Documentation and Description of Nihali, a critically endangered language isolate of India

Documentation and Description of Nihali, a critically endangered language isolate of India

Language: Nihali (ISO639-3:nll)
Depositor: Shailendra Mohan
Location: India
Deposit Id: 0168
Grant id: SG0166
Funding body: ELDP
Level: Deposit

Summary of deposit

According to Ethnologue, Nihali (ISO 639-3: nll) is spoken by about 2000 speakers living in Jalgaon-Jamod Tehsil, Buldana District of Maharashtra, India (latitude: 20.5402; longitude 76.0913.

This deposit is a collection of 20 hours of archival audio and video recordings of speech samples in different genres, including traditional stories, myths and legends, historical accounts, songs and poems, and conversations that may serve as the basis for educational materials. The project also aims for a detailed descriptive grammar and a trilingual dictionary (Nihali-Hindi-English).

There is an urgent need to document Nihali, especially as it is a linguistic isolate. Some researchers have linked Nihali to languages like Kusunda (Fleming 1996) and Ainu (Bengton 1996), as well as the Nostratic (Dolgopolsky 1996) and Austroasiatic (Mundlay 1996) language families. None of these existing studies have provided conclusive evidence for a genetic relationship with Nihali, partly because of a lack of a linguistic corpus and thorough description of the language.

This will be the first attempt to create a rich multimedia corpus and description of Nihali. The project outcome may help to reclassify the status of Nihali and can be used by typologists and historical linguists to shed light on possible links between Nihali and other languages. The grammatical sketch and lexicon will also help in establishing claims about the migration of Nihali speakers in India. The database will provide useful information about language contact and the influence of languages such as Bhili, Korku, Gondi and Hindi.

Group represented

There are around 2,000 speakers in Jalgaon-Jamod Tehsil in the Buldana District of Maharashtra, India. According to my pilot survey, the Nihali population is around 1500 and concentrated mainly in five villages; Jamud, Vasali, Sonballi, Cicari, Chaltana and Kuvardev.

Nihali language speakers mainly reside in rural areas, living near Korku villages but in a position of subordination to the Korku people. They work as labourers in Korku farms and do not have land holdings.

Nihali is spoken in a region where may different languages are spoken, including Indo-Aryan Marathi and Hindi, Dravidian Gondi, and Austroasiatic language Korku, which has been a great influence. The majority of Nihali speakers are multilingual with Hindi being the region’s lingua franca.

Lack of institutional support and a small population are factors in language shift towards Hindi.

Language information

Nihali is also called as Kalto by the native speakers.

There are some typological features of Nihali, which make it a very interesting language.

‘About 24% of Nihali vocabulary has no correspondences whatever in India’ (Kuiper 1962). Does this unidentified lexicon possibly reflect one of the oldest linguistic strata of India?

Nihali has a unique way of signifying kinship terms, which is very different from neighbouring languages and cultures.

There is no exclusive/ inclusive distinction in dual and plural in first personal pronoun, as well as no pronominal incorporation.

There is also no gender and number agreement system.

Other languages included in this deposit are English, Hindi and Korku.

Deposit contents

This collection includes audio and video recordings, as well as photographs of the Nihali community.

The collection also features video and audio recordings of the Holi festival, including dancing, songs and burning of the Holika.

Deposit history

The contents of this collection were recorded in November-December 2012 and March 2013 by Dr. Shailendra Mohan.

Acknowledgement and citation

Users of any part of the collection should acknowledge Dr. Shailendra Mohan as the data collector and researcher. Users should also acknowledge the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme as the funder of the project. Individual speakers whose words and/or images are used should be acknowledged by name. Any other contributor who has collected, transcribed or translated the data or was involved in any other way should be acknowledged by name. All information on contributors is available in the metadata.

To refer to any data from the corpus, please cite the corpus in this way: Mohan, Shailendra. 2018. Documentation and Description of Nihali, a critically endangered language isolate of India. London: SOAS, Endangered Languages Archive. URL: Accessed on [insert date here].


Resources online and curated


Shailendra Mohan
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Affiliation: Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, Pune

Deposit Statistics

Data from 2018 November 13 to 2018 November 13
Deposit hits:1
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Showing 1 - 10 of 208 Items

In this video, a Nihali boy is studying

Recorded on: 2012-12-20

In this video, a Nihali girl is washing cloth

Recorded on: 2012-12-20

This video shows a Nihali makeshift village

Recorded on: 2012-12-17

In this video, a man is busy chopping wood and speaking in Nihali

Recorded on: 2012-12-18

In this video, a Nihali man cleans musli

Recorded on: 2012-12-17

In this video, a Nihali man talks about Nihali lifestyle

Recorded on: 2012-12-17

In this video, a baby goat drinks milk from its mother

Recorded on: 2012-12-21

This video shows a musli farm

Recorded on: 2012-12-17

In this video Ramja Pandu explains the Nihali-Korku speakers similarities and differences

Recorded on: Unspecified

A list of adjectives in Nihali

Recorded on: Unspecified