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Manuscript of 212-year-old dictionary of Indian languages found

London, Dec 2, 2012 (IANS):
An employee poses with an illuminated manuscript entitled 'Mystere de la Vengeance' created by Eustache Marcade for the Duke of Burgundy in1465 at Sotheby's auction house in central London on November 30, 2012. Due to form part of the Old Master and British Paintings Evening Sale on December 5, it is expected to fetch between 4 - 6 million GBP (6 - 10 million USD / 5 -7 EUR). AFP

The manuscript of a 212-year-old dictionary  written by a British polymath employed by the East India Company in  the late 18th century has been traced in the British Library,  shedding new light on the history of words in Indian languages.

The dictionary, titled "Comparative Vocabularies", was written in 1800  by Dr Francis Buchanan-Hamilton (1762-1929), who was a surgeon to the  governor-general Lord Wellesley in Calcutta (now Kolkata). The manuscript traced in the British Library by Rini Kakati, the  London-based director of FASS (Friends of Assam and the Seven  Sisters), is a dictionary of 10 languages, including Assamese,  Bengali, Manipuri, Garo, Rabha Koch, Kachari, Panikoch and Mech.

Kakati told IANS she was alerted about the manuscript by Raktim  Ranjan Saikia of the Department of Geology in JB College, Jorhat, on  behalf of Asom Jatiya Prakash, publisher of the dictionary. She said  she was delighted to be able to trace the historic collection.


The book has 155 pages of landscape-sized paper. There are 18,000  words in all with 1,800 words in each of the 10 languages.

A Scottish physician, Buchanan-Hamilton is recognised for making  significant contributions as a geographer, oologist, and botanist  while living in India. The standard botanical author abbreviation  'Buch.-Ham.' is applied to plants and animals he described.

In 1794, he was appointed a surgeon with the East India Company, and  explore Burma, Chittagong (1798), the Andaman Islands, Nepal (1802-3)  and North Bengal and Bihar (1807-9), when he made detailed surveys of  the botany, geography, agriculture, economy, social conditions and  culture of these areas, preparing extensive reports which now form an important historical resource.

On the return of the mission, being stationed at Jjakkipur, near the  mouth of the Brahmaputra, he wrote a description of the fishes of that  river, which was published in 1822.

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