In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Munda Languages

  • Introduction
  • Classification and Internal Subgrouping
  • Indigenous Scholarship

Linguistics Munda Languages
Gregory D.S. Anderson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 March 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0121


The languages of the Munda family are spoken by around ten million people total, primarily in the eastern and central Indian States of Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Chhatisgarh, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh, as well as in adjacent regions of Nepal and Bangladesh. Munda languages range from Koda, which has fewer than one thousand speakers, to Santali, with over seven million speakers (and, as of 2004, is an official language of India). Munda is the westernmost constituent family of the Austroasiatic language phylum. Munda languages, however, appear to be autochthonous to India. The major languages of the family include Santali (7 million+ speakers), Mundari (1.5 million+), Ho (1 million+), Korku (400,000+), Sora (300,000+), Kharia (200,000+), Bhumij (150,000+), Juang (50,000+), and Gutob (50,000+). Minor languages of the family range between several hundred speakers to a few thousand. These include such languages as Korwa, Asuri, Birhor, Turi, Koda, Gtaʔ (a.k.a. Didey), Remo (a.k.a. Bonda), and Gorum (a.k.a. Parenga/Parengi). The internal classification of Munda remains controversial (see Classification and Internal Subgrouping). Most Munda languages remain unwritten; some others (e.g., Santali, Mundari, Ho, Kharia, Sora) have developing literary traditions, but orthographic issues remain controversial for most if not all the Munda literary languages.

Classification and Internal Subgrouping

The internal subgrouping and classification of the Munda languages remains controversial and unresolved. At least three competing views have been offered. Few dispute the coherence of the North Munda languages nor of its large Kherwarian subgroup consisting of Santali, Mundari, Ho, and various minor languages such as Korwa, Bhumij, Asuri, Turi, Koda, etc. The other North Munda language is Korku. The standard view on how to treat the remaining Munda languages is that of Stampe and Zide 1968, which considers all remaining non–North Munda languages to constitute a group called South Munda. This in turn consists of two subgroups, Kharia-Juang and Koraput Munda; this last group is likewise considered to consist of two equal subgroups, Sora-Gorum and Gutob-Remo-Gtaʔ. Bhattacharya 1975, on the other hand, views the primary split in the family to be between Gutob-Remo-Gtaʔ (called Lower Munda) and everything else (Upper Munda). Anderson 2001 suggests that Sora-Gorum and Juang split off early from the remaining non–North Munda languages, as Gtaʔ did somewhat later, and questions whether any data for a proto–South Munda stage really exists.

  • Anderson, Gregory D. S. 2001. A new classification of South Munda: Evidence from comparative verb morphology. Indian Linguistics 62.1: 21–36.

    Suggests that South Munda has not yet been demonstrated to be an actual historical entity and that neither Stampe and Zide 1968 nor Bhattacharya 1975 can be defended in total, specifically that Gutob-Remo and Kharia innovations cannot be explained.

  • Bhattacharya, Sudhibhushan. 1975. Munda studies a new classification of Munda. Indo-Iranian Journal 17.1: 97–101.

    DOI: 10.1163/000000075794742852

    Proposes a split commonly used by Indian scholars that separates Gutob-Remo-Gtaʔ (Lower Munda) from all other groups.

  • Stampe, David L., and Norman H. Zide. 1968. The position of Kharia-Juang in the Munda family. In Studies in Indian linguistics: Professor M. B. Emeneau śaśtipurti volume. Edited by Bhadriraju Krishnamurti, 370–377. Pune, India: Centres of Advanced Study in Linguistics, Deccan College.

    Proposes a South Munda node with a binary split between Kharia-Juang and Koraput Munda, which has been taken over by most general classifications used.

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