0. Introductory. Boro is a Tibeto – Burman language spoken in the lower Brahmaputra alley in Assam.* The present description pertains to the dialecs spoken around Gauhati in Kamrup district.  It is felt that a study of the kinship terms of a Tibeto – Burman language spoken in India will be of special interest.  Dr. (Mrs.) KARVE’s comprehensive survey1 of kinship systems and terminologiet of South Asia covers Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Munda, and Khasi materials but excluded the Tibeto –Burman speech communities of this area.  A linguistic study of a selected terminology should provide a good starting point both for linguists and anthropologists in pursuing their different interests.  The language and non-linguistic culture of Boró speakers show evidence of extensive acculturation to the neighboring Assamese speech community.  This probably makes for an added interest.

            The forms are recorded in phonemic transcription.  The segmental phonemes are /p b m, t d n, k g ղ, s z, l r, h, y w, i e, ə a, u o/.  Some phonemic words (bounded by / + /) have a high tone (marked /΄/) on one of the syllables, as in the name of the language.

            The inventory includes terms for kinsman types as such, as well as certain closely associated terms.  Grammatically they are, unless the contrary is indicated, noun stems, some of which are word-bound (marked by a preceding non – phonemic hyphen).  The kinsman – type nouns may be either fully ALLOCABLE or DEFFECTIVELY ALLOCABLE or NON-ALLOCABLE (abbreviations. A, AD, NA).  This classification refers to their capacity (or otherwise) to take on certain, pronominal POSSESSIVE PREFIXES (namely, [a-] ‘my, our’. [nə΄ղ ], ‘your’. [bì-] ‘his her, their’) that are distinct from the normal indications of possession that are also available (as, anni ‘my,zəղ ni ‘our’ nəղ ni ’your (sing.)’, etc.)

            The bound kinsman-type nouns are never found without a possessive prefix they are all allocable; the rest may be either fully allocable or defectively allocable or non allocable.  Very few Boro nouns outside this kinsman-type group are allocable (an example will be [siki] ‘male friend’, which is defectively so).

            Defectively allocable nouns take [_nə΄ղ __] and [bì-] but not [a-]; fully allocable nouns take all the three.

            Corresponding contemporary Assamese terms are cited in phonemic transcription wherever a borrowing from Indo Aryan is suspected.2

            Kinsman – types are identified with the help of the following abbreviated labels, the linking possessive’s being left understood.  Thus SoWi stands for ‘son’s wife’.  (See also footnotes 3 and 4).

            Pa        Parent                          Sb        sibling (Br or Si)

            Fa        father                            Br        brother

            Mo       mother                          Si         sister

            Of        Offspring

            So        son                               e          elder (attached to Sb, Br, Si)

            Da        daughter                       y          younger (likewise)

            Sp        Spouse                         s           senior (attached to Sp, Hu, Wi)

            Hu        husband                        j           Junior (likewise)

            Wi        Wife

            All terms are numbered consecutively for ease of reference, though they are divided into three groups.

1) Basic terms.  These are all nouns referring a person to some knsman – type.  Unless the contrary is indicated, they can be used as straight descriptive, general terms or as appellatives of address and mention.  When an allocable term is used as an appellative, it will naturally take [a], ‘my, our’, for address and [a] ‘my, our’, [nə΄ղ ] ‘your’, or [bì] ‘his, her, their’, for mention; as a general term, the form with [bI΄] is used.  If it is defectively allocable and bound; the [bI΄] form is used for address.  If it is defectively allocable and free, the bare form is used for address.

1)      –pa A Fa; (only in respectful address) SpFa; (only in endearing address) so.

2)      –ma A Mo; (only in respectful address) FaWi other than Mo, SpMo; (only in endearing address) Da, SoWi; also by extension applied to Mother Goddess, country, etc., (Note that [a-ma] is realized irregularly as ay).

3)      –sá AD Of. [bì-sá] pisa also means ‘child’ (cf. also huasá ‘boy’). In address pisá is used only jocularly.

4)      Kitèr NA Of; young one.  Never in address.

5)      Goto NA Of; child.  Never in address.

6)      Nawmán NA young one; (only in endearing address) Of. Of. Also nawman + ma (6 +2) (appellative only) Wi; nawman + pa (6+1) (appellative only) Hu.

7)      –say AD (never in address) Hu.

