Santali language

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ᱥᱟᱱᱛᱟᱲᱤ, সাঁওতালি
Native to India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan
Ethnicity Santal and Teraibasi Santali
Native speakers
6.27 million, 92% of ethnic population (2001 census – 2011)[1]
  • Mahali (Mahli)
Ol Chiki alphabet, Devanagari, Eastern Nagari script, Roman script, Odia alphabet
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-2 sat
ISO 639-3 Either:
sat – Santali
mjx – Mahali
Glottolog sant1410  Santali[2]
maha1291  Mahali[3]

Santali (Ol Chiki: ᱥᱟᱱᱛᱟᱲᱤ) (Eastern Nagari: সাঁওতালি) is a language in the Munda subfamily of Austroasiatic languages, related to Ho and Mundari.

It is spoken by around 6.2 million people in India (ᱥᱤᱧᱚᱛ), Bangladesh (ᱵᱟᱝᱞᱟᱫᱮᱥ), Bhutan (ᱵᱷᱩᱴᱟᱱ) and Nepal (ᱱᱮᱯᱟᱲ). Most of its speakers live in India, in the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, Tripura, Mizoram, Assam and West Bengal.[4]


Until the nineteenth century, Santali remained an oral language and all shared knowledge was transmitted by word of mouth from generation to generation. The interest of Europeans in the study of Indian languages led to the first efforts at documenting the Santali language. Bengali and Roman scripts were first used to write Santali before the 1860s by European anthropologists, folklorists and missionaries like Campbell, Skrefsrud and Bodding. Their efforts resulted in Santali dictionaries, versions of folk tales, and the study of the morphology, syntax and phonetic structure of the language.

In the 1970s the Ol Chiki script for Santali which was developed by Guru Gomke Pandit Raghunath Murmu in 1925, which is used exclusively by the Santali speaking people of Singhbhum and Odisha.

Olchiki as Santali Script is widely accepted among Santal Communities, however presently in West Bengal, Odisha & Jharkhand, the Ol chiki is the official script for Santali literature & language.[5][6] However, users from Bangladesh use Eastern Nagari.

Contribution of Pandit Raghunath Murmu[edit]

Some Santals felt a need for a separate script, as none of the existing scripts were able to phonetically represent the Santali language. This resulted in the invention of a new script called Ol Chiki. This script was invented by Pandit Raghunath Murmu in 1925. He is popularly known as Guru Gomke among the Santals, a title awarded to him by the Mayurbhanj Adibasi Mahasabha.


The following sketch of the grammar of the language is based on Ghosh (2008). It does not claim to give a full account of the language's grammar but rather give an impression of the structure of the language.



Santali has 21 consonants, not counting the 10 aspirated stops which occur almost only in Indo-Aryan loanwords and are given in parentheses in the table below.

  Bilabial Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n   ɲ ŋ  
Stop voiceless p (pʰ) t (tʰ) ʈ (ʈʰ) c (cʰ) k  
voiced b (bʱ) d (dʱ) ɖ (ɖʱ) ɟ (ɟʱ)
⟨j jh⟩
ɡ (ɡʱ)  
Fricative   s       h
Trill   r        
Flap     ɽ      
Lateral   l        
Glide w     j ⟨y⟩    

In native words, the opposition between voiceless and voiced stops is neutralised in word-final position. A typical Munda feature is that word-final stops are "checked", i. e. glottalised and unreleased.


Santali has eight non-nasal and six nasal vowels.

  Front Central Back
High i ĩ   u ũ
Mid-high e ə ə̃ o
Mid-low ɛ ɛ̃   ɔ ɔ̃
Low   a ã  

There are numerous diphthongs.


Santali, like all Munda languages, is a suffixing agglutinating language.



Three numbers are distinguished: singular, dual and plural.

Singular seta. 'dog'
Dual seta-kin 'two dogs'
Plural seta-ko 'dogs'


The case suffix follows the number suffix. The following cases are distinguished:

Case Marker Function
Nominative Subject and object
Genitive -rɛn (animate)
-ak', -rɛak' (inanimate)
Comitative -ʈhɛn/-ʈhɛc' goal, place
Instrumental-Locative -tɛ Instrument, cause, motion
Sociative -são Association
Allative -sɛn/-sɛc' Direction
Ablative -khɔn/-khɔc' Source, origin
Locative -rɛ Spatio-temporal location


Santali has possessive suffixes which are only used with kinship terms: 1st person , 2nd person -m, 3rd person -t. The suffixes do not distinguish possessor number.


