Karbi language

Region Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh
Ethnicity Karbi
Native speakers
420,000 (2001 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mjw
Glottolog karb1241[2]

The Karbi language, also known as Mikir or Arleng, is spoken by the Karbi people of Assam. It belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family, but its position is unclear. Shafer (1974) and Bradley (1997) classify the Mikir languages as an aberrant Kukish branch, but Thurgood (2003) leaves them unclassified within Sino-Tibetan.

There is little dialect diversity except for the Amri dialect, which is distinct enough to be considered a separate Karbi language.

Geographical distribution

Karbi is spoken in the following areas of Northeast India (Ethnologue).


Like most languages of the hill tribes of the northeast, Karbi does not have its own script and is written in the Roman alphabet, occasionally in English and Assamese script. The earliest written texts in Karbi were produced by Christian missionaries, especially the American Baptist Mission and the Catholic Church. The missionaries brought out a newspaper in Karbi titled Birta as early as 1903. Rev. R.E. Neighbor's Vocabulary of English and Mikir, with Illustrative Sentences published in 1878, which can be called the ‘first’ Karbi ‘dictionary’, Sardoka Perrin Kay's English–Mikir Dictionary published in 1904, Sir Charles Lyall and Edward Stack's The Mikirs in 1908, the first ethnographic details on the Karbis and G.D. Walker's A Dictionary of the Mikir Language published in 1925 are some of the earliest important books on the Karbis and the Karbi language and grammar.[3]

The Karbis have a rich oral tradition. The Mosera (recalling the past), a lengthy folk narrative that describes the origin and migration ordeal of the Karbis, is one such example.

See also


  1. Karbi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Karbi". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Karbis Of Assam
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