Munda languages

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India, Bangladesh
Linguistic classificationAustroasiatic
  • Munda
  • Kherwari (North)
  • Korku (North)
  • Kharia–Juang, Khonda
  • Koraput (Remo, Savara)
ISO 639-2 / 5mun
Distribution of Munda language speakers in India

The Munda languages are a language family spoken by about nine million people in central and eastern India and Bangladesh. Historically, they have been called the Kolarian languages. They constitute a branch of the Austroasiatic language family, which means they are related to languages such as Mon and Khmer languages and Vietnamese, as well as minority languages in Thailand and Laos and the minority Mangic languages of South China.[2] The origins of the Munda languages are not known, but they predate the other languages of eastern India. Ho, Mundari, and Santali are notable languages of Santali group.[3][4]

The family is generally divided into two branches: North Munda, spoken in the Chota Nagpur Plateau of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, and Odisha, and South Munda, spoken in central Odisha and along the border between Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.[5][6]

Santal, of which Santali is the most widely spoken, is the larger group; its languages are spoken by about ninety percent of Munda speakers. After Santali, the Mundari and Ho languages rank next in number of speakers, followed by Korku and Sora. The remaining Munda languages are spoken by small, isolated groups of people and are poorly known.

Characteristics of the Munda languages include three grammatical numbers (singular, dual and plural), two genders (animate and inanimate), a distinction between inclusive and exclusive first person plural pronouns and the use of suffixes or auxiliaries to indicate tense. The Munda languages are also polysynthetic and agglutinating.[7]

In Munda sound systems, consonant sequences are infrequent except in the middle of a word. Other than in Korku, whose syllables show a distinction between high and low tone, accent is predictable in the Munda languages.


Present-day distribution of Austroasiatic languages

Most linguists, like Paul Sidwell (2018), suggest that the proto-Munda language probably split from Austroasiatic somewhere in Indochina and arrived on the coast of modern-day Odisha about 4000–3500 years ago and spread after the Indo-Aryan migration to the region.[8]

Rau and Sidwell (2019),[9][10] along with Blench (2019),[11] suggest that pre-Proto-Munda had arrived in the Mahanadi River Delta around 1,500 BCE from Southeast Asia via a maritime route, rather than overland. The Munda languages then subsequently spread up the Mahanadi watershed.


Munda consists of five uncontroversial branches. However, their interrelationship is debated.

Diffloth (1974)[edit]

The bipartite Diffloth (1974) classification is widely cited:

Diffloth (2005)[edit]

Diffloth (2005) retains Koraput (rejected by Anderson, below) but abandons South Munda and places Kharia–Juang with the northern languages:




 Core   Munda 


 North   Munda 



Anderson (1999)[edit]

Gregory Anderson's 1999 proposal is as follows.[12]

However, in 2001, Anderson split Juang and Kharia apart from the Juang-Kharia branch and also excluded Gtaʔ from his former Gutob–Remo–Gtaʔ branch. Thus, his 2001 proposal includes 5 branches for South Munda.

Anderson (2001)[edit]

Anderson (2001) follows Diffloth (1974) apart from rejecting the validity of Koraput. He proposes instead, on the basis of morphological comparisons, that Proto-South Munda split directly into Diffloth's three daughter groups, Kharia–Juang, Sora–Gorum (Savara), and Gutob–Remo–Gtaʼ (Remo).[13]

His South Munda branch contains the following five branches, while the North Munda branch is the same as those of Diffloth (1974) and Anderson (1999).

SoraGorum   JuangKhariaGutobRemoGtaʔ

  • Note: "↔" = shares certain innovative isoglosses (structural, lexical). In Austronesian and Papuan linguistics, this has been called a "linkage" by Malcolm Ross.

Sidwell (2015)[edit]

Paul Sidwell (2015:197)[14] considers Munda to consists of 6 coordinate branches, and does not accept South Munda as a unified subgroup.



