Khasi language

ka ktien Khasi
Pronunciation [ka kt̪eːn kʰasi]
Native to India, Bangladesh
Region Meghalaya, Assam
Ethnicity Khasi people
Native speakers
1.6 million (2001 census)[1]
  • Cherrapunji/Sohra Khasi (Standard)
  • Shillong dialects
  • Bhoi Khasi
  • War Khasi
  • Maram
Latin (Khasi Alphabet)
Bengali script
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-2 kha
ISO 639-3 kha
Glottolog khas1269[2]

khasi people are alsoknown as sankalp Khasi is an Austroasiatic language spoken primarily in Meghalaya state in India by the Khasi people. It is also spoken by a sizable population in Assam and Bangladesh. Khasi is part of the Austroasiatic language family, and is related to Cambodian, Vietnamese and Mon languages of Southeast Asia, and the Munda branch of that family, which is spoken in eastcentral India.

Although most of the 1.6 million Khasi speakers are found in Meghalaya state, the language is also spoken by a number of people in the hill districts of Assam bordering with Meghalaya and by a sizable population of people living in Bangladesh, close to the Indian border. Khasi has been "associate official language" in Meghalaya since 2005, and as of May 2012, was no longer considered endangered by UNESCO.[3]

Khasi is rich in folklore and folktale, and behind most of the names of hills, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, birds, flowers, and animals there is a story.


Khasi has significant dialectal variation. Several dialects have only partial mutual intelligibility, and Bhoi and Nonglung are distinct enough to be sometimes considered separate languages. Other dialects are Sohra (Cherra), Maram and War (not the same as the related War language). Sohra and War are lexically very similar.

The Sohra dialect is taken as Standard Khasi as it was the first language to be written in the Latin alphabet by missionaries. Standard Khasi is in turn significantly different from the Shillong dialects (eight at most) which form a dialect continuum across the capital region.


In the past, the Khasi language had no script of its own. William Carey attempted to write the language with the bengalee script between 1813 and 1838. A large number of Khasi books were written in the Assamese script, including the famous book Ka Niyiom Jong Ka Khasi or The Religion of the Khasis, which is an important manuscript of the Khasi religion. The Welsh missionary, Thomas Jones, in 1841 wrote the language in the Latin script. As a result, the Latin alphabet of the language has a few similarities with the Welsh alphabet. The first journal in Khasi was UNongkit Khubor (The Messenger) published at Mawphlang in 1889 by William Williams.


Khasi uses a 23-letter alphabet by removing the letters c, f, q, v, x and z from the basic Latin alphabet and adding the diacritic letters ï and ñ, and the digraph ng, which is treated as a letter in its own right.

Khasi Alphabet
Capital letters A B K D E G Ng H I Ï J L M N Ñ O P R S T U W Y
Small letters a b k d e g ng h i ï j l m n ñ o p r s t u w y
Pronunciation ah bee kay dee ay eg eng esh ee yee jay ell emm enn oh pea aar ess tee oo double yu why



This section discusses mainly the phonology of Standard Khasi of the Shillong dialect as spoken in and around the capital of Shillong.

Khasi, mainly spoken in India's northeast, is surrounded by unrelated languages: Assamese to the north, Bengali to the south (both Indic languages), Garo (a Tibeto-Burman language) to the east, and a plethora of Tibeto-Burman languages including Manipuri, Mizo and Bodo.

Although over the course of time, language assimilation has occurred, Khasi retains some distinctive features:


Consonant phonemes
Labial Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Stop Unaspirated p b d c k ʔ
Affricate Unaspirated
Aspirated dʒʱ
Fricative s ʃ h
Approximant j w
Trill r
Lat. Approximant l
IPA Translation IPA Translation
m mrad [mraːt̚] animal n nar [nar] iron
ɲ ñia [ɲaː] aunt ŋ ngen [ŋɛn] wane
p pan [paːn] ask phylla [pʰɨlːaː] special
b blang [blaŋ] goat bhoi [bʱɔɪ] Bhoi
tdong [t̪dɔŋ] tail thah [t̪ʰaːʔ] ice
d dur [dʊr] picture dheng [dʱɛŋ] park
c beit [bɛc] straight
k krung [krʊŋ] rib khring [kʰrɪŋ] entice
ʔ pyut [pʔʊt̚] rotten
jlaw [dʒlaːʊ] howl dʒʱ jhieh [dʒʱeːʔ] wet
s syiem [sʔeːm] monarch ʃ shñiuh [ʃɲoːʔ] hair
h hynmen [hɨnmɛn] sibling
ɲ rynsan [rɨnsaːn] platform l lieh [leːʔ] white
j ïuh [joːʔ] tread w wah [waːʔ] river


