Tribal Languages in India – Introduction (1/4)

An introduction to India's vast realm of languages and indigenous communities.
Gotipua_Dancevillage_Puri_India Photo by Ingetje Tadros

Tribal Languages in India – Part I


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 –


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 LanguageRegion Spoken
BhiliGujarat& Rajasthan
ChakmaBengal & Assam
DhankiGujarat, Rajasthan & Maharashtra
GarasiaGujarat & Rajasthan
GujjariHaryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Delhi
HajongMeghalaya, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh
HarautiRajasthan, Madhya Pradesh
HalbiChhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh
JaunsariUttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh
KhottaWest Bengal
KokniGujarat, Rajasthan
KotwaliaMadhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat
LamaniMadhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, West Bengal
MagahiBihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal
MavchiGujarat, Maharashtra
NimariMadhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra
RathiMadhya Pradesh, Maharashtra
TharuUttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal
WagriRajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh
WarliMaharashtra, Gujarat, Dadra & Nagar Haveli


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


Name of the LanguageRegion Spoken
AdiAshingArunachal Pradesh
ApataniArunachal Pradesh
DaflaArunachal Pradesh
ChiruManipur, Nagaland
DeoriAssam, Arunachal Pradesh
GangteManipur, Meghalaya, Assam
HmarMizoram, Manipur, Assam
KonyakArunachal Pradesh, Nagaland
LahauliHimachal Pradesh
LushaiMizoram, Tripura, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland
MonpaArunachal Pradesh
SherdukpenAssam, Arunachal Pradesh
SajalongArunachal Pradesh
SingphoArunachal Pradesh, Assam
VaipheiManipur, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura
ZakhringArunachal Pradesh



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


Name of the LanguageRegion Spoken
GondiMadhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh
KoragaKarnataka, Kerala
KolamiAndhra Pradesh, Maharashtra
KoyaAndhra Pradesh, Odisha
KurukhBihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh
MariaMadhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh
NaikiAndhra Pradesh, Maharashtra
ParjiMadhya Pradesh
TuluKarnataka, Kerala
YerukulaAndhra Pradesh


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


Name of the LanguageRegion Spoken
HoJharkhand, Odisha
KhariaChhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Assam, Tripura
KorkuMadhya Pradesh, Maharashtra
LodhaWest Bengal, Odisha
NicobareseNicobar Islands
SavaraAndhra Pradesh
SantaliJharkhand, Assam, Odisha, Tripura, West Bengal, Assam
ShompenAndaman & 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 LanguageRegion Spoken
JarawaAndaman & Nicobar Islands
SantineleseNorth Sentinel Island – Andaman
OngeAndaman 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
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]
5 Comments on this post.
  • Avatar
    Aditya narayan singh
    22 November 2017 at 2:55 am
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    Mundari language also spoken in odisa, Asam, bengal, bangla desh.

  • Avatar
    B.V. Subba Rao
    29 March 2018 at 2:17 pm
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    Would you please add the Savara (Soara), the language spoken by tribals in Shrikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh and adjoining areas in Odisha?.

  • Avatar
    Santosh Mahato
    3 March 2019 at 7:10 pm
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    “Kudmali” Language Spoken in Chota Nagpur Platue

  • Avatar
    31 May 2019 at 7:31 pm
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    Kaikadi, Bearys , Kodava , Naiki, Kolami

  • Avatar
    Yeri Tazu
    19 September 2019 at 6:09 pm
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    Dear writer/editor,

    The language mentioned as Dafla for Arunachal Pradesh has discrepancy. Its correct name is NYISHI.

    With regards,
    Thanking you

  • Leave a Reply



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