Santali language

Native to India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan
Ethnicity Santal and Teraibasi Santali
Native speakers
6.3 million (2001 census – 2011)[1]
  • Mahali (Mahli)
Ol Chiki
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-2 sat
ISO 639-3 Either:
sat  Santali
mjx  Mahali
Glottolog sant1410  (Santali)[2]
maha1291  (Mahali)[3]

Santali (Ol Chiki script: ᱥᱟᱱᱛᱟᱞᱤ) is a language in the Munda subfamily of Austroasiatic languages, related to Ho and Mundari.

It is spoken by around 6.2 million people in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. Most of its speakers live in India, in the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, Tripura, Mizoram and West Bengal.[4]


Till the nineteenth century Santali remained an oral language and all collective traditional knowledge, history, stories, songs etc. were transmitted by word of mouth from generation to generation. The interest of Europeans in the study of Indian languages led to the first efforts at documenting Santali language. Bengali and the Roman scripts were first used to write Santali before 1860s by European anthropologists, folklorists and missionaries like Campbell, Skrefsrud and Bodding. Their efforts resulted in Santali dictionaries, documentation and translations of collected folk tales, study of the basic morphology, syntax and phonetic structure of the language.

In the 1970s the separate Ol Chiki script for Santali by Pandit Raghunath Murmu, which is used exclusively by the Santali speaking people of Singhbhum and Odisha.

There is no single script which is uniformly accepted by all Santals. Devanagari remains the script recognized for teaching learning of the language in Jharkhand, Bengali script in West Bengal. A major share of the original documented corpus as well as the most authentic and scientific research efforts are available in the Roman Script.[5][6]

Contribution of Pandit Raghunath Murmu

A need for the separate script was felt by some visionary Santals, as none of the existing scripts was sufficient to communicate the Santali language phonetically. This further resulted in the invention of new script called Ol Chiki. This script was invented by Pandit Raghunath Murmu in 1925. He is popularly known as Guru Gomke among the Santals, a title awarded to him by the Mayurbhanj Adibasi Mahasabh. He is respected among Santals for his noble deed, action and contribution of the script Ol Chiki for the Santal society. He wrote over 150 books covering a wide range of subjects. It includes works such as grammar, novels, drama, poetry, and short stories in Santali using Ol Chiki as part of his extensive programme. Among the most acclaimed of his works are Darege Dhan, Sidhu Kanhu, Bidu Chandan and Kherwal Bir Pandit.

Grammatical sketch

The following brief grammatical sketch is based on Ghosh 2008. It does not purport to give a full account of the language's grammar but rather give an impression of the structure of the language.



Santali has 21 consonants, not counting the 10 aspirated stops which occur almost only in Indo-Aryan loanwords and are given in parentheses in the table below.

  Bilabial Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n   ɲ ŋ  
Stop voiceless p (pʰ) t (tʰ) ʈ (ʈʰ) c (cʰ) k  
voiced b (bʱ) d (dʱ) ɖ (ɖʱ) ɟ (ɟʱ)
j jh
ɡ (ɡʱ)  
Fricative   s       h
Trill   ɲ        
Flap     ɽ      
Lateral   l        
Glide w     j y    

In native words, the opposition between voiceless and voiced stops is neutralized in word-final position. A typical Munda feature is that word-final stops are "checked", i. e. glottalized and unreleased.


Santali has eight non-nasal and six nasal vowels.

  Front Central Back
High i ĩ   u ũ
Mid-high e ə ə̃ o
Mid-low ɛ ɛ̃   ɔ ɔ̃
Low   a ã  

There are numerous diphthongs.


Santali, like all Munda languages, is a suffixing agglutinating language.



Three numbers are distinguished, singular, dual and plural.