The personal pronouns in Santali distinguish inclusive and exclusive first person and anaphoric and demonstrative third person.

  Singular Dual Plural
First person Exclusive ɘliɲ alɛ
Inclusive   alaṅ abo
Second person am aben apɛ
Third person Anaphoric ac' ɘkin ako
Demonstrative uni unkin oṅko

The interrogative pronouns have different forms for animate ('who?') and inanimate ('what?'), and referential ('which?') vs. non-referential.

  Animate Inanimate
Referential ɔkɔe oka
Non-referential cele cet'

The indefinite pronouns are:

  Animate Inanimate
'any' jãheã jãhã
'some' adɔm adɔmak
'another' ɛʈak'ic' ɛʈak'ak'

The demonstratives distinguish three degrees of deixis (proximate, distal, remote) and simple ('this', 'that', etc.) and particular ('just this', 'just that') forms.

Simple Animate Inanimate
Proximate nui noa
Distal uni ona
Remote həni hana
Particular Animate Inanimate
Proximate nii niə
Distal ini inə
Remote enko inəko


The basic cardinal numbers (transcribed into Latin script IPA)[7] are:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 20 100
ᱢᱤᱫ mit' ᱵᱟᱨ bar ᱯᱮ pɛ ᱯᱩᱱ pon ᱢᱚᱬᱮ mɔ̃ɽɛ̃ ᱛᱩᱨᱩᱭ turui ᱮᱭᱟᱭ eae ᱤᱨᱟᱹᱞ irəl ᱟᱨᱮ arɛ ᱜᱮᱞ gɛl ᱤᱥᱤ isi ᱥᱟᱭ sae

The numerals are used with numeral classifiers. Distributive numerals are formed by reduplicating the first consonant and vowel, e.g. babar 'two each'.


Verbs in Santali inflect for tense, aspect and mood, voice and the person and number of the subject.

Subject markers[edit]

  Singular Dual Plural
First person Exclusive -ɲ(iɲ) -liɲ -lɛ
Inclusive   -laŋ -bon
Second person -m -ben -pɛ
Third person -e -kin -ko

Object markers[edit]

Transitive verbs with pronominal objects take infixed object markers.

  Singular Dual Plural
First person Exclusive -iɲ- -liɲ- -lɛ-
Inclusive   -laŋ- -bon-
Second person -me- -ben- -pɛ-
Third person -e- -kin- -ko-


Santali is an SOV language, though topics can be fronted.

Influence of Santali language on other languages[edit]

Santali, belonging to the Austroasiatic family and having a tradition that can be traced back to pre-Aryan days, retained its distinct identity and co-existed with languages belonging to the Indo-Aryan family, in Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand and other states. This affiliation is generally accepted, but there are many cross-questions and puzzles.

Borrowing between Santali and other Indian languages has not yet been studied fully. In modern Indian languages like Western Hindi the steps of evolution from Midland Prakrit Sauraseni could be traced clearly. In the case of Bengali such steps of evolution are not always clear and distinct, and one has to look at other influences that moulded Bengali's essential characteristics.

A notable work in this field was initiated by linguist Byomkes Chakrabarti in the 1960s. Sri Chakrabarti investigated the complex process of assimilation of non-Aryan elements, particularly Santali elements, into Bengali. He showed the overwhelming influence of Bengali on Santali. His formulations are based on the detailed study of two-way influences on all aspects of both languages and tried to bring out the unique features of the languages. More research is awaited in this area.

Notable linguist Khudiram Das authored the 'Santali Bangla Samasabda Abhidhan' (সাঁওতালি বাংলা সমশব্দ অভিধান), a book focusing on the influence of the Santali language on Bengali and providing a basis for further research on this subject. 'Bangla Santali Bhasha Samparka (বাংলা সাঁওতালী ভাষা-সম্পর্ক) is a collection of essays in E-book format authored by him and dedicated to linguist Suniti Kumar Chatterji on the relationship between the Bengali and Santali languages.

