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Language

Before commencing to describe the more salient features of the Khasi language, its grammar, and syntax, it seems to be of importance to show how intimately connected Khasi is with some of the languages of Further India. In the middle of the last century Logan pointed out affinity between Khasi and these languages, but it has been left to Professor Kuhn to prove this connection to demonstration. The examples of comparative vocabularies which follow are taken from Kuhn’s “Beitraege zur Sprachenkunde Hinterindiens,” Sir George Scott’s “Upper Burma Gazetteer,” and Sir George Campbell’s lists. It will be seen from the collections of words that follow how Khasi possesses many words in common with Mon or Talaing, Khmer, Suk, Stieng, Bahnar, Annam, Khamen-Boram, Xong, Samre, Khmu, Lemet, Palaung, and Wa. There is some correspondence, although perhaps to a lesser degree, between Khasi and the Ho-Munda languages and those of Malacca and the Nancowry language of the Nicobar Islands.

Let us now examine the table of numerals. The Khasi word for 1 is wei, but in the Amwi dialect of Khasi it is mi. In Khmu the word is mui, also in Suk; in Mon mwoi and in Xong moi. The word for 2 is identical in Khasi and Lemet, viz., ar. The word for 3, viz. lai, is identical in Khasi and Wa: also compare Lemet lohe. Khasi saw and Lakadong thaw for 4 are, however, deviating forms. In the case of 5, if we cut out the prefix m in the Mon word m’san, we have fairly close agreement with the Khasi san. In the numeral 6, if we cut out the prefix hin of the Khasi (hin)_riw_, and the initial t of Mon and Suk t’rou, trou, we have close agreement. In the Khasi words for 7 and 8 the syllable hin is but a prefix. This is also probably the case in the Khasi word (khyn)_dai_ for 9, and the shi in the Khasi word shiphew, 10, merely means one.

It will be seen that there is considerable similarity in the numerals of the different languages up to six, the correspondence being most strongly marked in the numerals 1, 2, 5, and 6. If we remember that primitive people seldom can count higher than the number of digits of one hand, the dissimilarity in the numerals, as the end of the decade is approached, is probably explained. As the different people speaking these languages advanced in civilization they learned to count further; but by this time they had become in some cases like those of the Khasis, the Palaungs, and Mons, widely separated from one another. As they advanced in civilization, and found the necessity of an improved notation, they manufactured numerals which differed from one another, although they retained the first few numerals they had made use of in their days of savagery.