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date: 23 August 2017

Munda Languages

Summary and Keywords

The Munda language family constitutes the westernmost branch of the widespread Austroasiatic language family. Munda formerly was considered sister to the rest of the phylum, then known as Mon-Khmer, but this has been revised, and Munda is considered as Austroasiatic as any other branch. The internal classification of the Munda languages is still disputed, but a clear North Munda group exists and is uncontroversial. Other higher-order internal divisions remain disputed, although low-level groups like Sora-Gorum or Gutob-Remo are clear and accepted by almost all researchers today.

Phonologically speaking, Munda languages make extensive use of glottal stop and pre-glottalized stops, nasal vowels, and retroflexion. Word level prosody shows Austroasiatic features with an overlay of South Asian areal features on the phrase level. Register and tone have been reported for individual languages such as creaky voice in Gorum and a low tone in Korku.

Nouns in Munda languages may encode a range of grammatical and local cases, person and number of possessors, and covert distinctions of animacy in agreement and other morphosyntactic features. Verbs in Munda languages can be quite complex, with subject and object as well as TAM encoding, transitivity, finiteness, etc. Kherwarian languages stand out in this regard as well as for the distributional facts of the subject clitics, where the preferred locus is enclitic to the word immediately preceding the verb. Systems of negation can be very complicated and show unexpected interactions with TAM marking in languages like Gutob.

Syntactically, Munda languages show many typical South Asian features such as verb-final structure, as well as non-finite structures, and in some cases switch reference systems or noun incorporation.

The current sociolinguistic and demographic contexts of the different Munda languages range from expanding and healthy with official status in the case of Santali to seriously endangered in the case of Gorum.

Keywords: Munda languages, Austroasiatic languages, verb morphology, phonology, noun morphology, sociolinguistics, classification

1 Overview of the Munda Languages

The Munda family consists of approximately two dozen languages. Munda-speaking peoples are considered to represent the autochthonous tribal populations of eastern-central India, a name codified in the local generic designation for them—ādivasī (aboriginal). The number of speakers of the individual representatives of the Munda language family totals over 10 million people. Munda languages are spoken primarily in eastern and central India across the State of Jharkhand, in the northernmost and southernmost regions of Odisha, across parts of West Bengal and northern Chhhatisgarh, and in the border region between Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Munda-speaking enclaves are also found in southeastern Nepal and in western Bangladesh. Further, significant Munda-speaking groups can be found in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and several thousand speakers of roughly half a dozen Munda languages (e.g., Sora, Santali, Mundari, Ho, Gutob) remain on tea gardens in Assam, particularly in the Sonitpur district. Munda-speaking populations migrated to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands beginning in the late 19th century as a result of social upheaval in their districts of origin, while the Assam Munda-speaking populations were moved as coolie laborers to work the plantations or gardens developed for the expanding tea industry in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries.

The pre-history of the Munda languages remains obscure. The Munda language family is the westernmost branch of the large and dispersed Austroasiatic phylum. Two other Austroasiatic groups are found in the present-day territory of India, the Khasi of Meghalaya and the Nicobarese-speaking groups of the Nicobar Islands. The other subgroups of Austroasiatic are all found outside of India, and it is generally believed that the Austroasiatic ancestral language was not to be found in India but rather further to the East.1 Thus, at some point the ancestors of the Munda-speaking peoples must have migrated westward into the Subcontinent. When, how, and by what path they entered India remains a subject of considerable debate.

1.1 Sociolinguistics, Demographics, and Language Endangerment

All the Munda languages are minority languages in the larger context of the modern Indian polity except Santali, now an official language, but the status of the individual Munda languages is not consistent locally or regionally. Thus some languages are quite large, with more than one million speakers (Ho, Mundari, and of course Santali). By contrast, some close sister languages, such as Koḍa, spoken in Bangladesh, have only a few hundred or thousand speakers remaining, as do several of the languages of southern Odisha, e.g., Gorum or Gtaʔ. Indian census takers do not recognize languages with fewer than 10,000 speakers, and several of the smaller Munda languages fall below this threshold, so gauging the exact number of speakers of such languages can be problematic; see Onishi and Osada (2012) for a recent basis for estimation. Only in a restricted set of districts of Jharkhand, West Bengal, and northern Odisha does a Munda-speaking community enjoy the status of a local majority population, but nowhere is any Munda language a regional majority.2 Thus most languages of the Munda family are low-status languages nationally, regionally, and locally, and many remain unwritten. Endangerment and language shift will likely expand in the coming decades of the 21st century.3 Santali, on the other hand, has relatively recently been elevated to the status of a national or Scheduled language of the Indian Constitution and is now taught from primary school through the university level. Some estimates on the number of speakers of various Munda languages are offered in (1).

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At least two languages in Odisha are particularly problematic in part due to the poor census data and in part due to an inadequate degree of specification or differentiation of ethnonyms and glottonyms from other local minority groups. Thus the Gorum are often locally called Parenga Poroja or just Poroja, an ethnonym that refers to many tribal groups of southern Odisha, who may in fact speak a Munda but are even more likely to speak a Dravidian or a tribal Indo-Aryan variety. Gorum as a result has had wildly varying estimates put forth for its number of speakers, ranging from only a few dozen to tens of thousands.

