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Kiranti languages

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
EthnicityKirati, Yakkha, Limbu, Rai and Sunuwar
Eastern Nepal and India (Sikkim, Darjeeling, Kalimpong & Bhutan
Linguistic classificationSino-Tibetan
  • Eastern
  • Central
  • Western

The Kiranti languages are a major family of Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in Nepal and India (notably Sikkim, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and Bhutan) by the Kirati people.

External relationships[edit]

George van Driem had formerly proposed that the Kiranti languages were part of a Mahakiranti family, although specialists are not completely certain of either the existence of a Kiranti subgroup or its precise membership.[1] LaPolla (2003), though, proposes that Kiranti may be part of a larger "Rung" group.


There are about two dozen Kiranti languages. The better known are the Limbu language, Sunuwar language, Bantawa language , Chamling language, Khaling language, Bahing language, Yakkha language, Wayu language, Dungmali language, Lohorung language, and Kulung language .

Kiranti verbs are not easily segmentable, due in large part to the presence of portmanteau morphemes, crowded affix strings, and extensive (and often nonintuitive) allomorphy.


Overall, Kiranti languages are:

Ethnologue adds Tilung language to Western Kiranti, based on Opgenort (2011).

Opgenort (2005)[edit]

Opgenort (2005)[2] classifies the Kiranti languages as follows, and recognizes a basic east-west division within Kiranti.

Gerber & Grollmann (2018)[edit]

Historical linguists, as early as 2012, do not consider Kiranti to be a coherent group, but rather a paraphyletic one due to lack of shared innovations.[3] Gerber & Grollmann (2018) presented additional evidence supporting the paraphyletic nature of Kiranti. A Central-Eastern Kiranti group is considered to be valid by Gerber & Grollmann (2018), but they consider "Western Kiranti" unclassified within Trans-Himalayan languages.[4]

Independent branches (formerly part of "Western Kiranti") that are unclassified within Trans-Himalayan (Sino-Tibetan):

Grollmann (2023) identifies a Khambu subgroup that consists of three languages, Kulung, Nachiring, and Sampang. Camling may also be a Khambu language.[5]

Sound changes[edit]

Sound changes defining each subgroup (Gerber & Grollmann 2018):[4]

  • Central-Eastern Kiranti (*voiceless > preglottalised; *voiced > voiceless; *ʔk > kʰ; *ʔc > cʰ)
    • Lhokpu, Dhimal, Toto
    • Central Kiranti (*ʔp > b; *ʔt > d)
    • Upper Arun (*ʔp > b; *ʔt > d; *r > j)
    • Greater Yakkha-Limbu (*ʔp > pʰ; *ʔt > tʰ; *r > j)

Independent branches (formerly part of "Western Kiranti") that are unclassified within Trans-Himalayan (Sino-Tibetan):

  • Dumi-Khaling (innovative verbal dual marker -i)
  • Chaurasiya-Northwest (*kʷ > ʔw ~ ʔb)
    • Wambule, Bahing, Sunuwar; ? Jero; ? Hayu
  • Thulung-Tilung-Kohi (*p > t; *b > d)

The Khambu branch is defined by the following sound changes.[5]

  • *ŋ > zero, *k > zero in final syllabic position, and also vowel change to o, ʌ, ə before the precending vowel *a
  • Palatalization of *t and *n before /i/ in final syllabic position
  • *eŋ > aŋ


Research on proto-Kiranti includes work on phonology and comparative morphology by George van Driem,[6] reconstructions by Michailovsky (1991)[7] and Sergei Starostin 1994.[8] Michailovsky and Starostin differ by the number of stop series reconstructed (three vs four) and the interpretation of the correspondences.

Opgenort introduces the reconstruction of preglottalized resonants;[9][10] his reconstruction is generally based on Starostin's four series system. More recently, Jacques proposed a reconstruction of proto-Kiranti verb roots based on Michailovsky's system,[11] and analyzes the other initial correspondences (in particular, the series reconstructed as non-aspirated unvoiced stops by Starostin) as due to morphological alternations and inter-Kiranti borrowing. In addition, he presents a preliminary discussion of the reconstruction of stem alternation and stress patterns on the basis of Khaling and Dumi.[12]


  1. ^ Matisoff 2003, pp. 5–6; Thurgood 2003, pp. 15–16; Ebert 2003, pg. 505.
  2. ^ Opgenort, Jean Robert. Comparative and Etymological Kiranti Database Archived 2019-02-24 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ Jacques, Guillaume (2012). "Agreement Morphology: The Case of Rgyalrongic and Kiranti". Language and Linguistics: 84.
  4. ^ a b Gerber, Pascal; Grollmann, Selin (20 November 2018). "What is Kiranti?: A Critical Account". Bulletin of Chinese Linguistics. 11 (1–2): 99–152. doi:10.1163/2405478X-01101010.
  5. ^ a b Grollmann, Selin. 2023. Remarks on the Khambu subgroup of Kiranti. 26th Himalayan Languages Symposium, 4-6 September 2023. Paris: INALCO.
  6. ^ van Driem, George (1990). "The Fall and Rise of the Phoneme /r/ in Eastern Kiranti: Sound Change in Tibeto-Burman". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. 53 (1): 83–86. doi:10.1017/S0041977X00021273. JSTOR 618970. S2CID 128967034.
  7. ^ Michailovsky, Boyd. 1991. Big black notebook of Kiranti, proto-Kiranti forms. (unpublished ms. contributed to STEDT).
  8. ^ Starostin, Sergei A. 1994–2000. Proto-Kiranti reconstruction (online database). http://starling.rinet.ru/
  9. ^ Opgenort, Jean-Robert (2004). "Implosive and preglottalized stops in Kiranti" (PDF). Linguistics of the Tibeto–Burman Area. 27 (1): 1–27.
  10. ^ Opgenort, Jean Robert (2005). A Grammar of Jero: With a Historical Comparative Study of the Kiranti Languages. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-474-1508-4.[page needed]
  11. ^ Jacques, Guillaume (27 November 2017). "A reconstruction of Proto-Kiranti verb roots" (PDF). Folia Linguistica. 51 (s38–s1): 177–215. doi:10.1515/flih-2017-0007. S2CID 149278651.
  12. ^ Jacques, Guillaume (2016). "Tonogenesis and tonal alternations in Khaling" (PDF). Tone and Inflection. pp. 41–66. doi:10.1515/9783110452754-003. ISBN 978-3-11-045275-4.



Further reading[edit]

  • Ebert, K. 1994. The structure of Kiranti languages, comparative grammar and texts: Kiranti subordination in the South Asian areal context. Zürich: Arbeiten des Seminars für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ASAS).
  • Lahaussois, Aimée (2023). "Ideophonic patterns in Kiranti languages and beyond". Folia Linguistica. 57 (1): 1–36. doi:10.1515/flin-2022-2053. S2CID 256548395.

External links[edit]