Khasi language

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Native to India, Bangladesh
Region Meghalaya
Ethnicity Khasi people
Native speakers
1.6 million (2001 census)[1]
Bhoi Khasi
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-2 kha
ISO 639-3 kha
Glottolog khas1269[2]

Khasi is an Austroasiatic language spoken primarily in Meghalaya state in India by the Khasi people. Khasi is part of the Austroasiatic language family, and is fairly closely related to the Munda branch of that family, which is spoken in east–central India.

Although most of the 1.6 million Khasi speakers are found in Meghalaya state, the language is also spoken by a number of people in the hill districts of Assam bordering with Meghalaya and by a sizable population of people living in Bangladesh, close to the Indian border. Khasi has been "associate official language" in Meghalaya since 2005, and as of May 2012, was no longer considered endangered by UNESCO.[3]

Khasi is rich in folklore and folktale, and behind most of the names of hills, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, birds, flowers, and animals there is a story.


Khasi has significant dialectal variation. Several dialects have only partial mutual intelligibility, and Bhoi and Nonglung are distinct enough to be sometimes considered separate languages. Other dialects are Sohra, Khynriam, and War (not the same as the related War language), pnar; Sohra and War are 75% similar lexically. Sohra dielects is standard.


In the past, the Khasi language had no script of its own. William Carey attempted to write the language with the bengalee script between 1813 and 1838. A large number of Khasi books were written in the Assamese script, including the famous book Ka Niyiom Jong Ka Khasi or The Religion of the Khasis, which is an important manuscript of the Khasi religion. The Welsh missionary, Thomas Jones, in 1841 wrote the language in the Latin script. As a result, the Latin alphabet of the language has a few similarities with the Welsh alphabet. The first journal in Khasi was UNongkit Khubor (The Messenger) published at Mawphlang in 1889 by William Williams.


  • Capital letters A, B, K, D, E, G, Ng, H, I, Ï, J, L, M, N, Ñ, O, P, R, S, T, U, W, Y.
  • Small letters a, b, k, d, e, g, ng, h, i, ï, j, l, m, n, ñ, o, p, r, s, t, u, w, y.



Nouns and noun phrases[edit]

Word order[edit]

The order of elements in a Khasi noun phrase is (Case marker)-(Demonstrative)-(Numeral)-(Classifier)-(Article)-Noun-(Adjective)-(Prepositional phrase)-(Relative clause), as can be seen from the following examples:

ar tylli ki sim
two classifier plural bird
'two birds'
kata ka samla ka-ba wan mynhynnin
that:fem fem girl fem-relative come yesterday
'that girl who came yesterday'
ka kmie jong phi
fem mother of you
'your mother'


Khasi has a pervasive gender system. There are four genders in this language:

u masculine
ka feminine
i diminutive
ki plural

Humans and domestic animals have their natural gender:

ka kmie `mother'
u kpa `father'
ka syiar `hen'
u syiar `rooster'

Rabel (1961) writes: "the structure of a noun gives no indication of its gender, nor does its meaning, but Khasi natives are of the impression that nice, small creatures and things are feminine while big, ugly creatures and things are masculine....This impression is not born out by the facts. There are countless examples of desirable and lovely creatures with masculine gender as well as of unpleasant or ugly creatures with feminine gender"

Though there are several counterexamples, Rabel says that there is some semantic regularity in the assignment of gender for the following semantic classes:

Feminine Masculine
times, seasons
clothes reptiles, insects, flora, trees
physical features of nature heavenly bodies
manufactured articles edible raw material
tools for polishing tools for hammering, digging
trees of soft fibre trees of hard fibre

The matrilineal aspect of the society can also be observed in the general gender assignment, where so, all central and primary resources associated with day-to-day activities are signified as Feminine; whereas Masculine signifies the secondary, the dependent or the insignificant.

Feminine Masculine
Sun (Ka Sngi) Moon (U Bnai)
Wood (Ka Dieng) Tree (U Dieng)
House (Ka Ïing) Column (U Rishot)
Cooked rice (Ka Ja) Uncooked rice (U Khaw)


Khasi has a classifier system, apparently used only with numerals. Between the numeral and noun, the classifier tylli is used for non-humans, and the classifier ngut is used for humans, e,g.

Don ar tylli ki sim ha ruh.
there:are two classifier plural bird in cage
'There are two birds in the cage.'

Don lai ngut ki bakyrpang hapoh shnong.
there:are three classifier plural chief in village
'There are three chiefs in the village.'