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Gutob aka Gadaba is a Munda language, but it is almost never distinguished from two other similarly named Gadaba languages which belong to the Dravidian language family, in part because the Munda-speaking Gutob Gadaba can be found living in the same villages as, for example, the Dravidian-speaking Ollari Gadaba. So Gutob, too, has been given wildly disparate estimates for its number of speakers (see 2). Shift to the Indo-Aryan language Desia is rampant in this region.

2 Phonology and Morphology of Munda Languages

In the following sections I briefly highlight some of the features of phonology and morphology of the Munda languages. In Section 2.1 highlights of Munda phonological structure are outlined. In Section 2.2 I briefly address the nominal morphology of the languages of this family and in 2.3 some salient features of their verbal morphology.

2.1 Phonology of Munda Languages

Munda languages tend to have smaller vowel inventories than their sister languages spoken outside of India. In addition to the five basic cardinal vowels, a sixth vowel is found in a number of Munda languages, often with a central(ized) realization, usually [ǝ] or [ɨ], but in Gtaʔ the sixth vowel phoneme is rather [æ]. Expansions to this basic set come in various guises. Some Munda languages recognize a length distinction for non-central vowels, and nasalized vowel phonemes are characteristic of both Santali and Gtaʔ. Some Kherwarian languages such as Ho or Santali have split the mid-vowel series into two sets: a lower-mid set of [ɛ] and [ɔ] and an upper-mid set of [e] and [o], often arising from a re-phonologization of an originally allophonic variation triggered by an [ATR], [RTR] or ‘height’ vowel harmony system.

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In the Ho variety spoken in Mayurbhanj district, Odisha, a front-back vowel harmony system is developing. Here the imperfective marker (5) and some subject clitics (6) are harmonizing with their base/host.

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Suprasegmental phenomena are varied among the languages of the Munda family. Most languages have fixed stress, often falling on the second syllable (Santali, Gtaʔ, or Remo) or realized as a low + high word-level prosody (Kharia)–systems inherited from the ancestral Proto-Austroasiatic system (Anderson, 2015a). Other types of phenomena relating to vocalism are also attested in individual Munda languages. So some vowels in various lexically specified words have a laryngeal tension in Santali. Similarly, in a range of words in Gorum, the vowel has a pronounced creaky voice register (Anderson & Rau, 2008). Lastly, there is a range of vowels in Korku that have been described as reflecting a feature of low pitch or low tone (Zide, 2008), although Nagaraja (1999) never described it. It is interesting to note that in words with this low tone, which is only realized on the second syllable, there is an unexpected aspiration of immediately pre-vocalic obstruent consonants in stems in Kharia that are cognate with such Korku words.

With respect to consonantism and consonantal inventories and phonotactics, the following generalizations about the Munda languages can be offered: most Munda languages recognize six asymmetrical places of articulation for stops/affricates, namely labial, dental/alveolar, post-alveolar or retroflex, palatal, velar, and glottal. Voicing contrasts are commonly found such that two series of sounds are usually found, with some gaps, such as the relatively marked presence of the voiceless palatal stop or affricate (except in Gtaʔ, for example) in contrast to the voiced one, which is frequently found. Retroflex [ɖ] and plain alveolar [t] appear in etymologically older stems, while the corresponding [d] and [ʈ] are found in far fewer items and mainly in loanwords, ideophones, etc., with one pan-Munda stem meaning ‘neck’/‘throat’ and another ‘a species of rat’ being two notable exceptions.

Contrastively aspirated stops or affricates are found in a number of Munda languages, but these mainly appear to be secondary developments, restricted primarily to loanwords, even if fairly commonly occurring in a given Munda language like Santali. One exception to this is Kharia, where aspiration may be found in etymologically older stems and, as mentioned above, often correlating to the presence of low pitch or low tone in Korku cognates. Phonotactically speaking, the velar nasal is quite rare in initial position except in a small number of words in the southernmost languages like Gtaʔ, a pattern in line with South Asian areal norms, where initial ŋ- is rare, but in contrast with Southeast Asian norms, where it is fairly common (Anderson, 2005a, 2005b). In terms of the allophony or phonetic realization of consonants in Munda languages, one must note the characteristic pre-glottalization or ‘checking’ of consonants that characterizes a number of the languages when it appears in coda-position or word-final position, e.g., in Santali, Mundari, Ho, Remo, or Kharia. Of special and as-yet-unresolved status in the phonological systems of individual Munda languages and in the family as a whole is the glottal stop, which is found on some level in all of the Munda languages. In some it has the status of a consonant phoneme, while in others it appears to have become part of the vocalism, realized as an interrupted or glottalized vowel. More systematic work on the phonetics of individual Munda languages is required before this can be resolved or understood in a historical light.

