There is no trace-out of the chronological development of Rabha language like other scriptless tribal languages of North-east India. However, the statement that this language existed in the remote past is also beyond doubt. The tradition of oral literature persists among the Rabha’s since time immemorial.
It is after the arrival of the Britishers that some evidence of Rabha language got recorded in their political reports and monographs. Some of the earliest reports and monographs are listed below:
(a) Statistical Accounts of the District of Jalpaiguri (1876, p.37). by W.W.Hunter.
(b) Notes on the locality and population of the tribes dwelling between the Brahmaputra and Ningthi rivers. (J.R.A.I. Vol.XII, 1880,pp.223-235). by G.H. Domant.
(c) Rabhas, Hajong, Mech in Census of India 1881 Report Assam.
(d)History of the Relation of the Government with Hill Tribes of the North East Frontier of Bengal.(1884,p.549). by A.Mackenzie.
(e) The Prodigal Son (1900, quoted in Linguistic Survey of India) by Rev. A.F. Stephen.
(f) Linguistic Survey of India (Vol. III, part.II,pp.102-105, 106-108) by G.A. Grierson.
The earliest evidence of Rabha language is the translation of the Bible Markni Nima Saikai by ‘British Foreign Bible Society’, published in 1909 A.D.
Assamese-Bengali script is adopted as Rabha script with slight modification. Although Bebak Rabha Krowrang Runchum i.e. Rabha Literary Association adopted this script with particular orthographic system first in 1975, the orthographic systems adopted by the Rabha Bhasa Parishad i.e. Rabha Language Academy in 1981 and 1998 gained popularity for it’s adequateness. Various institution and organizations like SIL, CIIL, Sahitya Akademi, ABILAC, SRC (Assam) appreciated and accepted the orthographic system formulated by Rabha Bhasa Parishad in their publications. Besides this, Roman script is also used side by side, particularly in Meghalaya, which was introduced by the Christian missionaries viz. Christian Literature Centre, Guwahati, Damra Catholic Church, Rabha Baptist Church Union, Debitola etc for the first time in 1993 against the trends of orthographic systems written in Assamese-Bengali scripts initiated by British Foreign Bible Society in 1909. (in the Book Markni Nima Saikai, a translation of the Gospel of Marc.)
Although the description of Rabha language is recorded towards the end of the 19th century, as mentioned in sect.1.1 (i), the records regarding the Rabha tribe are found as early as in the17th century .It is mentioned, in Baharistan-I-Ghaibi, a Persian history written by Mirza Nathan in 1632.(Borah M. I.: Baharistan-I-Ghaibi, English Translation published by D.H.A.D., 1931.). M. Martin in his book named History, Antiquity, Topography and Statistics of Eastern India (1838) and J.M. Cosh in his monograph Topography of Assam (1837) have described the various aspects of the Rabha tribe excluding their language.
The standardization process of Rabha language is almost settled on the basis of the grammar of Rongdani dialect which was prepared by Grierson in his Linguistic Survey of India (1903) considering phonological profundity of Maitori dialect and vocabulary abundance of Kocha dialect.
Rabha language has been introduced as a subject in primary school of Assam since 1988-89. While Rabha Bhasa Parishad has been conducting 5-levels of Rabha language.
Genetically Rabha belongs to the Baric division of the Barish section of the South Central group of languages (Shafer, 1985) as well as to the Bodo sub-group of Assam-Burmese section of the Tibeto-Burman language family (Grierson, 1903).
It is a verb final language. Morphologically, as a Sino-Tibetan language it falls under in-organic type. However, at present it is an inflectional analytical language.
In fact, Rabha is a North-East Indian language under South Asian linguistic area surrounded by Indo-Aryan languages viz. Assamese and Bengali. Its dialects stand homogeneous with Garo, Boro, Koch etc, the Tibeto-Burman languages and heterogeneous with Khasi language of Austric origin.
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