Native toIndia
RegionNilgiri Hills
Native speakers
1,600 (2001 census)[1]
Tamil alphabet (Brahmic)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3tcx

Toda is a Dravidian language noted for its many fricatives and trills. It is spoken by the Toda people, a population of about one thousand who live in the Nilgiri Hills of southern India. The Toda language originated from Toda-Kota subgroup of South Dravidian. Krishnamurti (2003) doesn't consider a single Toda-Kota branch and says Kota split first and later Toda did as Kota doesn't have the centralized vowels of other Tamil-Toda languages.[3]


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Phonemic inventory


For a Dravidian language, Toda's sixteen vowels is an unusually large number. There are eight vowel qualities, each of which may occur long or short. There is little difference in quality between the long and short vowels, except for /e/, which occurs as [e] when short and as [æː] when long.[4]

Front Central Back
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
Close i 〈i, i·〉 y 〈ü, ü·〉 ɨ 〈ï, ï·〉 u 〈u, u·〉
Mid e 〈e〉 ɵ 〈ö, ö·〉 o 〈o, o·〉
Open æ 〈e·〉 ɑ 〈a, a·〉


Toda has an unusually large number of fricatives and trills. Its seven places of articulation are the most for any Dravidian language. The voiceless laterals are true fricatives, not voiceless approximants; the retroflex lateral is highly unusual among the world's languages.[4]

Voiceless fricatives are allophonically voiced intervocalically in Toda. There are also the invariably voiced fricatives /ʒ, ʐ, ɣ/, though the latter is marginal. The nasals and /r̠, ɽr, j/ are allophonically devoiced or partially devoiced in final position or next to voiceless consonants.[4]

Labial Denti-
Retroflex Palatal Velar
plain sib. plain pal. plain pal. plain pal.
Nasal m 〈m〉 〈n〉 ɳ 〈ṇ〉
voiceless p 〈p〉 〈t〉 t̪s̪ 〈c〉 〈ṯ〉 〈č〉 ʈ 〈ṭ〉 k 〈k〉
voiced b 〈b〉 〈d〉 d̪z̪ 〈ɀ〉 〈ḏ〉 〈j〉 ɖ 〈ḍ〉 ɡ 〈g〉
Fricative voiceless f 〈f〉 θ 〈θ〉 〈s〉 〈s̠〉 ʃ 〈š〉 ʂ 〈ṣ〉 x 〈x〉
voiced ʒ 〈ž〉 ʐ 〈ẓ〉 (ɣ) 〈x〉
Lateral ɬ̪ 〈ɬ〉 ɭ̊˔ 〈ꞎ〉
Approximant 〈l〉 ɭ 〈ḷ〉 j 〈y〉 w 〈w〉
Trill 〈r〉 r̘ʲ 〈ṛy〉 〈ṟ〉 r̠ʲ 〈ṟy〉 ɽr 〈ṛ〉 ɽrʲ 〈ṛy〉

All of these consonants may occur in word-medial and word-final positions. However, only a restricted set occur word-initially. These are /p, t̪, k, f, s̪, m, n̠, r̘, l̪, j, w/, in boldface above.

Unlike the other dental consonants, /θ/ is interdental. Similarly, /f/ is labiodental whereas the other labials are bilabial.[citation needed]

The palatalized rhotics are only mentioned by Spajić and Ladefoged (1996), previous descriptions like of Emeneau (1984) and Krishnamurti (2003) only have the plain 3 ones as the rhotics.

Apical consonants are either alveolar or postalveolar. The actual feature that distinguishes /r̘/ and /r̠/ is uncertain. They have the same primary place of articulation. Spajić and colleagues have found that the rhotic that may occur word initially (erroneously called "dental" in previous literature, perhaps because Dravidian coronals tend to be dental by default) has a secondary articulation, which they have tentatively identified as advanced tongue root until further measurements can be made. This analysis is assumed in the transcription /r̘/.[citation needed]

Another difference between them is that /r̘/ is the least strongly trilled, most often occurring with a single contact. However, unlike a flap, multiple contacts are normal, if less common, and /r̘/ is easily distinguishable from the other trills when they are all produced with the same number of contacts.[citation needed]

The retroflex consonants are subapical. Retroflex /ɽr/ is more strongly trilled than the other rhotics. However, it is not purely retroflex. Although the tongue starts out in a sub-apical retroflex position, trilling involves the tip of the tongue, and this causes it to move forward toward the alveolar ridge. This means that the retroflex trill gives a preceding vowel retroflex coloration the way other retroflex consonants do, but that the vibration itself is not much different from the other trills.[citation needed]

The palatalization of the slided consonant ɽ͢rʲ does not affect on the initial retroflex articulation, ɽ is not simultaneously coarticulated with ʲ.


