Kiranti languages

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EthnicityKiranti: Limbu, Rai, Yakkha, and Sunuwar
Nepal and India (Sikkim , Darjeeling and Kalimpong
Linguistic classificationSino-Tibetan
  • Limbu
  • Eastern
  • Central
  • Western

The Kiranti languages are a major family of Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in Nepal and India (notably Sikkim , Darjeeling Kalimpong regions) 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.[2] 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 Limbu, Sunuwar, Bantawa, Chamling, Khaling, Bahing, Yakkha language, Vayu, Dungmali, Lohorung and Kulung. Overall, they are:

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

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.


Opgenort (2005)[edit]

Opgenort (2005)[3] classifies the Kiranti languages as follows, and recognizes a basic east-west division within Kiranti.


Gerber & Grollmann (2018)[edit]

Gerber & Grollmann (2018) do not consider Kiranti to be a coherent group, but rather a paraphyletic one. A Central-Eastern Kiranti group is considered to be valid by Gerber & Grollmann (2018), but they consider "Western Kiranti" to be a linguistic area rather than a coherent group.[4]

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

Sound changes[edit]

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

  • 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)


Research on proto-Kiranti includes work on phonology and comparative morphology by van Driem,[5] reconstructions by Michailovsky (1991)[6] and Sergei Starostin 1994.[7] 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;[8] his reconstruction is generally based on Starostin's four series system. More recently, Jacques proposed reconstruction of proto-Kiranti verb roots in a framework following Michailovsky's system,[9] 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.[10]


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kiranti". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Matisoff 2003, pp. 5-6; Thurgood 2003, pp. 15-16; Ebert 2003, pg. 505.
  3. ^ Opgenort, Jean Robert. Comparative and Etymological Kiranti Database.
  4. ^ Pascal Gerber; Selin Grollmann (2018). What is Kiranti? A Critical Account. Bulletin of Chinese Linguistics 11 (2018) 99-152.
  5. ^ *van Driem, G.. (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. Retrieved from
  6. ^ Michailovsky, Boyd. 1991. Big black notebook of Kiranti, proto-Kiranti forms. (unpublished ms. contributed to STEDT).
  7. ^ Starostin, Sergei A. 1994-2000. Proto-Kiranti reconstruction (online database).
  8. ^ Opgenort, Jean-Robert. 2004. Implosive and preglottalized stops in Kiranti. Linguistics of the Tibeto–Burman Area 27(1). 1–27. Opgenort, Jean-Robert. 2005. A grammar of Jero, with a historical comparative study of the Kiranti languages. Leiden: Brill.
  9. ^ Jacques, Guillaume. 2017. A reconstruction of Proto-Kiranti verb roots. Folia Linguistica Historica 38. 177–215. [1]
  10. ^ Jacques, Guillaume. 2016. Tonogenesis and tonal alternations in Khaling. In Enrique L. Palancar & Jean Léo Léonard (eds.), Tone and Inflection, 41–66. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter. [2]


  • George van Driem (2001) Languages of the Himalayas: An Ethnolinguistic Handbook of the Greater Himalayan Region. Brill.
  • Bickel, Balthasar, G. Banjade, M. Gaenszle, E. Lieven, N. P. Paudyal, & I. Purna Rai et al. (2007). Free prefix ordering in Chintang. Language, 83 (1), 43–73.
  • James A. Matisoff: Handbook of Proto-Tibeto-Burman. University of California Press 2003.
  • Graham Thurgood (2003) "A Subgrouping of the Sino-Tibetan Languages: The Interaction between Language Contact, Change, and Inheritance," The Sino-Tibetan Languages. Routledge. pp. 3–21.
  • Karen H. Ebert (2003) "Kiranti Languages: An Overview," The Sino-Tibetan Languages. Routledge. pp. 505–517.


External links[edit]