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Free From Influence Of Perso-Arabic Influence - The Oriya Language

Aug 17, 2007
Not many people know the fact that Oriya language is also spoken in Surat (Gujarat state), situated across Indian heartland thousands of kilometers from Orrisa, where it is the State language (besides being one of the 28 odd national languages). There are a total of 35 million people across the globe, who know and speak this language. It has a great semblance to Assamese, Bengali and Magadhi languages.

Though, Oriya is spoken on the lands, where once existed the mighty Kalinga empire, but, unlike many claim, it is not their language. The original people of Kalinga (now Orrisa) spoke a language with many similarities to Dravidian languages - Kalingan (an Austric, Adivasi) that is now long back extinct. Kalinga dwellers were diametrically opposite of Indo-Aryans, who later came there, conquered, ruled and settled to live there around 8th c AD. Kalinga kings resisted the onslaught of Indo-Aryan cultural and language influence for long. Use of Kalingan (a certain form of this language is presently used by people living in Eastern Ghats hills) is stopped and classical Oriya declared the official language. But, the birth and growth of classical Oriya finally begins from thence onwards.

Oriya script contains 28 consonants and 6 vowels It contains syllabic alphabets, in other words, all consonants have a vowel inherent in them at their end. These vowels are written as independent characters when they appear at the beginning of a word. Oriya script is developed from Brahmi script as an early form of Bengali script. Key feature of Oriya script is the curved form of characters, which the other two sister languages (Assamese and Bengali) do not have. This curved form is an outcome of a long history (around 1500 AD) of writing on palm leaves. This is evident from the writings found in Puri temple.

Oriya is one of the languages in the Eastern Indo-Aryan group, of which Bengali and Assamese languages are main constituents. Like all other Indo-Aryan group of languages, Oriya too has been born out of Sanskrit language. But, unlike most Indo-Aryan languages and despite Mughal rule, it has remained free from the impact of Perso-Arabic (Islamic) languages. Thus, modern Oriya vocabulary is made of 70% Sanskrit, 28% "Adivasi" or Kolarian (Dravidian) and only 2 % Hindustani and Persian/ Arabic loanwords.

As stated earlier, Oriya language is an offspring from Sanskrit. Strictly speaking, it is a modified form of Odri (old Oriya) Prakrit (magdhi, Pali), which actually was derived from Sanskrit via a transitional Pricya Bhibasha, or an intermediate Purbi Vangi/ Gaudi (old Bengali) and Odri. This is a language form, from which arose the three sister eastern languages - Assamese, Oriya and Bengali). Even Magadhi resembles the group of these three languages to a great extent. 87% of the people spoke this early form of classical Oriya.

The earlier writings (12th c) were palm writings in form of poems and prose in praise of gods and religion. Later developments (15th c) were imitation and adaptation of Sanskrit works and then (17th and 18th c) followed by verse based novels and plays about festivals and rituals. Thus, after a long period of discouragement from Kalinga kings, Oriya now finally developed under the Indo-Aryan rule, evolving into a modern 19th century Oriya language.
About the Author
Ostom Ray is a linguist. His website provides information on Indian languages and translation services, Culture, Travel, Outsourcing and more.
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