8)      Hua NA 9never in address unless jocularly) Hu; male human being.  Cf. bor; ‘bridegroom’, comparable to Ass. bər ‘bridgeroom’.

9)      bihi AD (never in address) Wi.

10)  hinzaw NA (never in address unless  jocularly) Wi; woman

11)  –da A Bre; (only in respectful address) SiHuBre*,3 HuSieHu; also in respectful address to any man.

12)  –bo A Sie; (only in respectful address) SpBreWi, HuWis; also in respectful address to any woman.

13)  –gəy A Sby; (only in familiar address) SbySp, SiHubry*, HuBry, WiSiy, HuSbySp, HuWij, WiBryWi.

14)  –poղ  AD Bry. Nowadays, however, 15 is more commonly used.

15)  Poղbay NA Bry; (only in familiar address) SpBry. Cf. Ass. bhai ‘Br, male collateral of ego’s generation’.

16)  –nanaw AD Siy; (only in familiar address) SpSiy, female ego’s BryWi, HuWij.

17)  bəyni NA like 16. Cf. Ass. bheni Si, female collateral of ego’s generation’.

18)  bə΄w A PaFa, OfSn; also in respectful address to any elderly man.

19)  bə΄y A PaMo, OfDa; also in respectful address to any elderly woman.

20)  –yoղ  A PaPaPa, OfOfOf. cf 23 below/.

21)  Pisə΄w NA OfOf.

22)  –zaw\ali AD (never in address) HuWi.

23)  –yoղ  A (-moղ  after [nə΄ղ ], [bì] FaBre, FaBreWi, MoSie, MoSieHu; (only in endearing address to the respective correlates, male ego’s BryOf, etc). Cf. 20 above and 29 below.

24)  dadəy AD (-tey after nə΄ղ , [bì]) FaBry, MoSiyHu.

25)  adəy AD FaBry Wi, MoSiy

26)  Anəy A FaSi, MoBrWi

27)  –may A FaSiHu, MoBr

28)  mamay NA MoBr, male ego’s SiOf. Of. As mama ~ momai ‘MoBr’. (50 is added when this term is used as an appellative for MoBr).

29)  Patiza ~ bhatiza NA male ego’s BrOf, WiSiOf; female ego’s SiOf, HuBrOf, Cf. As.bhɔtiza BrSo’.  This is the correlate of 23, 24 and 25.

30)  bhagin ~ bagin NA (as appellative with 50 added) male ego’s SiOf, WiBrOf; female ego’s BrOf, HuSiOf. Cf. Ass. bhagin ‘SiSo’.  This is the correlate of 26 and 27.

31)  nanəy NA (as endearing appellative) like 30.

32)  banay AD like 30.

33)  –pə AD like 30.

34)  –haw  AD (as appellative with 50 added) SpFa, SbSpFa. Cf. 1.

35)  –kum + zə΄ AD (never in address) SpMO. Cf. 2, 57

36)  –zamadey ~ zaway ~ zonay AD (as appellative with 50 added) DaHu, OfSpBr. Cf. As. zõvai ‘DaHu’.

37)  –ham, + zə΄ AD SoWi. Cf. 2, 47, 57

38)  biyay AD OfSpFa. Cf. Ass. Biyoi ‘OfSpFa’.

39)  biyani AD OfSpMo. Cf. Ass. Biyoni ‘OfSpMo’.

40)  gedə΄r + per (61 + 51) NA HuBre, WiSie. Cf. the correlate 45.

41)  Bazey AD HuSie, BreWi. (This is apparently not a loan: neither Asamya Bangal present a cognate of Hindi bhavə ǰ BrWi, especially BreWi)

42)  Gumey AD WiBre, SieHu, SieHuBre.

43)  –bənaղ  AD (rarely in address) SpSby, SiyHu, SiyHuBry*.  In address usage prefers agey (or agəy + bibə΄enaղ) (see 13) or 44 below as the case may be

44)  bəynay AD WiBry, SiyHu, SiyHuBry*.  Cf. Ass. ‘beynai ‘SiyHu’.

45)  Mudə΄y + pər (62 + 51) NA male ego’s BryWi Cf. 40

46)  –way AD like 45.

47)  Kəyna NA (only as appellative, with 51) male ego’s BryWi; (only as appellative, with or without 51) female ego’s SoWi; also means ‘bride’.

