fond of writing articles based on present context of the society. Many of his articles were published on Newspaper like Assam Tribune, and magazines etc. He wants to become a good writer.

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