Vowel phonemes
Front Central Back
Short Long Short Long Short Long
Close j h ʊ
Mid-Close e o
Mid-Open ɛ ɛː ɔ ɔː
Open a
IPA Translation IPA Translation
j dinɡ [dɪŋ] fire ih [iːʔ] cooked
h ynda [ɨndaː] until
ʊ plunɡ [plʊŋ] plump ruh [ruːʔ] also
e miet [met̚] niɡht iermat [eːrmat] eyelash
o lum [lom] hill ud [oːt̚] moan
ɛ renɡ [rɛŋ] horn ɛː erïonɡ [ɛːrjɔŋ] whirlwind
ɔ onɡ [ɔŋ] say ɔː Shillonɡ [ʃɨlːɔːŋ] Shillonɡ
a sat [sat̚] spicy sad [saːt̚] ceilinɡ


Nouns and noun phrases

Word order

The order of elements in a Khasi noun phrase is (Case marker)-(Demonstrative)-(Numeral)-(Classifier)-(Article)-Noun-(Adjective)-(Prepositional phrase)-(Relative clause), as can be seen from the following examples:

ar tylli ki sim
'two birds'
kato ka samla kaba wan mynnin
'that girl who came yesterday'
ka kmie jong phi
fem mother of you
'your mother'


Khasi has a pervasive gender system. There are four genders in this language:

u masculine
ka feminine
i diminutive
ki plural

Humans and domestic animals have their natural gender:

ka kmie `mother'
u kpa `father'
ka syiar `hen'
u syiar `rooster'

Rabel (1961) writes: "the structure of a noun gives no indication of its gender, nor does its meaning, but Khasi natives are of the impression that nice, small creatures and things are feminine while big, ugly creatures and things are masculine....This impression is not born out by the facts. There are countless examples of desirable and lovely creatures with masculine gender as well as of unpleasant or ugly creatures with feminine gender"

Though there are several counterexamples, Rabel says that there is some semantic regularity in the assignment of gender for the following semantic classes:

Feminine Masculine
times, seasons
clothes reptiles, insects, flora, trees
physical features of nature heavenly bodies
manufactured articles edible raw material
tools for polishing tools for hammering, digging
trees of soft fibre trees of hard fibre

The matrilineal aspect of the society can also be observed in the general gender assignment, where so, all central and primary resources associated with day-to-day activities are signified as Feminine; whereas Masculine signifies the secondary, the dependent or the insignificant.

Feminine Masculine
Sun (Ka Sngi) Moon (U Bnai)
Wood (Ka Dieng) Tree (U Dieng)
Honey (Ka Ngap) Bee (U Ngap)
House (Ka Ïing) Column (U Rishot)
Cooked rice (Ka Ja) Uncooked rice (U Khaw)


Khasi has a classifier system, apparently used only with numerals. Between the numeral and noun, the classifier tylli is used for non-humans, and the classifier ngut is used for humans, e,g.

Don ar tylli ki sim ha ruh.
'There are two birds in the cage.'
Don lai ngut ki Sordar ha shnong.
'There are three chiefs in the village.'


There is some controversy about whether Khasi has a class of adjectives. Roberts cites examples like the following:

u briew ba-bha
'a good man'

In nearly all instances of attributive adjectives, the apparent adjective has the prefix /ba-/, which seems to be a relativizer. There are, however, a few adjectives without the /ba-/ prefix:

u 'riew sníew
'a bad man'

When the adjective is the main predicate, it may appear without any verb 'be':

U ksew u lamwir.
'The dog is mad.'

In this environment, the adjective is preceded by an agreement marker, like a verb. Thus it may be that Khasi does not have a separate part of speech for adjectives, but that they are a subtype of verb.

