EthnicityMunda peoples
Indian subcontinent
Linguistic classificationAustroasiatic
  • Munda
ISO 639-2 / 5mun
Map of areas with significant concentration of Munda speakers

The Munda languages are a group of closely related languages spoken by about nine million people in India, Bangladesh and Nepal.[1][2][3] Historically, they have been called the Kolarian languages. They constitute a branch of the Austroasiatic language family, which means they are more distantly related to languages such as the Mon and Khmer languages, to Vietnamese, as well as to minority languages in Thailand and Laos and the minority Mangic languages of South China.[4] Bhumij, Ho, Mundari, and Santali are notable Munda languages.[5][6][1]

Grierson's Linguistic Map of India, 1906

The family is generally divided into two branches: North Munda, spoken in the Chota Nagpur Plateau of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal, as well as in parts of Bangladesh and Nepal, and South Munda, spoken in central Odisha and along the border between Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.[7][8][1]

North Munda, of which Santali is the most widely spoken and recognised as an official language in India, has twice as many speakers as South Munda. 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, and are poorly described.[1]

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, the use of suffixes or auxiliaries to indicate tense,[9] and partial, total, and complex reduplication, as well as switch-reference.[10][9] The Munda languages are also polysynthetic and agglutinating.[11][12] In Munda sound systems, consonant sequences are infrequent except in the middle of a word.


Present-day distribution of Austroasiatic languages

Most linguists, including Paul Sidwell (2018), suggest that the Proto-Munda language probably split from proto-Austroasiatic somewhere in Indochina and arrived on the coast of modern-day Odisha about 4000–3500 years ago (c. 2000 – c. 1500 BCE) and spread after the Indo-Aryan migration to the region.[13][14]

Rau and Sidwell (2019),[15][16] along with Blench (2019),[17] 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. 2021 studies suggest that Munda languages spread as far as Eastern Uttar Pradesh and impacted Eastern Indo-Aryan languages.[18][19]


Munda consists of five uncontroversial branches (Korku as an isolate, Remo, Savara, Kherwar, and Kharia-Juang). However, their interrelationship is debated.

Diffloth (1974)

The bipartite Diffloth (1974) classification is widely cited:

Diffloth (2005)

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)

Gregory Anderson's 1999 proposal is as follows.[20]

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)

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).[22]

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

Sidwell (2015)

Paul Sidwell (2015:197)[23] considers Munda to consist of 6 coordinate branches, and does not accept South Munda as a unified subgroup.


Language name Number of speakers (2011) Location
Korwa 28,400 Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand
Birjia 25,000 Jharkhand, West Bengal
Mundari (inc. Bhumij) 1,600,000 Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar
Asur 7,000 Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha
Ho 1,400,000 Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal
Birhor 2,000 Jharkhand
Santali 7,400,000 Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, Assam, Bangladesh, Nepal
Turi 2,000 Jharkhand
Korku 727,000 Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra
Kharia 298,000 Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh
Juang 30,400 Odisha
Gtaʼ 4,500 Odisha
Bonda 9,000 Odisha
Gutob 10,000 Odisha, Andhra Pradesh
Gorum 20 Odisha, Andhra Pradesh
Sora 410,000 Odisha, Andhra Pradesh
Juray 25,000 Odisha
Lodhi 25,000 Odisha, West Bengal
Koda 47,300 West Bengal, Odisha, Bangladesh
Kol 1,600 West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bangladesh