2.2 Nominal Morphology

Nominal systems of Munda languages are typified by a small number of case, person (possessor), and number categories in the inflectional system and a small number of derivational and compounding processes to expand the lexicon of nouns, that is, elements that typically instantiate the arguments and oblique phrases and complements of predicates. The distinction between the part-of-speech categories ‘noun’ and ‘verb’ in various Munda languages is not particularly illuminating, as elements whose typical categories of inflection and semantic content that are typically associated with either nouns or verbs can take the corresponding opposite sets of inflectional elements with no formal change. Thus, the same element can serve in multiple function- and structure-determined roles in different utterances. For different approaches to this issue, see the articles published in Linguistic Typology in 2005 (e.g., Evans & Osada, 2005; Peterson, 2005).

With respect to grammatical gender, masculine:feminine oppositions are known only lexically, these borrowed from Indo-Aryan typically (e.g., ɖukra/ɖokra ‘old man’ vs. ɖukri/ɖokri ‘old woman’ in Gtaʔ), but such forms may be common in a given language. In many Munda languages there is, however, at least a covert distinction between animate and inanimate nouns, primarily reflecting a natural gender classification of such entities, that is, living entities are animate and almost everything else belongs to the inanimate group. However, as is typical of languages with an animate/inanimate distinction, there are a small number of important inanimate things (e.g., Santali ɛ̃rgɔt’ ‘ear-wax’, ɲindatʃãdo ‘moon’, putul ‘doll’, ipil ‘star’, dʒənum ‘thorn’), which belong to the animate class (Ghosh, 1994, pp. 40–41). The animate/inanimate distinction in Munda languages like Santali, where it is active, is not marked on root nouns at all, but rather realized only morphosyntactically through such means as the differing genitive case forms for animate and inanimate nouns, the lack of locative and allative case forms for animate nouns, or the triggering (or not) of particular types of verb agreement.

Among typologically noteworthy features of Munda nominal systems can be mentioned the complex set of deictics that are used in individual languages, for example, Santali, as well as an unusual mixed numeral system of Sora.

Santali has a complicated demonstrative system (Zide, 1972). Santali’s basic three-way system is a straightforward proximal, distal, remote system coming in animate (-i/kin/ko) and inanimate forms (-a/-akin/-ako) [singular, dual, and plural].

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Alongside of these are intensive forms (8) (marked by infixation of –k’-), identificational-specificational (‘just’) forms (9) (marked by a shift of (o/u>)-i-), as well as forms adding connotations of ‘things perceived visually’ and ‘things perceived non-visually’ (10).

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In Sora (field notes, 2007, 2015), there is evidence for a mixed vigesimal (base 20)-duodecimal (base 12) system, the latter clearly itself based on a decimal system. Consider the following set of Sora numerals: Sora ‘twelve’ is migel and ‘thirteen’ is migel-boj literally [12+1], and ‘fifteen’ is migel-jagi [12+3], etc. That is, in the teens, the system appears to be duodecimal. However, ‘twenty’ is bo-kuri literally [1*20] and ‘30’ is bokuri gel (20+10), so the system now appears to be vigesimal. But ‘32’ is literally [(1*20)+12] or bo-kuri migel, and ‘thirty-three’ is bo-kuri migel-boj [(1*20)+12+1], ‘sixty-five’ is ja-+kuri migel-jagi literally [(3*20)+12+3], and so on, and thus both systems are at play at once. The vigesimal system, common in this part of South Asia, is seen in forms like bo-kuri and ja-kuri, which are 1*20 and 3*20 ‘one score’ ‘three score’, respectively. The duodecimal system is seen clearly in forms like migel-boj [12+1], ‘fifteen’ migel-jagi [12+3] bo-kuri migel-boj [(1*20)+12+1], ‘thirty-three’ is ja-kuri migel-jagi [(3*20)+12+3] ‘sixty-five’. The decimal system underlying this is seen in the form migel itself, which clearly includes –gel ‘ten’.

2.2.1 Case Categories

Most South Munda languages also make use of nominal case to mark a range of categories. Unlike many of the world’s languages, grammatical object[ive] case was originally marked by a prefix in Munda and apparently used only with pronouns, reflected in such South Munda languages as Gtaʔ or Gutob.4

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In others, this marker has been extended to include all nouns, for example in Remo or Sora.

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There is some evidence that originally the oblique marker a- may have applied not only to objective construction, but adnominal ones as well, marking the possessive relation on the possessum. An example of this may be seen in the following Sora form:

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Many Munda languages have borrowed the objective case marker –ke of Indo-Aryan origin. In can be found in Munda languages as distinct as Korku (17) and Gtaʔ (18).

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Note that for most contemporary speakers of Gtaʔ, with pronouns –ke usually now appears in combination with the prefix a-:

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Note that this –ke element appears to have the distribution of a primary object marker in languages like Gtaʔ or Korku as well, appearing on both ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ objects. Note also that the original case prefix shows a similar distribution in individual Munda languages, e.g., Gutob or Gtaʔ a-/o-, and this original distributional/functional fact may have been carried over to the borrowed case element.

2.2.2 Derivation and Compounding Strategies

Santali, like many Munda languages, makes use of a range of derivational infixes to form both deverbal and less commonly denominal nouns as well. Thus, in various stems one finds such derivational infixes as -tV-, -nV-, -mV-, -pV-, etc. The infixed formant –tV- (with –V- representing a copy of the root vowel), is a relatively common means of marking abstract deverbal nouns. Note that with polysyllabic stems, the copied stem vowel can either be the vowel of the first vowel or the second vowel of the stem. Compare the forms meaning ‘beginning’ and ‘excess’ below, with the second and first vowel copied, respectively (Ghosh, 2008, p. 51; 1994, p. 24).