Verbal Morphology

As described by Murray B. Emeneau, in his "Toda Grammar and Texts,"[5] the entire Toda verbal system is based on the addition of many suffixes to the two base verb stems, stem 1 (henceforth, S1) and stem 2 (henceforth, S2). There are fifteen classes of verbs in Toda, each of which uses one of four suffixes to form its S2 from its S1. A short summary is given below:

Toda Verb Classes
Class Example Suffix S2
Ia ko·ṭ- "to show" -y- ko·ṭy-
Ib koc- "to bite" -y- (c- > č-) koč-
Ic oɀ- "to fear" -y- (ɀ- > j-) oj-
IIa nen- "to think of" -θ- nenθ-
IIb kïy- "to do" -θ- (-y > -s) kïs-
IIc ïr- "to sit" -θ- (-r > -θ) ïθ-
IIIa kwïṛ- "to give (to 3rd)" -t- kwïṛt-
IIIb ko·y- "to bear fruit" -t- (-y > -c) ko·c-
IIIc soy- "to die" -t- (-y > -t) sot-
IIId kaɬ- "to learn" -t- (-ɬ > -ṯ)1 kaṯ-
IIIe wïṟ- "to undertake" -t- (-ṟ/-l > -t-) wït-
IVa kwïḷ- "to hatch" -d- kwïḷd-
IVb mi·y- "to bathe" -d- (-y > -d) mi·d-
IVc sal- "to belong to" -d- (-l > -d) sad-
V (irregular) pï·x- "to go," o·x- "to become" - pi·-, o·y-

1Emeneau lists the rule "S1 -ṟ/-ɬ/-ṛ/-ꞎ/-ḍ/-x + -t- = S2 -ṯ/-ṯ/-ṭ/-ṭ/-ṭ/-k; S1 -r/-l/-n/-s̠/-ḷ/-ṇ + -t- = S1 -d/-ḏ/-ḏ/-ḏ/-ḍ/-ḍ" for this class.

To each of these stems, further suffixes may be added to create verb forms indicating different tenses and moods. The following table summarizes them:

Toda Verbal Inflection
Function 1sg. 1pl. excl. 1pl. incl. 2sg. 2pl. 3
Present-future I S2-pen S2-pem S2-pum S2-py S2-tš S2-t
Present-future II S2-n S2-m S2-m S2-ty S2-tš S2-u
Past I S2-špen S2-špem S2-špum S2-špy S2 S2
Past II S2-šn S2-šm S2-šm S2 S2 S2-šk
Tenseless S2-en (Class I: S1-nen) S2-em (Class I: S1-nem) S2-um (Class I: S1-num) S2-y (Class I: S1-ny) S2-š (Class I: S1-nš) ?
Dubitative S1-špen S1-špem S1-špum S1-špy S1 S1
Voluntative S1-kin S1-kim S1-ku S1-ky S1-kš S1-kθ
Imperative - - - S1 S1 S1-mo·
Negative S1-en S1-em S1-um S1-y S1 S1-oθ
Negative voluntative S1-šn S1-šm S1-šm S1 S1 S1-šk
Negative imperative - - - S2-oṭ S2-oṭṣ -

See also


  1. ^ Toda at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Toda language and script, Omniglot.
  3. ^ Krishnamurti (2003).
  4. ^ a b c Spajić, Ladefoged & Bhaskararao (1994).
  5. ^ Emeneau (1984)
  6. ^ Walsh, R R (15 April 1953). "Ernest Speight - A Portrait". The Sunday Statesman. During his retirement he lived alone, devoting himself to the care of his fascinating library and extensive collection of Japanese art treasures and antiques. and the study of the language and customs and mythology of the Nilgiri hill tribes, the Badagas. He was compiling a Toda grammar when he died