Prepositions and prepositional phrases

Khasi appears to have a well-developed group of prepositions, among them

bad 'with, and'
da 'with (instrumental)'
na 'from'
ha 'in, at'
jong 'of'

The following are examples of prepositional phrases:

ka kmie jong phi
fem mother of you
'your mother'
u slap u ther na ka bneng
masc rain mascpourfromfemsky
`Rain poured from the sky.'

Verbs and verb phrases


Verbs agree with 3rd person subjects in gender, but there is no agreement for non-3rd persons (Roberts 1891):

Singular Plural
1st person nga thoh ‘I write’ ngi thoh ‘we write’
2nd person me thoh ‘you (fam.) write’ phi thoh ‘you (form.) write’ phi thoh ‘you (pl). write’
3rd person u thoh ‘he writes’ ka thoh ‘she writes’ ki thoh ‘they write’

The masculine and feminine markers /u/ and /ka/ are used even when there is a noun phrase subject (Roberts 1891:132):

Ka miaw ka pah.
fem cat fem meow
‘The cat meows.’

Tense marking

Tense is shown through a set of particles that appear after the agreement markers but before the verb. Past is a particle /la/ and future is /yn/ (contracted to 'n after a vowel):

Khasi English
U thoh. He writes.
U la thoh. He wrote.
Un thoh He will write.


Negation is also shown through a particle, /ym/ (contracted to 'm after a vowel), which appears between the agreement and the tense particle. There is a special past negation particle /shym/ in the past which replaces the ordinary past /la/ (Roberts 1891):

Khasi English
Um thoh. He doesn't write.
Um shym thoh. He didn't write.
Um nym thoh He won't write.


The copula is an ordinary verb in Khasi, as in the following sentence:

U Blei u long jingïeid.
masc God masc belove
‘God is love’

Causative verbs

Khasi has a morphological causative /pn-/ (Rabel 1961). (This is spelled pyn in Roberts (1891)):

Base verb Gloss Causative verb Gloss
hiar come down pynhiar let down, export
tip know pyntip make known
phuh blossom pynphuh beautify
ïaid walk pyn-ïaid drive, put agoing
jot perish pyn-jot destroy
poi arrive pyn-poi send


Word order

Word order in simple sentences is subject–verb–object (SVO):

U ksew u bam doh.
masc dog masc eatflesh
‘The dog eats meat.’

However, VSO order is also found, especially after certain initial particles, like hangta 'then' (Rabel 1961).

hangta la ong ki khnai ïa ka Naam
then past saydiminmouse accusativefemNaam
'Then said the (little) mouse to Naam ...'

Case marking

Sometimes the object is preceded by a particle ya (spelled ia in Roberts 1891). Roberts says "ia, 'to', 'for', 'against' implies direct and immediate relation. Hence its being the sign of the dative and of the accusative case as well"

U la ái ia ka kitab ia nga.
masc past give accusativefembookaccusativeme
'He gave the book to me.'

It appears from Roberts (1891) that Khasi has differential object marking, since only some objects are marked accusative. Roberts notes that nouns that are definite usually have the accusative and those that are indefinite often do not.

Rabel (1961) says "the use of /ya/ is optional in the case of one object. In the case of two objects one of them must have /ya/ preceding.... If one of the objects is expressed by a pronoun, it must be preceded by /ya/."


Khasi has a passive, but it involves removing the agent of the sentence without putting the patient in subject position. (A type called the 'non-ascensional passive'). Compare the following active-passive pair (Roberts 1891) where the patient continues to have accusative case and remains in the object position:

Ki dang tháw ia ka íng da ki dieng..
plur contin build accusativefemhousefromplurwood
'They are building the house of wood.'
Dang tháw ia ka íng.
contin build accusativefemhouse
'The house is being built.'

This type of passive is used, even when the passive agent is present in a prepositional phrase:

La lah pyniap ia ka massi da U Míet.
past perfective kill accusativefemcowbyU Miet
'The cow was killed by U Miet.'


Yes-no questions seem to be distinguished from statements only by intonation:

Phi kit khoh Til?
youare carrying a basketTil?
'Will you take a basket, Til? Phin shim ka khoh, Til?

Wh-questions don't involve moving the wh-element:

?uu leit šha ei?
Where is he going?'

