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|Native to||India and Bangladesh|
|Region||Meghalaya, Assam, Bangladesh|
|Bengali-Assamese script, Latin script|
Garo, or A·chik (the name in Garo), is a Sino-Tibetan language spoken in India in the Garo Hills districts of Meghalaya, some parts of Assam, and in small pockets in Tripura. It is also spoken in certain areas of the neighbouring Bangladesh. According to the 2001 census, there are about 889,000 Garo speakers in India alone; another 130,000 are found in Bangladesh.
Ethnologue lists the following locations for Garo.
- Garo Hills division, Meghalaya
- Goalpara district, Kamrup district, and Karbi Anglong district, western Assam
- Kohima district, Nagaland
- Udaipur subdivision, South Tripura district, Tripura
- Kamalpur and Kailasahar subdivisions, North Tripura district, Tripura
- Sadar subdivision, West Tripura district, Tripura
- Jalpaiguri district and Koch Bihar district, West Bengal
Garo belongs to the Bodo-Garo subgroup of the Sino-Tibetan, which includes Sinitic languages like Mandarin and Cantonese. The Bodo-Garo subgroup is one of the longest recognised and most coherent subgroups of the Sino-Tibetan language family. This includes languages such as Bodo, Kokborok, Tiwa, Deuri, Garo, Rabha, Atong, Ruga, and Koch. Being closely related to each other, these languages have many features in common; and one can easily recognise the similarities even from a surface-level observation of a given data of words from these languages.
Orthography and standardisation
Towards the end of the 19th century, the American Baptist missionaries put the north-eastern dialect of Garo called A·we into writing, initially using the Bengali script. The reason for its selection out of many others was because the north-eastern region of Garo Hills was where rapid growth in the number of educated Garo people was taking place. Besides, the region was also where education was first imparted to the Garos. In course of time, the dialect became associated with educated culture. Today, a variant of the dialect can be heard among the speakers of Tura, a small town in the west-central part of Garo Hills, which is actually an Am·beng-speaking region. But with the migration of educated north-easterners to Tura due to the establishment of the political headquarters there, after Garo Hills came under the complete control of the British Government in 1873, the town saw a shift from its use of the native dialect to the dialect of the north-easterners. Tura also became the educational hub of Garo Hills, and in time a de facto standard developed from the north-eastern dialect (A·we) which gradually became associated with the town and the educated Garo speech everywhere ever since. As regards Garo orthography, basic Latin alphabet completely replaced the Bengali script only by 1924, although a Latin-based alphabet had already been developed by the American missionaries in 1902. The Latin-based Garo alphabet used today consists of 20 letters and a raised dot called "raka" (a symbol representing the glottal stop); the letters "f”, "q”, "v”, "x”, "y”, and "z” appear only in imported words. In Bangladesh, a variant of the Bengali script is still used alongside its Latin counterpart. Bengali and Assamese had been the mediums of instruction in educational institutions until 1924, and they have played a great role in the evolution of the modern Garo as we know it today. As a result, many Bengali and Assamese words entered the Garo lexicon. Since recently, there has also been a proliferation of English words entering the everyday Garo speech owing to media and the preference of English-medium schools over those conducted in the vernacular. Hindi is also making a slow but firm appearance in the language.
Here, the term 'dialect' is politically defined as a 'non-official speech variety'. The Garo language comprises dialects such as A·we, Am·beng/A·beng, Matchi, Dual, Chisak, Ganching, and a few others. Marak (2013:134–135) lists the following dialects of Garo and their geographical distributions.
- The Atong dialect is spoken in the South East of Garo Hills in the Simsang river valley. The majority of Atong speakers are concentrated in villages like Rongsu, Siju, Rongru A·sim, Badri, Chitmang.
- The Ruga dialect is spoken in a small area in the South Central part of Garo Hills in the Bugai river valley. Like Atong, Ruga is close to Koch and Rabha languages, and also to Atong than to the language of most Garos, but the shift to A·we and A·beng has gone farther along the Rugas than among the Atongs.
- The Chibok occupy the upper ridges of the Bugai River.
- The Me·gam occupy roughly the border between the Garo Hills and Khasi Hills.
- The A·beng dialect is spoken in a large area beginning from the west of Bugai River, Ranggira plateau to the valley in the west and north. It is spoken across the boundaries in Bangladesh and south and north bank of Assam.
- A·we is spoken in a large stretch of the Brahmaputra valley roughly from Agia, Goalpara, to Doranggre, Amjonga to the border of Kamrup.
- The Matabeng dialect is found in the Arbella plateau.