Percentage of Munda speakers by language

  Santali (45.1%)
  Ho (27.6%)
  Mundari (11.3%)
  Juray (5.8%)
  Korku (3.5%)
  Sora (2.3%)
  Kharia (2.1%)
  Others (2.3%)
Language Name Number of speakers Location
Korku 727,100 Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra
Birjia 25,000 Jharkhand, West Bengal
Korwa 28,400 Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh
Mundari (inc. Bhumij dialect) 1,100,000 Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar, Assam, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal
Asur 7,000 Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha
Koda 47,300 Bangladesh
Ho 1,400,000 Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh
Birhor 2,000 Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal
Santali 7,400,000 West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar
Mahali 33,000 Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal
Turi 2,000 Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal
Kharia 298,000 Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand
Juang 30,400 Odisha
Gtaʼ 3,000 Odisha
Bonda 9,000 Odisha
Gutob 8,000 Odisha, Andhra Pradesh
Gorum 9,400 Odisha, Andhra Pradesh
Sora 410,000 Odisha, Andhra Pradesh
Juray 801,000 Odisha
Lodhi 25,000 Odisha, West Bengal


Reconstruction ofMunda languages

The following Proto-Munda lexical proto-forms have been reconstructed by Sidwell & Rau (2015: 319, 340-363).[15] Two asterisks are given to denote the tentative, preliminary state of the proto-language reconstruction.

Gloss Proto-Munda
belly **(sə)laɟ
big **məraŋ
to bite **kaˀp
black **kE(n)dE
blood **məjam
bone **ɟaːˀŋ
to burn (vt.) **gEˀp
claw/nail **rəmAj
cloud **tərIˀp
cold **raŋ
die (of a person) **gOˀj
dog **sOˀt
to drink (water) **uˀt, **uˀk
dry (adj./stat.) **(ə)sAr
ear **lutur, **luˀt
earth/soil **ʔOte
to eat **ɟOm
egg **(ə)tAˀp
eye **maˀt
fat/grease/oil **sunum
feather **bəlEˀt
fire **səŋal
fish (n.) **ka, **kadO(ŋ)
fly (v.) **pEr
foot **ɟəːˀŋ
give **ʔam
hair (of head) **suˀk
hand **tiːˀ
to hear/listen **ajɔm
heart, liver **(gə)rE, **ʔim
horn **dəraŋ
I **(n)iɲ
to kill **(bə)ɡOˀɟ
leaf **Olaːˀ
to lie (down) **gətiˀc
long **ɟəlƏŋ
louse (head) **siːˀ
man/husband, person/human **kOrOˀ
meat/flesh **ɟəlU(Uˀ)
moon **harkE, **aŋaj
mountain/hill **bəru(uˀ)
mouth **təmOˀt
name **ɲUm
neck **kO, **gOˀk
new **təmI
night **(m)ədiˀp
nose **muːˀ
not **əˀt
one **mOOˀj
rain **gəma
red **ɟəŋAˀt
road, path **kOrA
root (of a tree) **rEˀt
sand **kEˀt
see **(n)El
sit **kO
skin **usal
sleep **gətiˀc
smoke (n.) **mOˀk
to speak, say **sun, **gam, **kaj
to stand **tənaŋ, **tƏŋgə
stone **bərƏl, **sərEŋ
sun **siŋi(iˀ)
tail **pata
thigh **buluuˀ
that (dist.) **han
this (prox.) **En
thou/you **(n)Am
tongue **laːˀŋ
tooth **gənE
tree **ɟiːˀ
two **baːˀr
to walk, go **sEn
to weave **ta(aˀ)ɲ
water **daːˀk
woman/wife **selA, **kəni
yellow **saŋsaŋ