Main article: Proto-Munda language

The proto-forms have been reconstructed by Sidwell & Rau (2015: 319, 340–363).[24] Proto-Munda reconstruction has since been revised and improved by Rau (2019).[25][26]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d Anderson, Gregory D. S. (29 March 2017), "Munda Languages", Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199384655.013.37, ISBN 978-0-19-938465-5
  2. ^ Hock, Hans Henrich; Bashir, Elena, eds. (23 January 2016). The Languages and Linguistics of South Asia. doi:10.1515/9783110423303. ISBN 9783110423303.
  3. ^ "Santhali". Ethnologue. Retrieved 21 January 2024.
  4. ^ Bradley (2012) notes, MK in the wider sense including the Munda languages of eastern South Asia is also known as Austroasiatic
  5. ^ Pinnow, Heinz-Jurgen. "A comparative study of the verb in Munda language" (PDF). Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  6. ^ Daladier, Anne. "Kinship and Spirit Terms Renewed as Classifiers of "Animate" Nouns and Their Reduced Combining Forms in Austroasiatic". Elanguage. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  7. ^ Bhattacharya, S. (1975). "Munda studies: A new classification of Munda". Indo-Iranian Journal. 17 (1): 97–101. doi:10.1163/000000075794742852. ISSN 1572-8536. S2CID 162284988.
  8. ^ "Munda languages". The Language Gulper. Retrieved 14 May 2019.
  9. ^ a b Kidwai, Ayesha (2008), "Gregory D. S. Anderson the Munda Verb: Typological Perspectives", Annual Review of South Asian Languages and Linguistics, Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs [TiLSM], Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 265–272, doi:10.1515/9783110211504.4.265, ISBN 978-3-11-021150-4
  10. ^ Anderson, Gregory D. S. (7 May 2018), Urdze, Aina (ed.), "Reduplication in the Munda languages", Non-Prototypical Reduplication, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, pp. 35–70, doi:10.1515/9783110599329-002, ISBN 978-3-11-059932-9
  11. ^ Donegan, Patricia Jane; Stampe, David. "South-East Asian Features in the Munda Languages". Berkley Linguistics Society.
  12. ^ Anderson, Gregory D. S. (1 January 2014), "5 Overview of the Munda Languages", The Handbook of Austroasiatic Languages (2 vols), BRILL, pp. 364–414, doi:10.1163/9789004283572_006, ISBN 978-90-04-28357-2
  13. ^ Sidwell, Paul. 2018. Austroasiatic Studies: state of the art in 2018. Presentation at the Graduate Institute of Linguistics, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan, 22 May 2018.
  14. ^ "Sidwell AA studies state of the art 2018.pdf". Google Docs. Retrieved 12 May 2023.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Rau, Felix and Paul Sidwell 2019. "The Maritime Munda Hypothesis." ICAAL 8, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 29–31 August 2019. doi:10.5281/zenodo.3365316
  17. ^ Blench, Roger. 2019. The Munda maritime dispersal: when, where and what is the evidence?
  18. ^ Ivani, Jessica K; Paudyal, Netra; Peterson, John (2021). Indo-Aryan – a house divided? Evidence for the east–west Indo-Aryan divide and its significance for the study of northern South Asia. Journal of South Asian Languages and Linguistics, 7(2):287–326. doi:10.1515/jsall-2021-2029
  19. ^ John Peterson (October 2021). "The spread of Munda in prehistoric South Asia -the view from areal typology To appear in: Volume in Celebration of the Bicentenary of Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute (Deemed University)". Retrieved 1 September 2022.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ Anderson, G.D.S. (2008). ""Gtaʔ" The Munda Languages. Routledge Language Family Series. London: Routledge. pp. 682–763". Routledge Language Family Series (3): 682–763.
  22. ^ Anderson, Gregory D S (2001). A New Classification of South Munda: Evidence from Comparative Verb Morphology. Indian Linguistics. Vol. 62. Poona: Linguistic Society of India. pp. 21–36.
  23. ^ Sidwell, Paul. 2015. "Austroasiatic classification." In Jenny, Mathias and Paul Sidwell, eds (2015). The Handbook of Austroasiatic Languages. Leiden: Brill.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ Rau, Felix. (2019). Advances in Munda historical phonology. Zenodo. doi:10.5281/zenodo.3380908
  26. ^ Rau, Felix. (2019). Munda cognate set with proto-Munda reconstructions (Version 0.1.0) [Data set]. Zenodo. doi:10.5281/zenodo.3380874

General references

Further reading

Historical migrations