- Gara Ganching is spoken in the southern part of Garo Hills. Gara Ganching speakers have settled in the Dareng and Rompa river valley.
- Dual is spoken in Sibbari, Kapasipara villages in the valley of the Dareng River. These villages are situated in the southern part of Garo Hills. Some Dual speakers also have settled in the villages of Balachanda and Chandakona in the western foothills of Garo Hills.
- The Matchi-Dual dialect is spoken in the Williamnagar area, in the Simsang valley. This dialect is a mixture of Matchi and Dual dialects.
- The Kamrup dialect is spoken in the villages of Gohalkona, Hahim, Santipur, and Ukiam in Kamrup District.
The speakers of these dialects can generally understand one another, although there are occasions where one who is unfamiliar with a dialect from another region requires explanation of certain words and expressions typical of that dialect. Research on the dialects of Garo, with the exception of A·we and Am·beng, is very much neglected; and many Garo dialects are being subsumed either the Standard or A·we or Am·beng. Although the de facto written and spoken standard grew out of A·we, they are not one and the same; there is marked variation in the intonation and the use of vocabulary between the two. It would be proper, therefore, to make a distinction between Standard A·we (spoken mainly in Tura) and Traditional A·we (still heard among the speakers in the north-eastern region of Garo Hills). There is also a great misconception among Garos regarding Atong, Ruga, and Me·gam. These languages are traditionally considered dialects of Garo. The speakers of Atong and Ruga languages are indeed Garos, ethnically; but their languages lack mutual intelligibility with the dialects of Garo and therefore linguistically distinct from the Garo language. Me∙gam (known to the Khasis as Lyngam/Lyngngam) is an Austroasiatic language closely related to Khasi. Since the Me∙gam speakers share a lot in common with the Garos culturally, the Garos misunderstand their language to be another dialect of their own.
Garo has been given the status of an associate official language (the main official being English) in the five Garo Hills districts of Meghalaya under the Meghalaya State Language Act, 2005.
The language is also used as the medium of instruction at the elementary stage in Government-run schools in the Garo Hills. Even at the secondary stage, in some schools, where English is the de jure medium of instruction, Garo is used alongside English – and sometimes even more than it – making the system more or less a bilingual one. In schools where English is the sole medium, Garo is taught only as a subject, as Modern Indian Language (M.I.L.). At the college level, students can opt for Garo Second Language (G.S.L.) besides the compulsory M.I.L. and even work towards a B.A. (Honours) in Garo.
In 1996, at the inception of its Tura campus, the North-Eastern Hill University established the Department of Garo, making it one of the first departments to be opened in the campus and "the only one of its kind in the world". The department offers M.A. and PhD programs in Garo.
Garo has been witnessing an immense growth in its printed literature lately. There has been an increase in the production of learning materials such as dictionaries, grammar and other text books, translated materials, newspapers, magazines and journals, novels, collection of short stories, folklores and myths, scholarly materials, and many important religious publications such as the Garo bible and the Garo hymnal. However, further research on the language itself has been slow – rather rare − but not non-existent.
While almost all other languages in the Bodo–Garo sub-family contrast between low and high tones, Garo is one of the sole exceptions. Wood writes that instead Garo seems to have substituted the tonal system by contrasting between syllables that end in a glottal stop and those that do not, with the glottal stop replacing the low tone.
- Garo people
- Garo Hills
- Bible translations into the languages of Northeast India
- Department of Garo, North-Eastern Hill University, Tura Campus
- "Statement 1: Abstract of speakers' strength of languages and mother tongues - 2011". www.censusindia.gov.in. Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Garo". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- (Joseph and Burling 2006: 1)
- Marak, D. 2013. "Linguistic Ecology of Garo." In Singh, Shailendra Kumar (ed). Linguistic Ecology of Meghalaya. Guwahati: EBH Publishers. ISBN 978-93-80261-96-6
- Wood, Daniel Cody. 2008. An Initial Reconstruction of Proto-Boro-Garo. M.A. Thesis, University of Oregon. pg 22
- Burling, Robbins. 2003. The Language of the Modhupur Mandi, Volume 1. Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library
- Ager, Simon. "Garo". Omniglot, 1998–2015
- SIL International. "Garo". Ethnologue, 2014
- Burling, Robbins and Joseph, U.V. 2006. A Comparative Phonology of Boro Garo Languages. Mysore: Central Institute of Indian Languages.
- Breugel, Seino van. 2009. Atong-English Dictionary. Tura: Tura Book Room.
- Breugel, Seino van. 2014. A grammar of Atong. Leiden, Boston: Brill.