Singular seta. 'dog'
Dual seta-kin 'two dogs'
Plural seta-ko 'dogs'


The case suffix follows the number suffix. The following cases are distinguished:

Case Marker Function
Nominative Subject and object
Genitive -rɛn (animate)
-ak', -rɛak' (inanimate)
Comitative -ʈhɛn/-ʈhɛc' goal, place
Instrumental-Locative -tɛ Instrument, cause, motion
Sociative -são Association
Allative -sɛn/-sɛc' Direction
Ablative -khɔn/-khɔc' Source, origin
Locative -rɛ Spatio-temporal location


Santali has possessive suffixes which are only used with kinship terms: 1st person , 2nd person -m, 3rd person -t. The suffixes do not distinguish possessor number.


The personal pronouns in Santali distinguish inclusive and exclusive first person and anaphoric and demonstrative third person.

  Singular Dual Plural
First person Exclusive ɘliɲ alɛ
Inclusive   alaṅ abo
Second person am aben apɛ
Third person Anaphoric ac' ɘkin ako
Demonstrative uni unkin oṅko

The interrogative pronouns have different form for animate ('who?') and inanimate ('what?'), and referential ('which?') vs. non-referential.

  Animate Inanimate
Referential ɔkɔe oka
Non-referential cele cet'

The indefinite pronouns are:

  Animate Inanimate
'any' jãheã jãhã
'some' adɔm adɔmak
'another' ɛʈak'ic' ɛʈak'ak'

The demonstratives distinguish three degrees of deixis (proximate, distal, remote) and simple ('this', 'that', etc.) and particulate ('just this', 'just that') forms.

Simple Animate Inanimate
Proximate nui noa
Distal uni ona
Remote həni hana
Particularized Animate Inanimate
Proximate nii niə
Distal ini inə
Remote enko inəko


The basic cardinal numbers are:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 20 100
mit' bar pon mɔ̃ɽɛ̃ turui eae irəl arɛ gɛl isi sae

The numerals are used with numeral classifiers. Distributive numerals are formed by reduplicating the first consonant and vowel, e.g. babar 'two each'.


Verbs in Santali inflect for tense, aspect and mood, voice and the person and number of the subject.

Subject markers

  Singular Dual Plural
First person Exclusive -ɲ(iɲ) -liɲ -lɛ
Inclusive   -laŋ -bon
Second person -m -ben -pɛ
Third person -e -kin -ko

Object markers

Transitive verbs with pronominal objects take infixed object markers.

  Singular Dual Plural
First person Exclusive -iɲ- -liɲ- -lɛ-
Inclusive   -laŋ- -bon-
Second person -me- -ben- -pɛ-
Third person -e- -kin- -ko-


Santali is an SOV language, though topics can be fronted.

Reciprocal influence of Santali language on other languages

Santali, belonging to the Austroasiatic family and having a tradition traceable from pre-Aryan days, retained its distinct identity and co-existed with languages belonging to the Indo-Aryan family, within the boundaries of Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and other states. This affiliation is generally accepted, but there are many cross-questions and puzzles. Relative influences between Santali and other Indian languages are not yet fully studied. In modern Indian languages like Western Hindi the steps of evolution from Midland Prakrit Sauraseni could be traced clearly, but in the case of Bengali such steps of evolution are not aways clear and distinct and one has to look at other influences that moulded Bengali's essential characteristics. A notable work in this field was initiated by linguist Byomkes Chakrabarti in the 1960s. Sri Chakrabarti investigated the complex process of assimilation of non-Aryan elements, particularly the Santali elements, by Bengali and he showed the overwhelming influence of Bengali on Santali. His formulations are based on the detailed study of reciprocal influences on all aspects of both the languages and try to bring out the unique features of both the languages. More research is awaited in this prospective area.

Rising significance of Santali

A great recognition of Santali was reached in December 2013 when the University Grants Commission of India decided to introduce the language in the National Eligibility Test to prepare future lecturers for the language in colleges and universities.[7]

See also


  1. Santali at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Mahali at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Santali". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Mahali". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. "Santali: A Language of India". Ethnologue: Languages of the World. SIL International. Retrieved 16 January 2012.
  5. "Ol Chiki (Ol Cemet', Ol, Santali)". Retrieved 19 March 2015.
  6. "Santali Localization". Retrieved 19 March 2015.
  7. Syllabus for UGC NET Santali, Dec 2013

Further reading


Grammars and primers


Santali language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator
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