Monday, February 4, 2013

Language Profile: Gujarati

This week's language profile is on Gujarati. It's yet another official regional language of India, alongside Bengali, Telugu, Tamil, MarathiUrdu, and many others. Gujarati is an Indo-Aryan language with 46.5 million native speakers. It is native to the Indian state of Gujarat, home of Mahatma Gandhi, who helped lead India to independence from Britain using non-violent civil disobedience. He translated several books into Gujarati and used the language in his own writing, hoping to inspire others to use the language in literary contexts.

The Jama Masjid mosque in Ahmedabad, the largest city
in the Indian state of Gujarat. It was built in 1424.
Like Hindi and many other Indian languages, Gujarati is a descendant of Sanskrit. As with the other languages we've mentioned, it has many dialects due to the linguistic diversity of India. There are so many different groups speaking distinct languages in the country that they tend to share characteristics and create new dialects where they overlap. 

Gujarati can be written in Arabic or Persian scripts, but is generally written it its own script. The Gujarati script is a type of Devanagari script (used to write Hindi, Marathi, etc.), though it uses a few different characters. It also doesn't have the typical horizontal line above the letters that makes Devanagari stand out from so many other scripts. Gujarati script is an abugida that's written from left to right, and is also used to write the Kutchi language, which is spoken in the Kutch district of the state of Gujarat. 

The are three main categories of words used in Gujarati and other modern Indo-Aryan languages.

tadbhav - These are words of Sanskritic origin that have changed over time. They're generally important, everyday words that are used in spoken vernacular.

tatsam - These are borrowed directly from standard literary Sanskrit. They've undergone little to no change, and are generally formal, technical, and religious vocabulary terms.

loanwords - Words borrowed from other languages, mainly from Persian, Arabic, and English. They also occasionally come from Portuguese and Turkish.

The Gujarati language also uses three genders for its nouns. When an English word is brought into the language, it has to be assigned a gender. While it seems like that would lead to arbitrarily choosing one since English doesn't use gender, there is actually a system for gender assignment. It's usually done by looking at the type of vowel in the word or the nature of its meaning, as is done when assigning gender to Gujarati words.