48)  Salti AD WiSiHu, WiHu. Cf. As. Xalpeti WiSiHu.

49)  Mahri + kannáy NA WiOf by WiHus. Cf. 69

2. Modifiers of the basic terms:  These can be further divided into three groups: 50, 51 (marked by a prefixed plus or hypen) are bound suffixes, 52 to 60 (marked by a prefixed plus) are suffixed words forming compounds; 61 to 71 (marked by a sufficed plus) are adjectival entering into construction with the basic noun (an adjective can either precede or follow the head in a nominal phrase.

50)  + sə΄ male honorific : added to 27, 28, 30, 34, 36 (see under these terms for details)

51)  –pər honorific added to 47 (which see); see also 40, 45

52)  + bipá {bi1) male; added to 23 when sex  differentiation is desired).

53)  +bimá (bì-2) female : added to  (like 52)

54)  + beray ! + baray ! + bray male of an ascending generation : added to 18, 20 (when PaFa or PaPaFa is to be explicitly  indicted).

55)  + burəy female of the ascending generation : added to 19, 20 (analogous to 54).

56)  +  sona ~ + sena endearing reference to a member of a descending  generation : added to 18, 19, 20 (when OfSo or OfDa of OfOfOf is to be explicity indicated and only when [a] my our is prefixed); also added to 31.

57)   + zəal ~+ zala male; added to nəղsá or pisá (see 8)

58)  + zə΄femalc : added to 3 (like 57) also probably to be found in 35, 37.

59)  + pisá + zəal ~ + pisá  +zala [bi +  +57) male of a descending generation : added to ayon + sona ! ayon + sena (see 20, 56). –yon (23) patiza (29), b (h) agin (_ sə΄) (see 30, 50) banay (32), -pə (33).

60)  +pisá + zə΄ (bì + 3 + 58) female of a descending generation : added like 59.

61)  gedə΄r + elder : attached to 3 to 5, 11 to 17, Cf. 40, It also means ‘older, bigger’.

62)  Mudə΄y + younger: attached like 61, Cf. 45. It also means ‘younger in age, smaller.

63)  Gezer + middle: attached like 61.

64)  Sigaղ ni + eldest: attached like 61.

65)  Unni + youngest: attached like 61.

66)  Kətia + step: attached to 1 to 5, 11 to 17  (the composite term is never used in address). Cf. Ass. Zctiyoi ‘step’.

67)  Godey + step: like 66.

68)  Zohra + illegitimate: attached to 3 to 5 (used in the appellative only by way of insult).  Cf. Ass. Zɔhɔra “illegitimate”

69)  Kaղnáy +_ adopted:  attached to 3 to 5 (the composite term is never used in address). Cf. 49

70)  Babday + putative: attached to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 11 to 17 (the composite term is never used in address).

71)  Zewza + twin: attached to 3 to 5 (the composite term is never used in address). Cf. Ass. Zɔvzc ‘yamaja, twin’.

At this point one may, perhaps, conveniently mention the set of composite terms.

72)  bipá + seni + pisá Sb; with + zəal added Br; with + zə΄added Si, Also all the three terms with bima in place of bipá.  Literarally the mean of course FaOf, Faso, FaDa, MoOf, MoSo, MoDa respectively; and are never used as appellatives.

3. Associated terms.  Here are a few miscellaneous terms with meaning, connected with the kinship system.

73) no house, family.  The rnage of meaning matches closely with that of Asamya ghər and its Indo-aryan cognates.  Thus a married woman will refer to the family she was born into as apa + ni + nó  my father’s  home.

74) bhagi person who is a close consanguineal but who is not at the time living together with the other  consanguineals.  This term is used, for examples in referring to a family reunion at a festival or a funeral.  Cf. Ass. bhagi ‘partne; one who gets a share by virtue of kinship’.

75) Zora couple, Hu and Wi. Cf, As Zora ‘couple’ Hu and Wi pair; collectively;

76)  bonko descendents collectively, Cf. As. bəղ xɔ vaśa, descendents collectively’.

77) Piri generation. Cf. Ass. Piri ‘generation’.

4) Morphophonemic notes:  Some irregular stem alternant have already been mentioned under 2, 23, 24.