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The pan-Munda derivational infix in –nV- is found in a number of forms, generally with an instrumental meaning. Note that this may occur with roots whose primary function is either verbal or nominal.

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South Munda languages also frequently use the instrumental infix in –n-.

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2.3 Verbal Morphology

Munda verbal systems are typified by modest to moderate degrees of agglutination and polysynthesis, encoding a variety of tense-aspect-mood categories, some showing interconnection with means of expressing degrees of (in)transitivity, plus there are person and number categories of subjects and/or various objects, noun incorporation, switch-reference marking, and verb serialization and various other complex predicate types.

2.3.1 Tense-Aspect-Mood Categories, Transitivity, Negation

The tense-aspect systems of the attested Munda languages present a historically complicated picture. As is the case with many languages from across the globe, the categories of tense and aspect are often intimately connected in the Munda languages; frequently elements are grammaticalized first in a particular aspectual meaning and then shift to more generalized tense functions.

In the vast majority of the Munda languages, there is some formal contrast between transitive/active and intransitive/middle markers. This may be achieved through either separate transitive and intransitive series of tense markers as in the majority of South Munda languages or through a single tense/aspect marker augmented by a consistent marker of transitivity or intransitivity in the North Munda languages.

To be sure, the history of tense/aspect markers is one of the most vexing, complex, and outstanding problems in the diachrony of the verbal systems of the Munda language family. In Kherwarian languages, there are a complex set of about half a dozen TAM markers interconnected with the (in)transitivity markers exemplified below. Korku shows a reduced set derivable from the presumed Proto-North-Munda system ancestral to both. Some of these Proto-North-Munda forms have cognates in Sora on the one hand and, differently, in Juang, and in Kharia and Gutob-Remo on the other, and these are thus likely to be old in the family. Gtaʔ is divergent in many ways from the other Munda languages and has restructured what remained of its older inflectional markers into a mood-prominent system. See Anderson (2007, Chapter 4, p. 107) for more details.

I offer some brief comments here on the markers of (in)transitivity. In North Munda languages the intransitive marker is *-n-. It occupies the same position in the verb template as does the transitivity marker in *-d-, that is, it immediately follows the (tense/)aspect markers. The intransitive marker has realizations in both Kherwarian languages and Korku. The North Munda intransitive marker in *-n- similarly has reflexes in South Munda languages, in particular in Sora and Gorum (i.e., in Proto-Sora-Gorum). Here, as in the North Munda languages, it is used in a wide range of constructions marking not only intransitive but also to encode various types of detransitive categories (passive, middle, reflexive, reciprocal). Note, for example, its use in the following Sora forms, where one finds reflexive (23), passive (24), and reciprocal (25) contexts of use:

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The Sora intransitive/detransitive marker (-n-) may even mark actions that are slow, difficult to accomplish, or even progressive or ongoing; in other words, categories that cluster around a notion of ‘low transitivity’ (Hopper & Thompson, 1980).

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These meanings are also found in the TAM markers using –n- in Kherwarian languages as well [(27) and (28)], suggesting that they are old ones indeed.

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Negative marking systems range from relatively straightforward to complex in the modern Munda languages. Usually more than one element is involved in different paradigms in the system. For example, negative in Kherwarian is generally expressed by a preverbal negative particle, ba- in the declarative and alo- in the prohibitive, which serves as host for the subject clitics.

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There are two negative prefixes or particles that are commonly found in the South Munda verb systems, namely *a(r)- and *əm-. Both negative markers are used in Gorum (30) and Juang (31), while morphophonologically it appears that Gtaʔ (32) has retained (only?) the *a(r)- negative. Gutob (33) and Juang (31) show stem reduplication plus negative copula in (some forms anyway) of the negative present (habitual/durative).

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The prohibitive in these Gutob (and Remo and differently in Gtaʔ) languages consists of the NEG prefix combined with the use of a past tense morpheme, e.g., *ar-Verb-gɨ or *ar-Verb-ɔɁ. In addition, the negative forms of past tenses in Gutob-Remo seems to have used non-past suffixes, e.g., *ar-Verb-tV. Thus, *ar-Verb-tV was preserved as Gutob ar-Verb-to.

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2.3.2 Subject and Object

Both a set of subject proclitics and object suffixes need to be reconstructed for Proto-Munda, for first and second person; third person (dual/plural) forms were invariably marked by suffixes, if at all.6 For Proto-South-Munda, both subject prefixes and object suffixes may be relatively straightforwardly reconstructed, based on correspondences between Juang and Gorum.

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The North Munda languages present a slightly different and more complicated picture. Object marking is found in all the attested North Munda languages and presumably was characteristic of Proto-North Munda as well.

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The correspondences between Proto-South Munda and Proto-North-Munda object suffixes suggest that these should be reconstructed all the way back to the Proto-Munda ancestor language.