Proto-Munda reconstruction has since been revised and improved by Rau (2019).[16][17]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Mundaic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Bradley (2012) notes, MK in the wider sense including the Munda languages of eastern South Asia is also known as Austroasiatic
  3. ^ Pinnow, Heinz-Jurgen. "A comparative study of the verb in Munda language" (PDF). Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  4. ^ Daladier, Anne. "Kinship and Spirit Terms Renewed as Classifiers of "Animate" Nouns and Their Reduced Combining Forms in Austroasiatic". Elanguage. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  5. ^ Bhattacharya, S. (1975). "Munda studies: A new classification of Munda". Indo-Iranian Journal. 17 (1): 97–101. doi:10.1163/000000075794742852. ISSN 1572-8536.
  6. ^ "Munda languages". The Language Gulper. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  7. ^ Donegan, Patricia Jane; Stampe, David. "South-East Asian Features in the Munda Languages". Berkley Linguistics Society.
  8. ^ Sidwell, Paul. 2018. Austroasiatic Studies: state of the art in 2018. Presentation at the Graduate Institute of Linguistics, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan, May 22, 2018.
  9. ^ Rau, Felix; Sidwell, Paul (2019). "The Munda Maritime Hypothesis". Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society (JSEALS). 12 (2). hdl:10524/52454. ISSN 1836-6821.
  10. ^ Rau, Felix and Paul Sidwell 2019. "The Maritime Munda Hypothesis." ICAAL 8, Chiang Mai, Thailand, August 29–31, 2019. doi:10.5281/zenodo.3365316
  11. ^ Blench, Roger. 2019. The Munda maritime dispersal: when, where and what is the evidence?
  12. ^ Anderson, Gregory D.S. (1999). "A new classification of the Munda languages: Evidence from comparative verb morphology." Paper presented at 209th meeting of the American Oriental Society, Baltimore, MD.
  13. ^ Anderson, Gregory D S (2001). A New Classification of South Munda: Evidence from Comparative Verb Morphology. Indian Linguistics. 62. Poona: Linguistic Society of India. pp. 21–36.
  14. ^ Sidwell, Paul. 2015. "Austroasiatic classification." In Jenny, Mathias and Paul Sidwell, eds (2015). The Handbook of Austroasiatic Languages. Leiden: Brill.
  15. ^ Sidwell, Paul and Felix Rau (2015). "Austroasiatic Comparative-Historical Reconstruction: An Overview." In Jenny, Mathias and Paul Sidwell, eds (2015). The Handbook of Austroasiatic Languages. Leiden: Brill.
  16. ^ Rau, Felix. (2019). Advances in Munda historical phonology. Zenodo. doi:10.5281/zenodo.3380908
  17. ^ Rau, Felix. (2019). Munda cognate set with proto-Munda reconstructions (Version 0.1.0) [Data set]. Zenodo. doi:10.5281/zenodo.3380874

General references[edit]

  • Diffloth, Gérard. 1974. "Austro-Asiatic Languages". Encyclopædia Britannica. pp 480–484.
  • Diffloth, Gérard. 2005. "The contribution of linguistic palaeontology to the homeland of Austro-Asiatic". In: Sagart, Laurent, Roger Blench and Alicia Sanchez-Mazas (eds.). The Peopling of East Asia: Putting Together Archaeology, Linguistics and Genetics. RoutledgeCurzon. pp 79–82.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gregory D S Anderson, ed. (2008). Munda Languages. Routledge Language Family Series. 3. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-32890-6.
  • Anderson, Gregory D S (2007). The Munda verb: typological perspectives. Trends in linguistics. 174. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-018965-0.
  • Donegan, Patricia; David Stampe (2002). South-East Asian Features in the Munda Languages: Evidence for the Analytic-to-Synthetic Drift of Munda. In Patrick Chew, ed., Proceedings of the 28th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, Special Session on Tibeto-Burman and Southeast Asian Linguistics, in honor of Prof. James A. Matisoff. 111-129. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Linguistics Society.CS1 maint: location (link)
  • Śarmā, Devīdatta (2003). Munda: sub-stratum of Tibeto-Himalayan languages. Studies in Tibeto-Himalayan languages. 7. New Delhi: Mittal Publications. ISBN 81-7099-860-3.
  • Newberry, J (2000). North Munda hieroglyphics. Victoria BC CA: J Newberry.
  • Varma, Siddheshwar (1978). Munda and Dravidian languages: a linguistic analysis. Hoshiarpur: Vishveshvaranand Vishva Bandhu Institute of Sanskrit and Indological Studies, Panjab University. OCLC 25852225.
Historical migrations

External links[edit]