            The tone marketing on the possessive prefixes {n è ղ} and {bì} (with their allomorphs) are purely morphophonemic.  Following a widerspred pattern, the none is to be shifted to the next toneless syllable in close transition but dropped if the text syllable already has one, thus:

            {a-pa} apa, {n è ղ] nəmpá, [bì-pa] [bipá (rarely pipá)

            (bèw) bə΄w, whether alone or after {a}, {n ə΄ղ }{bì} [abə΄ve məmbər bə΄low).

            The possessive prefixed {nə΄ղ } and (bì) have  alternatnts as follows;

            {nə΄ղ } nə΄m ~nə΄~ nə΄ղ before m; nəղ before p, b: nə΄m before vowel; nə΄ղ  elsewhere.

5. Semantic notes.  The line between kinship terminology and the rest of the vocabulary is not firmly drawn.  Many (2 to 6,8,10 to 12, 18, 19, 61 to 65, 73 have outside meanings.  The borrowed items seem on the whole to be well integrated with the rest (28 however sticks out as will be seen below); the meanings of the Assamese items shift in many cases (28 to 30, 37, 44, 48).  The pair 20 and 23 are best treated as homonymous.  The distinction between descriptive and appellative uses is not conveyed so much by sets of specialized terms (47, 72) as by possessive prefixes, modifiers (50, 51, 56) restrictions on address (3 to 10, 22, 35, 43, 66 to 71). And extending the range of some terms for the purpose of address (1, 2, 11 to 13, 15 to 17, 23).

            The following reverse index from kinsman-type to the terms willbring out the broad distinctions and overlaps of this system.  ‘also introduces terms int heir extended ranges for the purposes of address.

(a)        Cosanguineal:

(aa)      Colineal :          first ascending : 1, 2.

                                    Further ascending: 18-20

                                    First descending: 3-6, also 1, 2

                                    Further descending: 18-20, 21

(ab) Collateral:  of ego’s generation: 11-17

                                    of first ascending : 23-27, 28.

                                    Of first descending: 28, 29-33, also 233.

(b) Affinal :                   of ego’s generation : Sp : 8-10

                                    SpSp: 22, 48, also 1, 13, 16, 17

                                    SpSb: 40-44, also 13, 15-17.

                                    SpSbSp: 48 also 13, 15-17

                                    SbSp: 41-47, also 13, 16, 17

                                    SbSpSb: 42-44, also 11, 13

                                    OfSpPa: 38, 39

            Of first ascending: SpPa: 334, 35 also 1, 2

                                    SpPaSb: 34

                                    PaSbSp: also 2

                                    PaSbSp: 23 to 27.

                        Of first descending:  SP Of: 49

                                    SpSbOp: 29 to 33, also 23

                                    OfSpSb : 36,37, also 2.

                                    OfSpSb : 36.

            The following general observations are permissible at this point: (1) This is not a tidy system reducible to matrices. (2) Consanguineous and a finals often share a term. (3) Collineals and collaterals never share a term.  The terms for collaterals are in the first instance for those of first degree, by extension to further degrees (4) corresponding ascending and descending generations of consanguineous often share of the ego’s male affinal is sometimes taken along with the a final concerned: SpFaBr (34), DaHuBr (36), SiHuBr (42-44)

            The ancillary features of sex and seniority: The sex of the kinsmans is not always indicated by the basic term: never for Of (3-6) PaPaPa, and OfOfOf (20); optionally for Sby (13 as against 14-17) and OfOf (21 as against 18, 19); never for Ego’s sex is logically implied in some terms.  Hu Wi HuWi WiHu; or in the systemetry of the relation indicated by 28,  But ego’s sex has to be mentioned in the definition of 47 as So Wi and of 16, 17, 45-47 as BryWi. Consider also some of the extensions of 11 to 17 with Hu or Wi as the first link.

            The logic of the sets 23-27, 29-33, and 40-44 can be better understood if we keep in mind a distinction between sibling of the same sex (parallel) and sibling of the apposite sex (cross).4

            This will yield the following compact definitions.

23                PaSbpe (Sp) of either sex

24                PaSbpy (Sp) and male

25                PaSbpy (Sp) and female

26                PaSbc (Sp) and male

27                PaSbe (Sp) and male

29        (Sp) SbpOf

30-333 (Sp) SbcOf

40                SpSbpe

41-42   SpSbcc respectively male and female

43                SpSby parallel or cross, of either sex

44                Male ego’s WiBry

The terms 41-44 overlap with another part system.