The history of subject marking in the Munda languages is slightly trickier to explicate. One of the noteworthy aspects of subject marking in the Kherwarian languages (and Proto-Kherwarian and perhaps Proto-North-Munda as well) is that the subject markers are preferentially attached to the word immediately preceding the verb; see examples in (39) and (40).

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Note that this is not a mere Wackernagel second position clitic, as it is always on the word immediately preceding the verb that the subject is indexed on, regardless of that word’s position in the clause.7 Most striking in this regard is the fact that the immediately pre-verbal subject agreement markers will even appear on an overt subject pronoun (40a), if that happens to be the word in the appropriate position.

The apparent cognate nature of subject prefixes in South Munda languages and the North Munda pre-verbal enclitics suggest that a set of proclitic subject markers was present in Proto-Munda, which fused as prefixes with the verb stem in South Munda languages but as an enclitic to the immediately pre-verbal word in Proto-North Munda.

Unlike the indicative mood forms, where subject was marked prefixally and object suffixally, the order was probably *Verb-obj=subj in the Proto-Munda transitive imperative—a pattern found in South Munda (41) and North Munda alike (42).

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3 Syntax

Munda languages are syntactically Subject Object Verb [SOV] languages in their present form, as are all the languages that they interact with, whether Dravidian or Indo-Aryan in origin. Thus one finds a strong preference to verb-final order in as diverse an array of Munda languages as Ho (43), Korku (44), Remo (45), and Gtaʔ (46). However, some internal evidence (e.g., from noun incorporation in Sora) and as well as Austroasiatic comparative evidence suggest that the Proto-Austroasiatic order was likely Verb Subject Object, with, as is typical in VSO languages, an alternative order of Subject Verb Object [SVO].8

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It is not too much of an exaggeration to state that most topics remain outstanding or poorly investigated in the analysis of the syntax of the Munda languages.

4 Critical Assessment of Scholarship

4.1 Classification of Munda Languages

While there is consensus that Munda is a type of Austroasiatic language, it is not clear what the actual internal structure of that larger grouping or language phylum is. Nor, too, is it clear what the actual internal branching structure of the Munda language tree is. I offer a synopsis of beliefs about the place of Munda within the Austroasiatic family more widely and turn to a synopsis of the main issues in the classification of the Munda language family that remain to be resolved.

For over a hundred and fifty years it has been the majority consensus that the Munda (called then Kol or Kolarian) family has its linguistic roots to the east and shares a common ancestor with a number of languages of Southeast Asia now known as the Austroasiatic family. Pinnow (1959) secured the lexical correspondences to anchor Munda with ‘Mon-Khmer’ languages within Austroasiatic, echoing Schmidt (1905, 1906) and Przyluski (1924). Sidwell (2009) is an excellent assessment of the history of the Austroasiatic language family, and I need not repeat his work here. To summarize the debate: Does Munda constitute a separate branch at a taxonomic level coordinate with one, with more than one, or with all other recognizable Austroasiatic constituent families? One theory assumes a primacy to the Munda split from the rest of the family, conventionally called ‘Mon-Khmer’. The coherence of the individual family-level taxa is almost never questioned, except that Nihali is now recognized as an isolate language. The previously held default theory of a primary bifurcation of Austroasiatic into Munda vs. ‘Mon-Khmer’ nodes was based mainly on rough assessments of the difference in the structural typology of Munda with respect to the other Austroasiatic constituent families (Diffloth, 1974; Diffloth & Zide, 1992), such that Munda was considered the mirror image of ‘Mon-Khmer’ (Donegan, 1993; Donegan & Stampe, 2004, 1983), with Munda being considered troachaic and synthetic-agglutinative and the eastern Austroasiatic languages being rather iambic and isolating. A closer inspection of the data reveals the similarities and differences to be both overplayed and obscured by layers of erosion and other ‘Sinospheric’ influences on the eastern Austroasiatic languages and ‘Indospheric’ (and earlier ‘Himalayospheric’) influences on Munda. Note in this regard that various Nicobarese and Aslian languages are outside both of these areas and that they are significantly more morphologically rich than is typical of more eastern ‘Mon-Khmer’ languages in Southeast Asia proper, where Sino-spheric influences are pronounced. Further, recent assessments (Diffloth, 2005; Sidwell, 2015; Sidwell & Rau, 2015) show Munda to be as Austroasiatic as any group from a lexical perspective. With no recognized intermediate nodes, Munda thus radiates out of the central Proto-Austroasiatic node just like every other spoke on the wheel-like Stammbaum of Austroasiatic, and it is thus just as Austroasiatic as any other recognized taxon with the phylum (e.g., Khmer, Vietic, Aslian, etc.) (Fig. 1).

Munda LanguagesClick to view larger

Figure 1. Spokes of the Austroasiatic family ‘wheel.’

