Tribal Languages in India – Introduction (1/4)

Tribal Languages in India – Part I Introduction India, as we all know is a land full of diversity – different cultures, faiths, lifestyle, traditions, rituals etc. are all...
Gotipua_Dancevillage_Puri_India Photo by Ingetje Tadros

Tribal Languages in India – Part I

Introduction

India, as we all know is a land full of diversity – different cultures, faiths, lifestyle, traditions, rituals etc. are all interwoven, that makes it a vibrant nation. As you traverse the region, you will meet an entirely different set of communities with each passing kilometre. And as this popular adage in Hindi goes –

Every two miles the water doth change, and every four the dialect”.

As per the census, tribal people make up about 8.2 percent of the nation’s total population. This diversity extends to languages as well. A survey done by passionate linguistics has established that there exist about 1635 native languages (of which about 197 are classified as between endangered and vulnerable by UNESCO). Yes! This might be unbelievable to some but the vastness this country holds make others believe in it.

Noam Chomsky, the world renowned linguist once said, “A Language is the Mirror of the Mind”. It is only in a language that we find our lives, our stories, our ancestors and our future too. Tribal Languages, therefore are universally significant and are languages of the earth containing ecological, geographical, and climatic information.

When come to think of different dialects prevalent in India, we can easily divide them into five major language families starting from the first civilization of Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman, Andamanese, and Austro-Asiatic. However, for a better understanding of the tribal region segregation, it is best to have a look at the regions where tribal population inhabits. Therefore, a quick glance at the Indian map will divide the nation into five major belts namely –

  1. The Himalayan Belt: This region consists of states that are nick-named as seven sisters (North Eastern States–Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, and Tripura) along with Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.
  2. Central Indian Belt: Over half of the population lives in this belt and states that come into this region are Bihar, Odisha (Orissa), West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh.
  3. Western Indian Belt: This region consists of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Goa, Gujarat, and Dadra & Nagar Haveli.
  4. The Dravidian Belt: Primarily, it’s the South Indian region and it starts from Karnataka to Kerala from one end and from Andhra Pradesh to Tamil Nadu at the other.
  5. The Islands: Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

For a better understanding of the regions, refer to the map below –

india

Words will fall short if I start covering each tribal language separately. So, below find the names of various languages spoken by different Indian tribes as per their family –

  • Indo-Aryan Family: The languages spoken by inhabitants of this family are following –

 

Name of the Language Region Spoken
Baigani Chhattisgarh
Bhili Gujarat& Rajasthan
Chakma Bengal & Assam
Dhanki Gujarat, Rajasthan & Maharashtra
Dhundhari Rajasthan
Garasia Gujarat & Rajasthan
Gujjari Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Delhi
Hajong Meghalaya, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh
Harauti Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh
Halbi Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh
Jaunsari Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh
Khotta West Bengal
Kokni Gujarat, Rajasthan
Kotwalia Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat
Thar Rajasthan
Lamani Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, West Bengal
Magahi Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal
Mavchi Gujarat, Maharashtra
Nimari Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra
Rathi Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra
Tharu Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal
Wagri Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh
Warli Maharashtra, Gujarat, Dadra & Nagar Haveli

 

  • Tibeto-Burman Family: Language spoken by this part of region includes mainly –

 

Name of the Language Region Spoken
AdiAshing Arunachal Pradesh
Apatani Arunachal Pradesh
Ao Nagaland
Balti Kashmir
Dafla Arunachal Pradesh
Bodo Assam
Bhotia Uttarakhand
Chiru Manipur, Nagaland
Deori Assam, Arunachal Pradesh
Duhlian-Twang Mizoram
Gangte Manipur, Meghalaya, Assam
Hmar Mizoram, Manipur, Assam
Hualngo Mizoram
Koireng Manipur
Konyak Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland
Lahauli Himachal Pradesh
Mara Mizoram
Lushai Mizoram, Tripura, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland
Mishing Assam
Monpa Arunachal Pradesh
Naga Nagaland
Sherdukpen Assam, Arunachal Pradesh
Paite Manipur
Rengma Nagaland
Sajalong Arunachal Pradesh
Singpho Arunachal Pradesh, Assam
Tagin Assam
Vaiphei Manipur, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura
Wancho Nagaland
Zakhring Arunachal Pradesh
Zou Manipur

 

 

  • Dravidian Family: The languages spoken by this family are –

 

Name of the Language Region Spoken
Dhurwa Chhattisgarh
Gondi Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh
Koraga Karnataka, Kerala
Kodagu Karnataka
Kolami Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra
Koya Andhra Pradesh, Odisha
Kui Odisha
Kuvi Odisha
Kurukh Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh
Maria Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh
Naiki Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra
Parji Madhya Pradesh
Pengo Odisha
Tulu Karnataka, Kerala
Yerukula Andhra Pradesh

 

  • Austro-Asiatic Family – The not-so-famous tribal language spoken by the members of this family include –

 

Name of the Language Region Spoken
Asuri Jharkhand
Bondo Odisha
Juang Odisha
Ho Jharkhand, Odisha
Kharia Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Assam, Tripura
Korku Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra
Kurmi Maharashtra
Korwa Chhattisgarh
Lodha West Bengal, Odisha
Mundari Jharkhand
Nicobarese Nicobar Islands
Savara Andhra Pradesh
Santali Jharkhand, Assam, Odisha, Tripura, West Bengal, Assam
Shompen Andaman & Nicobar Islands

 

  • Andamanese Family: If you were looking for ancient aboriginal tribe, come to Andamans. The endangered tribe lives in misery, yet managed to survive all odds.

 

Name of the Language Region Spoken
Jarawa Andaman & Nicobar Islands
Santinelese North Sentinel Island – Andaman
Onge Andaman Islands

This was just an indicative list as there are many more languages prevalent. With this, the first part of Introduction comes to close. In Part II of this four part series, I will cover The Importance of Tribal Languages.

Till then, stay tuned for Tribal Tuesdays!

Tribal Languages in India – Introduction (1/4)
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Tribal Languages
Akanksha Mittal

Akanksha Mittal, an avid reader, frequent traveler and a passionate blogger hails from Delhi, the capital of India. Her key areas of interest lies in politics, foreign policy, and international relations. When it comes to learning about different faiths and cultures, she is always curious. She can be reached at [email protected]
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