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.