Karbi language

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RegionAssam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh
Native speakers
528,503 (2011)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
mjw – Karbi
ajz – Plains Karbi (Amri)
A Karbi speaker speaking Karbi and English, recorded in India.

The Karbi language (US: /kɑːrbi/ (About this soundlisten)) is spoken by the Karbi (also known as Mikir or Arleng) people of Northeastern India.

It belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family, but its position is unclear. Grierson (1903)[2] classified it under Naga languages, Shafer (1974) and Bradley (1997) classify the Mikir languages as an aberrant Kuki-Chin branch, but Thurgood (2003) leaves them unclassified within Sino-Tibetan. Blench and Post (2013) classify it as one of the most basal languages of the entire family.


Like most languages of Northeast India, Karbi writing system is based on Roman script, occasionally in Assamese script. The earliest written texts in Karbi were produced by Christian missionaries, in Roman script, especially by the American Baptist Mission and the Catholic Church. The missionaries brought out a newspaper in Karbi titled Birta in the year 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 known 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.


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

Konnerth (2014) identifies two main Karbi varieties.


Data below are from Konnerth (2017).[4]


Initial consonants[edit]

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop Voiceless p t c k
Voiced b d ɟ~j
Aspirated pʰ~ɸ
Fricative β~w s h
Nasal m n
Rhotic r~ɾ
Approximant l ɟ~j
  • Palatal /ɟ~j/ constitutes free variation between a stop and a glide production.
  • Also, allophonic alternations typical for the area include /pʰ~ɸ/ (within the same speaker) and /r~ɾ~ɹ/ (intergenerational and interdialectal).

Final consonants[edit]

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop p t k
Nasal m n ŋ
Rhotic r~ɾ~ɹ


  Front Central Back
High /i/ /u/
Close-mid /e/ /o/
Low /a/
Diphthongs of Karbi (ei) ai oi ui

Syllable structure[edit]

Karbi syllables may be the open (C)(C)V(V) or the closed (C)(C)VC. Possible onset consonant cluster combinations are as follows: /pl pr pʰl pʰr tʰr kl kr kʰr/.

Geographical distribution[edit]


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


An estimate 1500 Karbi live in Bangladesh.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. http://www.censusindia.gov.in/Census_Data_2001/Census_Data_Online/Language/Statement1.aspx2001 census Archived 2012-02-06 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Linguistic survey of India vol III Part II
  3. Karbis Of Assam
  4. Konnerth, Linda. 2017. "Karbi." In The Sino-Tibetan Languages (2017).
  5. https://joshuaproject.net/people_groups/17559

External links[edit]


  • Konnerth, Linda (2014). A Grammar of Karbi (PhD). University of Oregon. hdl:1794/17928.
  • Konnerth, Linda; Tisso, Sikari (2018). "Karbi texts A fully glossed corpus of different genres". Himalayan Linguistics. 17 (2). doi:10.5070/H917239461.