The internal classification of the Munda language family, despite significant advances over the past century, remains an object of contention. There are several different proposals currently adhered to by various researchers. One theory is that of Bhattacharya (1975b), who divides the family into an Upper Munda and a Lower Munda, the latter group consisting of Bonda, Gadaba, and Didey to the exclusion of all others. Another standard proposal is that of Zide (1969), who proposes rather a distinction between North Munda and South Munda, the latter consisting of Kharia-Juang and Koraput Munda (this in turn consisting of Sora-Gorum and Gutob-Remo-Gtaʔ subgroups). A third, more recent proposal (Anderson, 2001, 2015b) rejects Koraput Munda and Lower Munda/Gutob-Remo-Gtaʔ as valid genetic units and calls into question whether there are any but the most obvious higher-level taxa that can be securely defended within Munda.

The approaches differ in many details. Both Bhattacharya and Zide unite the three southernmost languages into a single genetic group. Bhattacharya’s approach is based mainly on the typology of the verb, and Lower Munda represents the single most salient and important split in the family as a result. Zide, on the other hand, based largely on lexical data, unites this group with the other southern group within the Munda family, namely Sora-Gorum, into an intermediate node (Koraput Munda), echoing the classification of Pinnow (1959). Anderson’s (2001, 2015b) approach combines lexical data and comparative morphological data, and proposes that of the standard groups only three appear valid—North Munda, Gutob-Remo, and Sora-Gorum—and that in the remaining languages one is dealing with a linkage rather than a genetic taxon. Specifically, Kharia should be split from Juang and Didey/Gtaʔ from Bonda (Remo)-Gadaba (Gutob). Thus, there may in fact be no support for Lower Munda, nor Koraput Munda, nor South Munda per se.

The coherence of Munda has never really been questioned in print (Anderson, 2001; Bhattacharya, 1975b; Pinnow, 1959; Zide, 1969). However, although a small number of characteristic features of various higher order taxa within Munda have been offered, how exactly to subgroup the languages in the family and which higher-order taxa can be justified remain open questions and await adequate public demonstration. It is thus best to remain cautious at present.

To summarize, Lower Munda/Gutob-Remo-Gtaʔ ignores salient differences between Gutob-Remo and Gtaʔ and also the obvious loan element from Remo in Gtaʔ, on the one hand, and commonalities between Gutob-Remo and Kharia, on the other. Koraput Munda ignores the archaic nature of the differences between Juang vs. Kharia, the major differences among the southernmost five languages, and the correspondences between Sora-Gorum, Juang, and North Munda, all of which suggest that Koraput Munda does not exist and indeed even that South Munda is simply not North Munda and thus most likely not a valid taxonomic unit per se but rather a linkage of some sort. The commonalities appear to be archaic retentions and thus not suitable for subgrouping.

4.2 Descriptive Grammars, Dictionaries, and Lexica

Very few full-length descriptive grammars exist for Munda languages. Bodding’s phonological (1922) and grammatical (1929) materials, though old, are still excellent reference sources on Santali. More recent grammar descriptions of Santali include Ghosh’s works (1994, 2008) as well as Neukom’s (2001) study. Specialized studies on features of the extremely complex Santali verb include Göken’s (2004) study of the applicative and Sitchinava’s (2007) investigation of various characteristics of past tense formations in Santali, one of several highly elaborated and complex subsystems of Santali verbal structure. Hoffmann’s (1903) Mundari Grammar is still useful. In the last quarter-century, works by Toshiki Osada stand out within the linguistic analysis of Mundari. These include works ranging from grammar sketches (1992, 2008) to specialized studies within Mundari grammar and phonology, e.g., on experiential constructions (1999) and on reciprocal construction (2007), or Evans and Osada (2005) on the debate on the presence of word classes in Mundari. Kobayashi and Murmu (2008) is the only study of the special Kurukhized variety of Mundari from the Ranchi region called Keraʔ Mundari. Burrows (1980) is still a valuable reference source on the Ho language. Father John Deeney published a Ho grammar and lexicon (1975) and revised and enlarged dictionary (2005). Pucilowski (2013) is a description of Ho morphosyntax, and Pucilowski (2012) is a smaller study complementation in Ho morphosyntax. Minor Kherwarian languages remain poorly attested—many known from a single source, some more than a century old; e.g., Hahn (1901) is the only grammatical study of Asuri. Bahl’s (1962) lexicon, although unpublished, is the only study in over a century on Korwa. The only work published dedicated to Turi is Osada (1991), and Osada’s notes (1993) on Birhor represent perhaps the only published study of this Kherwarian Munda language spoken by semi-nomadic rope makers. Ramaswami’s (1992) grammar of Bhumij is among the only published data on this endangered Munda language. Drake (1903) and Konow (1904) are two still usable resources on Korku grammar. The modern study on Korku has been mainly the work of the Norman Zide and K. S. Nagaraja. The work of the former scholar has spanned half a century from his Zide 1958a and 1958b studies of phonetics and phonotactics, his dissertation (1960) and work on Korku tone (1966) to his sketch grammar published in 2008. Nagaraja has published a range of study including an investigation of Korku reduplication (1988) to the most comprehensive description of the language published to date in his 1999 grammar.