There is some controversy about whether Khasi has a class of adjectives. Roberts cites examples like the following:

u briew ba-bha
masc man rel-good
'a good man'

In nearly all instances of attributive adjectives, the apparent adjective has the prefix /ba-/, which seems to be a relativizer. There are, however, a few adjectives without the /ba-/ prefix:

u 'riew sníew
masc man bad
'a bad man'

When the adjective is the main predicate, it may appear without any verb 'be':

U ksew u lamwir.
masc dog masc mad
'The dog is mad.'

In this environment, the adjective is preceded by an agreement marker, like a verb. Thus it may be that Khasi does not have a separate part of speech for adjectives, but that they are a subtype of verb.

Prepositions and prepositional phrases[edit]

Khasi appears to have a well-developed group of prepositions, among them

bad 'with, and'
da 'with (instrumental)'
na 'from'
ha 'in, at'
jong 'of'

The following are examples of prepositional phrases:

ka kmie jong phi
fem mother of you
'your mother'
u slap u ther na ka bneng
masc rain masc pour from fem sky
`Rain poured from the sky.'

Verbs and verb phrases[edit]


Verbs agree with 3rd person subjects in gender, but there is no agreement for non-3rd persons (Roberts 1891):

Singular Plural
1st person nga thoh ‘I write’ ngi thoh ‘we write’
2nd person me thoh ‘you (fam.) write’ phi thoh ‘you (form.) write’ phi thoh ‘you (pl). write’
3rd person u thoh ‘he writes’ ka thoh ‘she writes’ ki thoh ‘they write’

The masculine and feminine markers /u/ and /ka/ are used even when there is a noun phrase subject (Roberts 1891:132):

Ka miaw ka pah.
fem cat fem meow
‘The cat meows.’

Tense marking[edit]

Tense is shown through a set of particles that appear after the agreement markers but before the verb. Past is a particle /la/ and future is /yn/ (contracted to 'n after a vowel):

Khasi English
U thoh. He writes.
U la thoh. He wrote.
Un thoh He will write.


Negation is also shown through a particle, /ym/ (contracted to 'm after a vowel), which appears between the agreement and the tense particle. There is a special past negation particle /shym/ in the past which replaces the ordinary past /la/ (Roberts 1891):

Khasi English
Um thoh. He doesn't write.
Um shym thoh. He didn't write.
Um nym thoh He won't write.


The copula is an ordinary verb in Khasi, as in the following sentence:

U Blei u long jingïeid.
masc God masc be love
‘God is love’

Causative verbs[edit]

Khasi has a morphological causative /pn-/ (Rabel 1961). (This is spelled pyn in Roberts (1891)):

Base verb Gloss Causative verb Gloss
hiar come down pynhiar let down, export
tip know pyntip make known
phuh blossom pynphuh beautify
ïaid walk pyn-ïaid drive, put agoing
jot perish pyn-jot destroy
poi arrive pyn-poi send


Word order[edit]

Word order in simple sentences is subject–verb–object (SVO):

U ksew u bam doh.
masc dog masc eat flesh
‘The dog eats meat.’

However, VSO order is also found, especially after certain initial particles, like hangta 'then' (Rabel 1961).

hangta la ong ki khnai ïa ka Naam
then past say dimin mouse accusative fem Naam
'Then said the (little) mouse to Naam ...'

Case marking[edit]

Sometimes the object is preceded by a particle ya (spelled ia in Roberts 1891). Roberts says "ia, 'to', 'for', 'against' implies direct and immediate relation. Hence its being the sign of the dative and of the accusative case as well"

U la ái ia ka kitab ia nga.
masc past give accusative fem book accusative me
'He gave the book to me.'

It appears from Roberts (1891) that Khasi has differential object marking, since only some objects are marked accusative. Roberts notes that nouns that are definite usually have the accusative and those that are indefinite often do not.

Rabel (1961) says "the use of /ya/ is optional in the case of one object. In the case of two objects one of them must have /ya/ preceding.... If one of the objects is expressed by a pronoun, it must be preceded by /ya/."


Khasi has a passive, but it involves removing the agent of the sentence without putting the patient in subject position. (A type called the 'non-ascensional passive'). Compare the following active-passive pair (Roberts 1891) where the patient continues to have accusative case and remains in the object position:

Ki dang tháw ia ka íng da ki dieng..
plur contin build accusative fem house from plur wood
'They are building the house of wood.'
Dang tháw ia ka íng.
contin build accusative fem house
'The house is being built.'