Rising significance of Santali[edit]

Santali was honoured in December 2013 when the University Grants Commission of India decided to introduce the language in the National Eligibility Test to allow lecturers to use the language in colleges and universities.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Santali at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Mahali at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Santali". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Mahali". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  4. ^ "Santali: A Language of India". Ethnologue: Languages of the World. SIL International. Retrieved 16 January 2012. 
  5. ^ "Ol Chiki (Ol Cemet', Ol, Santali)". Retrieved 19 March 2015. 
  6. ^ "Santali Localization". Retrieved 19 March 2015. 
  7. ^ "Santali". The Department of Linguistics, Max Planck Institute (Leipzig, Germany). 2001. Retrieved 27 November 2017. 
  8. ^ Syllabus for UGC NET Santali, Dec 2013

Further reading[edit]

  • Byomkes Chakrabarti (1992). A comparative study of Santali and Bengali. Calcutta: K.P. Bagchi & Co. ISBN 81-7074-128-9
  • Ghosh, A. (2008). Santali. In: Anderson, G. The Munda Languages. London: Routledge.
  • Hembram, P. C. (2002). Santali, a natural language. New Delhi: U. Hembram.
  • Newberry, J. (2000). North Munda dialects: Mundari, Santali, Bhumia. Victoria, B.C.: J. Newberry. ISBN 0-921599-68-4
  • Mitra, P. C. (1988). Santali, the base of world languages. Calcutta: Firma KLM.
  • Зограф Г. А. (1960/1990). Языки Южной Азии. М.: Наука (1-е изд., 1960).
  • Лекомцев, Ю. K. (1968). Некоторые характерные черты сантальского предложения // Языки Индии, Пакистана, Непала и Цейлона: материалы научной конференции. М: Наука, 311—321.
  • Grierson, George A. (1906). Linguistic Survey of India. Volume IV, Mundā and Dravidian languages. Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, India. 
  • Maspero, Henri. (1952). Les langues mounda. Meillet A., Cohen M. (dir.), Les langues du monde, P.: CNRS.
  • Neukom, Lukas. (2001). Santali. München: LINCOM Europa.
  • Pinnow, Heinz-Jürgen. (1966). A comparative study of the verb in the Munda languages. Zide, Norman H. (ed.) Studies in comparative Austroasiatic linguistics. London—The Hague—Paris: Mouton, 96–193.
  • Sakuntala De. (2011). Santali : a linguistic study. Memoir (Anthropological Survey of India). Kolkata: Anthropological Survey of India, Govt. of India,. 
  • Vermeer, Hans J. (1969). Untersuchungen zum Bau zentral-süd-asiatischer Sprachen (ein Beitrag zur Sprachbundfrage). Heidelberg: J. Groos.


  • Bodding, Paul O. (1929). A Santal dictionary. Oslo: J. Dybwad.
  • A. R. Campbell (1899). A Santali-English dictionary. Santal Mission Press. 
  • English-Santali/Santali-English dictionaries
  • Macphail, R. M. (1964). An Introduction to Santali, Parts I & II. Benagaria: The Santali Literature Board, Santali Christian Council.
  • Minegishi, M., & Murmu, G. (2001). Santali basic lexicon with grammatical notes. Tōkyō: Institute for the Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. ISBN 4-87297-791-2

Grammars and primers[edit]

  • Bodding, Paul O. 1929/1952. A Santal Grammar for the Beginners, Benagaria: Santal Mission of the Northern Churches (1st edition, 1929).
  • Col, F T (1896). Santạli primer. Manbhum. 
  • Macphail, R. M. (1953) An Introduction to Santali. Firma KLM Private Ltd.
  • Muscat, George. (1989) Santali: A New Approach. Sahibganj, Bihar : Santali Book Depot.
  • Skrefsrud, Lars Olsen (1873) A Grammar of the Santhal Language. Benares: Medical Hall Press.
  • Saren, Jagneswar "Ranakap Santali Ronor" (Progressive Santali Grammar), 1st edition, 2012.


  • Pandit Raghunath Murmu (1925) ronor : Mayurbhanj, Odisha Publisher ASECA, Mayurbhanj
  • Bodding, Paul O., (ed.) (1923—1929) Santali Folk Tales. Oslo: Institutet for sammenlingenden kulturforskning, Publikationen. Vol. I—III.
  • Campbell, A. (1891). Santal folk tales. Pokhuria, India: Santal Mission Press. 
  • Murmu, G., & Das, A. K. (1998). Bibliography, Santali literature. Calcutta: Biswajnan. ISBN 81-7525-080-1
  • Santali Genesis Translation. 
  • The Dishom Beura, India's First Santali Daily News Paper. Publisher, Managobinda Beshra, National Correspondent: Mr. Somenath Patnaik

External links[edit]