The truly comprehensive analysis of Kharia grammar has been done by John Peterson, who has published a range of important studies on Kharia in the past decade, covering a wide range of topics (e.g., Peterson, 2002, 2007, 2011b, 2011c), as well as a comprehensive reference grammar (Peterson, 2011a). Other studies of note on Kharia grammar from the 20th and early 21st centuries can be mentioned: a published book (Biligiri, 1965), an unpublished dissertation (Malhotra, 1982), and a master thesis (Rehberg, 2003). Much remains to be done in the study of Juang grammar. Pinnow’s (1960) unpublished study is the first and largest and remains the best. Matson’s (1964) unpublished PhD dissertation has a useful list of verb classes in Juang but leaves many topics completely unexplored. Dasgupta (1978) and Patnaik (1996) are smaller studies on specific topics in Juang grammar. Patnaik (2008) is the most recent description of the language published. Although more than 80 years old, Ramamurti’s (1931) study of Sora grammar is still a most valuable information resource on the language. Stanley Starosta published a range of studies on Sora syntax and morphosyntax (1967, 1971, 1976, 1992). Anderson and Harrison (2008a) is the most recent grammatical sketch published on the language. The earliest grammatical data on Gorum are found in Sitapati (1933), and this and Bhattacharya (1954) still offer useful data on this important Munda language. Gorum has also been studied by Aze (e.g., 1973) and Zide (e.g., 1972, 1990, 1997) and by Felix Rau (e.g., Anderson & Rau, 2008; Rau, 2011). Gutob remains among the most poorly described Munda languages. Bhaskara Rao (1969) is a study on Gutob phonology. Various sketches of Gutob grammar have appeared such as Mukherjee (2002), Ghosh (2003), and Griffiths (2008), the most recent description of the language. Bhattacharya (1965) described the characteristic pre-glottalized consonants of Remo. Fernandez (1967) is a sketch grammar, a revised portion of which was published in 1983. Another study of Remo phonology is found in Ramachandra Rao (1981). A recent investigation of the language is the sketch grammar of Anderson and Harrison (2008b). Before 1960 the Gtaʔ (also known as Didey) language, with roughly 2,000 to 3,000 speakers in southern Odisha (Orissa) and adjacent parts of northern Andhra Pradesh, was not known to science. Mahapatra (1976), Mahapatra and Zide (1972), and Zide (1976) are small-scale studies dedicated to individual topics in Gtaʔ grammar, while Ghosh (1996) is a specialized study of Gtaʔ phonology. Anderson (2008) is the most recent and most detailed published sketch grammar of Gtaʔ.

Dictionaries of Kherwarian Munda languages are unsurprisingly dominated by the largest languages—Santali, Mundari, and Ho—while the lexica of other Munda languages at the other extreme may remain almost entirely undocumented. Campbell’s monumental (1899–1902) work on Santali, later updated in Campbell and Macphail (1933) and Macphail (1954), remains usable today, although Bodding’s five-volume dictionary of Santali (1929–1936) supersedes this in scope and size and content. Deeney’s (1978) Ho Dictionary is a modest book by comparison but quite valuable as a lexical resource on this language, and a revised, enlarged version has been published (2005). Baduri published an early dictionary of Mundari in (1931), but the greatest achievement in Munda(ri) lexicography to date (possibly ever) is Hoffmann’s (later Hoffmann and van Emelen) (1928–78) astonishingly thorough 16-volume Encyclopedia Mundarica. A Mundari-English-Hindi dictionary has also been published. Except for Kharia (Floor et al., 1934; Peterson, 2009), Sora (Ramamurti, 1933, 1938), and Remo (Bhattacharya, 1968), and to a lesser extent Korku (Girard, 1965) and Gorum (Aze, 1973), for which small dictionaries or published word lists exist, most remaining Munda languages are poorly known lexically, with no published or accessible lexical materials (Juang, Gta, Gutob, Asuri, Turi, Koḍa, etc.).

Only a small number of analyzed and/or translated texts or text collections of various Munda languages exist. Bodding’s (1925–1929) monumental work has yet to be properly studied by other scholars. Pinnow (1965a, 1965b) offered a wide range of Kharia texts with German translations and analysis. Peterson’s (2011d) Kharia texts have English translations and extensive analyses and thus make Kharia the best documented and most accessible Munda language in terms of text analysis. Other Munda languages are barely known in text form. Pinnow published a short text (1968) of the still poorly attested Juang, with accompanying German translation and analysis. Aze’s Gorum text collection (1973) remains the only analyzed text of this important and severely endangered Munda language published. Zide’s (1983) text excerpt is the only published data on Juray to date.

There is an ever-growing body of indigenous scholarship within Munda linguistics. Unsurprisingly Santali leads the way in this regard. Santali scholarship on Santali includes Murmu’s (1976) Ol Ciki script grammar and work by Ganesh Murmu (e.g., 2002; Minegishi & Murmu, 2001). Several Kharia scholars have made studies of their native tongue, including Baʔ’s (1983) study on Kharia phonetics. Ram Dayal Munda produced many important and varied works on his native Mundari language, which include his 1968 reconstruction of Proto-Kherwarian phonology and his 1971 study of the Mundari verb, as well as his work on Mundari poetic (1976) and song structure (Zide & Munda, 1969). Of particular note in recent times includes Jora’s (2014) PhD dissertation from Delhi University on the acquisition of Mundari morphology and Gomango’s (2015) MA thesis on Sora nominal morphology, as well as a range of papers authored or co-authored by Luke Horo from IIT in Guwahati, which represent the only extant field data on the interesting Assam variety of Sora (Horo & Sarmah, 2013, 2014, 2015).