This type of passive is used, even when the passive agent is present in a prepositional phrase:

La lah pyniap ia ka massi da U Míet.
past perfective kill accusative fem cow by U Miet
'The cow was killed by U Miet.'


Yes-no questions seem to be distinguished from statements only by intonation:

Phi kit khoh Til?
you are carrying a basket Til?
'Will you take a basket, Til? Phin shim ka khoh, Til?

Wh-questions don't involve moving the wh-element:

?uu leit šha ei?
masc go where
Where is he going?'

Embedded clauses[edit]

Subordinate clauses follow the main verb that selects them (Roberts 1891:169):

Nga tip ba phi la leh ia kata.
I know that you past do accusative that
'I know that you have done that'

Relative clauses follow the nouns that they modify and agree in gender:

Ka samla kynthei ka-ba wan mynhynnin ka la iáp.
fem girl fem-relative come yesterday fem past die
'The girl who came yesterday has died.'

Sample text in Khasi[edit]

Khasi English
1. Ha kaba mynnyngkong U Blei u la thaw ia ka bneng bad ia ka khyndew. Bad ka pyrthei ka la long bakhlem dur bad kaba suda, bad ka jingdum ka la long halor ka khmat ka jingjylliew, bad U Mynsiem U Blei u da khih halor ki urn. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Some Khasi words and phrases[edit]

Khasi language English
Khublei (khu-blei) God bless
Phi long kumno? How are you? In short it is also used as “Kumno?”
Nga khlaiñ I am fine.
Kumne Short form response to ‘Kumno?’ meaning ‘like this’.
Um Water
Ja (cooked) rice
Dohkha (doh-kha) fish (meat)
Dohsyiar (doh-syiar) chicken (meat)
Dohsniang (doh-sni-ang) pork
Dohmasi (doh-ma-si) beef
Dohblang (doh-bl-ang) mutton
Jyntah (jyn-tah) dish (meat/vegetable)
Jhur (jh-ur) vegetable
Dai lentils
Mluh (ml-uh) salt
Duna (du-na) less
Sohmynken (soh-myn-ken) chilli
Ai biang seh Please give again (serve again).
La biang enough
Ai um seh Please give water.
Ai ja seh Please give food (rice).
Ai jyntah seh Please give (side dish) vegetable / meat.
Ai aiu? Give what?
Ai kwai seh Please give ‘kwai’.
Aiu? What?
Mynno? When? (past)
Lano? When? (future)
Hangno? / Shano? Where?
Kumno? How?
Thiah suk. Sleep well. (The equivalent of "Good Night".)
Kumno ngan leit sha Ward’s Lake? How do I go to Ward’s Lake?
Katno ka dor une / kane? What is the price of this? (une is masculine gender, kane is feminine gender and ine

is neutral gender)

Leit suk. Happy journey
Reply is “Shong suk.” Literal meaning is “Stay happy.”


1 wei
2 ar
3 lai
4 saw
5 san
6 hynriew
7 hynñiew
8 phra
9 khyndai
10 shipew
20 arphew
30 laiphew
40 sawphew
50 sanphew
60 hynriewphew
70 hynñiewphew
80 phraphew
90 khyndaiphew
100 shispah
200 arspah
300 laispah
400 sawspah
500 sanspah
600 hynriewspah
700 hynñiewspah
800 phraspah
900 khyndaispah
1000 shihajar

Publications in Khasi[edit]

There are a number of books (including novels, poetry, and religious works) as well as newspapers in the Khasi language. The most famous Khasi poet is U Soso Tham (1873–1940). The online newspaper U Mawphor is published in the Khasi language.


  1. ^ Khasi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Khasi". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ "The Khasi language is no longer in danger". United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 2012-06-04. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  • Nagaraja, K.S. 1985. Khasi - A Descriptive Analysis. Poona: Deccan College Postgraduate Research Institute.
  • Pryse, William. 1855. An Introduction To The Khasi Language. (Reproduced 1988)
  • Rabel, Lili. 1961. Khasi, a language of Assam. Baton Rouge, La: Louisiana State Press.
  • Rabel-Heymann. 1977. Gender in Khasi nouns. Journal of Mon-Khmer Studies 6:247-272
  • Roberts, H. 1891. A grammar of the Khasi language for the use of schools, native students, officers and English residents. London : Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner.
  • Singh, Nissor. 1906. Khasi-English dictionary. Shillong: Eastern Bengal and Assam State Secretariat Press.

External links[edit]