Embedded clauses

Subordinate clauses follow the main verb that selects them (Roberts 1891:169):

Nga tip ba phi la leh ia kata.
'I know that you have done that'

Relative clauses follow the nouns that they modify and agree in gender:

Ka samla kynthei ka-ba wan mynhynnin ka la iáp.
'The girl who came yesterday has died.'

Sample text in Khasi

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Khasi Alphabet

Ïa ki bynriew baroh la kha laitluid bad ki ïaryngkat ha ka burom bad ki hok. Ha ki la bsiap da ka bor pyrkhat bad ka jingïatiplem bad ha ka mynsiem jingsngew shipara, ki dei ban ïatrei bynrap lang.

(Jinis 1 jong ka Jingpynbna-Ïar Satlak ïa ki Hok Longbriew-Manbriew)


jaː ki bɨnreʊ baːrɔʔ laː kʰaː lacloc bat ki jaːrɨŋkat haː kaː burɔm bat ki hɔk. haː ki laː bsjap daː kaː bɔːr pɨrkʰat bat kaː dʒɪŋjaːtɪplɛm bat haː kaː mɨnseːm dʒɨŋsɲɛʊ ʃiparaː ki dɛɪ ban jaːtrɛɪ bɨnrap laŋ

(dʒinɪs banɨŋkɔŋ dʒɔŋ kaː dʒɨŋpɨnbnaː-jaːr satlak jaː ki hɔk lɔŋbreʊ manbreʊ)


To the human all are born free and they equal in the dignity and the rights. In them are endowed with the power thought and the conscience and in the spirit feeling fraternity they should to work assist together.

(Article first of the Declaration Universal of the Rights Humanity)


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should work towards each other in a spirit of brotherhood.

Some Khasi words and phrases

Khasi language English
Khublei (khu-blei) Thank You Phi long kumno? How are you? In short it is also used as “Kumno?”
Nga khlaiñ I am fine.
Kumne Short form response to ‘Kumno?’ meaning ‘like this’.
Um Water
Ja (cooked) rice
Dohkha (doh-kha) fish (meat)
Dohsyiar (doh-syiar) chicken (meat)
Dohsniang (doh-sni-ang) pork
Dohmasi (doh-ma-si) beef
Dohblang (doh-bl-ang) mutton
Jyntah (jyn-tah) dish (meat/vegetable)
Jhur (jh-ur) vegetable
Dai lentils
Mluh (ml-uh) salt
Duna (du-na) less
Sohmynken (soh-myn-ken) chilli
Ai biang seh Please give again (serve again).
La biang enough
Ai um seh Please give water.
Ai ja seh Please give food (rice).
Ai jyntah seh Please give (side dish) vegetable / meat.
Ai aiu? Give what?
Ai kwai seh Please give ‘kwai’.
Aiu? What?
Mynno? When? (past)
Lano? When? (future)
Hangno? / Shano? Where?
Kumno? How?
Thiah suk. Sleep well. (The equivalent of "Good Night".)
Kumno ngan leit sha Ward’s Lake? How do I go to Ward’s Lake?
Katno ka dor une / kane? What is the price of this? (une is masculine gender, kane is feminine gender and ine

is neutral gender)

Leit suk. Happy journey
Reply is “Shong suk.” Literal meaning is “Stay happy.”


1 wei
2 ar
3 lai
4 saw
5 san
6 hynriew
7 hynñiew
8 phra
9 khyndai
10 shiphew
20 arphew
30 laiphew
40 sawphew
50 sanphew
60 hynriewphew
70 hynñiewphew
80 phraphew
90 khyndaiphew
100 shispah
200 arspah
300 laispah
400 sawspah
500 sanspah
600 hynriewspah
700 hynñiewspah
800 phraspah
900 khyndaispah
1000 shihajar
10000 shiphewhajar
100000 shilak
10000000 shiklur
1000000000 shiarab

Publications in Khasi

There are a number of books (including novels, poetry, and religious works) as well as newspapers in the Khasi language. The most famous Khasi poet is U Soso Tham (1873–1940). The online newspaper U Mawphor is published in the Khasi language.


  1. Khasi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Khasi". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. "The Khasi language is no longer in danger". United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 2012-06-04. Retrieved 2012-09-29.

External links

Khasi language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator
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