The many varied writing systems for the Munda languages that have written forms is in most cases quite a contentious issue in modern Munda communities. The alphabets used (Zide, 1999) include Roman (+phonetic), Devanagari, Oriya, and at least three different indigenously created scripts. Particularly varied are the means to represent Ho (Pinnow, 1972) and Santali (Zide, 1967), while Sora tends to use Roman script more and more and Mundari and Kharia simply Devanagari.

Many actual studies on Munda comparative phonology remain unpublished (Stampe, 1963); the most recent attempt is Sidwell and Rau (2015). Discussion of vowels and the vocalism of various proto-languages are discussed in Zide (1965) and De Armond (1976). Osada (1996) is a recent study of note in comparative Munda phonology. In Munda comparative morphology, of particular note are Pinnow’s (1966) study on Munda verbal structure, Mahapatra’s (1976) comparative study of Kharia and Juang verbs, Arlene Zide’s (1976) study of nominal combining forms in Gorum and her (1979) Unversity of Chicago dissertation on a reconstruction of Proto-Sora-Gorum. Norman Zide also has contributed several studies on Munda comparative morphology, ranging from his 1968 comparative study of Gtaʔ pronominals, continued in later studies in (1985 and 1997). Anderson (2004) provided an assessment of comparative Munda linguistics at the beginning of the new millennium (Anderson, 2015a, 2015b updates this).

Various scholars have attempted to situate Munda data within broader typological linguistic contexts. Bhattacharya’s (1975a) monograph addresses various typological aspects of Munda languages, while his 1976 study focuses on the role of gender in Munda morphosyntax and lexis. Zide (1978) is a presentation of the various numeral systems of the Munda languages, and Bhat (1997) discusses the status of word categories in the grammar and lexicon of various Munda languages. Anderson (2007) discussed topics such as referent indexing, TAM categories, noun incorporation, and complex predicate subtypes in the fullest possible range of Munda languages.

The particular use of reconstructed proto-forms of Munda lexemes for gaining insights into South Asian pre-history has long been pursued. Kuiper (1948) is an early but largely unconvincing attempt at isolating Proto-Munda forms in Sanskrit, and Osada (2009) reexamined Kuiper’s work. Bhattacharya (e.g., 1966, 1969) and Zide (e.g., 1958, 1972, 1976; Zide & Zide, 1976, 1991) have been particularly interested in etymologies and reconstructions of earlier proto-forms of common lexical items in the Munda languages. Comparative Munda syntax has been relatively little explored. Anderson and Boyle (2002, pp. 39–54) looked at clause chaining patterns in South Munda languages and suggested one subset reflected a narrative style use of referent tracking known as switch reference. Böttger (2010) is a recent study of finiteness in Munda languages.

Various bibliographies of Austroasiatic languages exist that include Munda linguistic studies as well. These include ones compiled by K. S. Nagaraja (1989) and Arun Ghosh (1994). Munda language studies also figure prominently in Ramaiah and Kanakachary’s (1990) bibliography of tribal linguistics in India. The most recent bibliography is provided by John Peterson here http://www.isfas.uni-kiel.de/de/linguistik/forschung/southasiabibliography.

Further Reading

General studies in Munda are few and far between. Anderson (2015a) is the most recent assessment of the family, Osada (2001) should be consulted for phonology and Anderson (2007) for verb morphology; for earlier works see Pinnow (1959, 1960) on lexical comparison and phonology and Pinnow (1966) on grammatical structures, Zide’s overview (1969) and study of numerals (1978), or Bhattacharya’s (1975a) general introduction. The sketch grammars in Anderson (2008) are the best current reference source for many of the Munda languages. For more on Santali, the reader should consult Bodding’s massive corpus (1922, 1925–1929, 1929, 1929–1936). For more information on Ho, see Pucilowski (2012, 2013). Readers interested in Kharia should consult Peterson’s groundbreaking studies on this important Munda language (2002, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c, 2011d).

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Notes:

(1.) Donegan and Stampe (2004) have suggested that the Austroasiatic people may have dispersed from South Asia rather than Southeast Asia, however.

(2.) This is true even in the state of Jharkhand, which in theory was intended (originally at least) to be a tribal majority state, but various political machinations made this impossible in the final determination of the state boundaries.

(3.) The tribal Indo-Aryan language Sadri (Sadani) is the locally dominant language and target of shift in Jharkhand (and the Assam tea gardens), while tribal Indo-Aryan Desia is the target of shift in southern Odisha.

(4.) Formal, functional, and distributional cognates in Bahnaric languages suggest that the pronoun-only distribution may be old, not secondary as in English.

(6.) Note that the object suffixes themselves in pre-Proto-Munda may have originally been possessive markers.

(7.) Note that a similar process is synchronically active in Ket, a language isolate of Siberia in a particular class of verbs (see Vajda, 2004) for details.

(8.) Jenny (2015) and Jenny et al. (2015) came up independently with a similar conclusion.