The Assamese script (অসমীয়া লিপি Ôxômiya Lipi) is a writing system of the Assamese language. It used to be the script of choice in the Brahmaputra valley for Sanskrit as well as other languages such as Bodo (now Devanagari), Khasi (now Roman), Mising (now Roman) etc. The current form of the script has seen continuous development from the 5th-century Umachal/Nagajari-kanikargaon rock inscriptions written in an eastern variety of the Gupta script, adopting significant traits from the Siddham Script along the way. By the 17th century three styles of Assamese script could be identified (baminiya, kaitheli and garhgaya) that converged to the standard script following typesetting required for printing. The present standard is identical to the Bengali scriptexcept for three letters.
Buranjis were written during Ahom dynasties in Assamese language using Assamese script. The earliest evidence of Assamese script is found in the Charyapada, the Buddhist songs. They are supposed to have been composed within a time-frame of four hundred years from 8th century AD to 12th century AD. In the 14th century Madhava Kandali used Assamese script to compose the famous Kotha Ramayana which is the first translation of Ramayana in a regional Indian language after ValmikiRamayana in Sanskrit. Later, Srimanta Sankardeva used it in the 15th and 16th centuries to compose his oeuvre in Assamese and Brajavali the language of the Bhakti poems (Borgeets) and Dramas (Ankiya naat).
A coin with Assamese script from Ahom dynasty
The Ahom king Chakradwaj Singha, (1663–1670 AD) was the first ruler who started issuing Assamese coins for his kingdom (see figure for a sample coin). Similar script with minor differences are used to write Maithili, Bengali, Manipuri and Sylheti language.
Kanai-boroxiboa rock inscription, 1207 CE, shows proto-Assamese script
The Umachal rock inscription of the 5th century evidences the first use of a script in the region. The script was very similar to the one used in Samudragupta's Allahabad Pillar inscription. Rock and copper plate inscriptions from then onwards, and Xaansi bark manuscripts right up to the 18th–19th centuries show a steady development of the Assamese script. The script could be said to develop proto-Assamese shapes by the 13th century. In the 18th and 19th century, the Assamese script could be divided into three varieties: Kaitheli (also called Lakhari in Kamrup region, used by non-Brahmins), Bamuniya (used by Brahmins, for Sanskrit) and Garhgaya (used by state officials of the Ahom kingdom)—among which the Kaitheli style was the most popular, with medieval books (like the Hastir-vidyrnava) and sattras using this style. In the early part of the 19th century, Atmaram Sarmah designed the first Assamese script for printing in Srerampore, and the Bengali and Assamese lithography converged to the present standard that is used today.
The script presently has a total of 11 vowel letters, used to represent the eight main vowel sounds of Assamese, along with a number of vowel diphthongs. All of these are used in both Assamese and Bengali, the two main languages using the script. Some of the vowel letters have different sounds depending on the word, and a number of vowel distinctions preserved in the writing system are not pronounced as such in modern spoken Assamese or Bengali. For example, the Assamese script has two symbols for the vowel sound [i] and two symbols for the vowel sound [u]. This redundancy stems from the time when this script was used to write Sanskrit, a language that had a short [i] and a long [iː], and a short [u] and a long [uː]. These letters are preserved in the Assamese script with their traditional names of hôrswô i (lit. 'short i') and dirghô i (lit. 'long i'), etc., despite the fact that they are no longer pronounced differently in ordinary speech.
Vowel signs can be used in conjunction with consonants to modify the pronunciation of the consonant (here exemplified by ক, kô). When no vowel is written, the vowel 'অ' (ô or o) is often assumed. To specifically denote the absence of a vowel, (্) may be written underneath the consonant.
The text says: "Shri Shrimat Siva Singha Maharaja". The "র" is used as "ৱ" in this 18th century manuscript, just as in modern Mithilakshar.
The names of the consonant letters in Assamese are typically just the consonant's main pronunciation plus the inherent vowel ô. Since the inherent vowel is assumed and not written, most letters' names look identical to the letter itself (e.g. the name of the letter ঘ is itself ঘ ghô). Some letters that have lost their distinctive pronunciation in Modern Assamese are called by a more elaborate name. For example, since the consonant phoneme /n/ can be written ন, ণ, or ঞ (depending on the spelling of the particular word), these letters are not simply called nô; instead, they are called ন dôntiyô nô ("dental n"), ণ mudhôinnô nô ("cerebral n"), and ঞ niô. Similarly, the phoneme /x/ can be written as শ talôibbô xô ("palatal x"), ষ mudhôinnô xô ("cerebral x"), or স dôntiyô xô ("dental x"), the phoneme /s/ can be written using চ prôthôm sô ("first s") or ছ ditiyô sô ("second s"), and the phoneme /z/ can be written using জ bôrgiyô zô ("row z" = "the z included in the five rows of stop consonants") or য ôntôsthô zô ("z situated between" = "the z that comes between the five rows of stop consonants and the row of sibilants"), depending on the standard spelling of the particular word.
According to Dr. G. C. Goswami the number of two-phoneme clusters is 143 symbolised by 174 conjunct letters. Three phoneme clusters are 21 in number, which are written by 27 conjunct clusters. A few of them are given hereafter as examples: