The Khasi language did not have any script. The early missionaries from Serampore in the present Indian state of West Bengal attempted to write down the Khasi language using the Bengali script. But there were few takers among the Khasis. Rev. Thomas Jones, the first Welsh missionary amidst the Khasis and who is now honored as the Father of Khasi Alphabets, used the Roman script to write down the Khasi spoken language. Neither the then British government establishment ruling the place was in favor of this attempt nor the superiors of the young missionary at the Welsh Mission Society at Liverpool. However, the writing of Khasi language using the Roman script was well received by the Khasis and is now well established. Since the first missionaries had established their first mission at Cherrapunjee the dialect of Sohra (Cherrapunjee) became the literary Khasi throughout Khasi land. The people of Cherrapunjee are known for their oratorical skill. Some of them have the gift of the gab with honey dripping off their words. Different villages even around Cherrapunjee have completely different dialects that others from nearby villages even cannot understand and use the standard Khasi to communicate in between themselves. For example, the people of Nongriat where the Double Decker Root Bridge is there speak a different dialect, which a person knowing only standard Khasi cannot understand. Thus there are different dialects for Tyrna village and Shella village.
The Khasi language belongs to Mon-Khmer group of languages. It is reported to have a tenuous link with the Munda language of Central India, but is more closely related to the languages of South East Asia in Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Kampuchea. The Khasi language discriminates inanimate things as masculine and feminine genders. The prefix ‘u’ (pronounced ‘oou’) to a noun or pronoun identifies masculine gender and ‘ka’ the feminine gender of the person, animal, bird or article. For example ‘Ka sngi’ refers to the Sun (feminine) and u bnai refers to the moon (masculine). Read the ‘Legends of the Place’ for an interesting story about the Sun and the Moon.
Some insights gained from Prof. Gerard Diffloth of French origin and his Cambodian wife who were our guests when they were researching on the links of Khasi and War-Khasi languages to Mon-Khmer languages are given below:
|Syiar (Khmu language of Laos mountains)
|Mat (means mouth)
||Khmat (means face / eyes)
||Mouth in Khmer. Face / eyes in Khasi
||Rack over fire place