41                BreWi

42                SieHu

45-47     male ego’s BryWi

16,17   female ego’s Brywi

43-44     Siy Hu

Seniority – uniformity distinction may pertain to the kinsman referred to or a linking kinsman.  It is measured in relation to the proceeding link – whether ego himself or a linking kinsman.  All these possibilities are amply illustrated in the Boro system.  Seniority of the kinsman directly in relation to the distant ego is found in a few marginal cases (see 11, 13, 433, 44 and footnote 3)

6) Cultural notes:  A methodical study of the kinsip system as such as the rules of marriage; of inheritance of mane property and other privileges; of residence; of decorum; and of kin obligations and the unformulated norms of attitudes and roles – is of course outside the scope of this study, and in fact has not been attempted.  Two casual observations may, however, be recorded here for what they are worth.

            First, the informant observes that a person may not marry his collineal or his collateral of 1st 2nd or 3rd degree (i.e. sharing common ancestors with him from stage of certain marriage proferencessome of there terms fit in rather

            Secondly, the sets 23-27, 29-33, and 41-44 (sec § 5) suggests the presence at some stage of certain marriage preferences.  Some of these terms fit in rather well with a situation5 in which two brothers are marrying two sister s- the older brother the older system and the younger brother   the younger sister (Fig. 1)

Figure 1


                                                =  O                                                       O=    

                                              a     b                                                        c   d


Symbols :         Male     O– female,       male or female

23 Ego’s (f, Fig 1) Fabre = MoSieHu, FabReWi = MoSie

24. Ego’s (e, in Fig.1) FaBry = Mosiyhu

25. Ego’s (e, in Fig. 1) FaBryWi = MoSiy

29. Male ego’s (a or d, in Fig. 1) BrOf = WiSiOf; female ego’s (b or c) SiOf = HuBrOf.

            The remaining terms fit with a pattern that is different from but not incompatible with the first – namely, a man being married to his sister’s husband’s sister (Fig. 2)




                                                =  O                                                          = O

                                               g   h                                                           i    j

                               k                                                               l         

Figure 2                                                                

   Symbols as for Fig.1

26.  Ego’s (k or l, in Fig.) (FaSi = MoBrWi

27. Ego’s (k or l, in Fig) FaSi = MoBr

330 – 31 Male ego’s (g or I, in Fig 2) SiOf = WiBrOf; female ego’s (h or j) B΄rOf = HuSiOf.

41. For a female ego (j, in Fig. 2) HuSie = Brewi.

42. Fokr a male ego (I, in Fig 2) Wire = SieHu

44. For a male ego (g, in Fig 2) WiBry =- SiyHu (cf. also 43 and 16)

The argument is inconclusive and calls for an anthropologist’s probe.

*          An earlier version of this paper was presented before the Winter Seminar of Linguistics, Deccan College, December 1964.  I am indebted to my colleagues for useful comments–especially to Dr. D.N. Shankara BHAT, who has gone through the paper carefully, giving me the benefits of his own work on this dialect.  The source of the data is my student, Mr. Madhuram Baro (age 26), Kachari and in speaker and much more than an informant.  Boró is also known as Plains Kachari and in Assamese it is called bәro kәsari.  I have also benefited from an earlier opportunity (in 1956 and later) to work put the phonology of the dialect of Goalpara district, to the West of Kamrup district.

1.                  Irawati KARVE Kinship Organization in India Deccan College monograph series 11, Poona: Deccan College, 1953.

2.                  In the transcription of Asamiya vowels, I have recognized 8 phonemes arranged as follows (there are no length contrasts):

i           u


            e          o

            є          ә


(This differs from G.C. Go swami’s interpretation-my u, o, ә are his o, ә x respectively).  Asamiya forms are marked As.

3.                  Si Hu Bre refers to ego’s Si Hu Br if he elder to ego (and not necessarily to ego’s Si Hu), Similar interpretations apply when e or y is started.

4.                  Symbols: Sbp parallel sibling, Sbc cross sibling.

5.                  I am indebted to Dr. S.M. KATRE for the suggestion about the situation shown if Fig. 1.


This was published in Studies in Indian Linguistics; Professor M.B. Ememeau Ş̭aṣṭipūrti Volume, ed, Bh Krishnamurti, Pune: CASL (University of Poona) & Annamalai University, 1968, p: 166-73.