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

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Language Nihali
Depositor Shailendra Mohan
Affiliation Deccan College Post Graduate & Research Institute, ( Deemed University), Pune
Location India
Deposit ID 0168
Grant ID SG0166
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle http://hdl.handle.net/2196/d59615aa-a9e1-4b1b-a48a-4229187969bb

 

Summary of the deposit

Nihali is a language isolate spoken in central India. This collection includes 20 hours of archival audio-video recordings. It includes texts, narration, Nihali festival, Nihali people lifestyle. The data was collected by Dr. Shailendra Mohan.

 

Group represented

Nihali also known as Nahali is a critically endangerd language spoken in a small area in Central India, primarily in Jalgaon-Jamud tehsil of Buldana District of Maharashtra state. The speakers mainly reside in Sonaballi, Kuardev, Jamud, Cicari, Vasali Nimkheri and Chathana (Shanti Nagar) villages of Jalgaon-Jamud tehsil. The language is spoken by approximately 2,500 native speakers. The linguistic neighbours of Nihali speakers are Korku, Hindi and Marathi. People refer to them as ‘ Nihal’; and their language as ‘Nihali’;, but the native speakers identify themselves as kalʈo and their speech as kalʈo manɖi. Originally, the Nihali language speakers were believed to be hunters and foragers in the jungles, now they are mainly agricultural labourers. Many Nihali speakers now speak Korku, an Austro-asiatic language of the Munda branch, but a segment of Nihali speakers still speak their native language. There are Nihali speaking Nihals and Korku speaking Nihals. Nihali speaking Nihals are now mainly settled in the villages mentioned above. The Nihals of Nimar area have shifted to Korku language or other neighbouring languages. The Nihal tribe is at present much reduced both in numbers and socio-economic status. The literacy rate among them is very low. Nihali language speaking Nihals are very few and it is considered a critically endangered language as per UNESCO endangered languages list. There are no monolinguals among them and are proficient in Hindi, Marathi and Korku.

 

Language information

In the foothills of SatpuDa mountain range, in the Jalgaon-Jamud tehsil of Buladan district, live a people known as Nihal. These Nihal people are settled mainly in Jamud, Sonballi ( SonbarDi), Cicari, Kuardev, Chalthana ( Shanti Nagar), Vasali and NimkheDa villages. People refer to them as Nihal and their language as Nihali, but the native speakers identify themselves as kalʈo and their speech as kalʈo manɖi.

Nihali is the only language isolate spoken in Central India. It is, perhaps, the only remnant of an ancient – pre-Munda, pre-Dravidian, pre-Indo-Aryan language family with no living relatives ( Zide, 1996:93). The names Nahali or Nehal or Nehālī are also used in academic literature but Nihali represents the local pronunciation.

Nihali, also, Nahali, has less than 2.000 speakers, residing in an area of about fifty square miles [ i.e 130 km] in Buladna district of Maharashtra and East Nimar district of Madhaya Pradesh, in the foothills of the westernmost range of the Satpuda mountains. (cited in van Driem 2001)

The first mention of the name Nahals occurs in the Report of the Ethnological Committee by A. C. Lyall, who mentioned the ‘Nahil’, whose language is reported to be “Nimaree”( Kuiper, 1962:7). Information about the Nihali language first became available in the Linguistic Survey of India Vol. IV published in 1906. In that publication the Nihali/ Nahali language was classified as a Munda language and at the same time it was noted that there were few vocabulary items of Dravidian origin. It was reported to be a Munda language in origin and which first came under the influence of Dravidian language and then the Indo-Aryan language.

The first person to draw attention about the fact that Nihali language is a language isolate was R. Shafer (1941), who concluded that the language had an origin quite separate from Munda or Dravidian, and also drew attention to certain correspondences of vocabulary items with Himalayan languages. Later Bhattacharya (1957) -who made field trips among the Nihali speakers of Kanapur village in Burhanpur tehsil, Nimar concluded that the high percentage of the unidentified elements in Nahali speech leaves little doubt that this speech belonged to a family which is now lost.

The first detailed monograph on the Nihali/ Nahali language was written by F.B.J. Kuiper in 1962. On the basis of 505 etyma Kuiper found the following strata:

Ia) A stratum shared by Nahali with neighboring Kurku/ Korku. This includes loanwords from Indo-Aryan which entered Nahali via Kurku/ Korku. Ib) A Munda stratum without parallels in Kurku/ Korku. IIa-d) Four Dravidian strata, III) Around 12 to 15 etyma have clear parallels in Tibeto-Burmese Himalayan languages. IV) Around 123 examples are isolates and cannot be etymologized at the moment.

According to Kuiper, Dravidian and Korku loans in the language are the most recent borrowings. About one quarter of the Nihali vocabulary has no correspondence to any other language in India.

The Nihali language is generally linked with other languages such as – Kusunda- a language isolate spoken in Nepal ( Fleming,1996); Ainu- spoken in Japan ( Bengston, 1996), a branch of Nostratic- Dravidian ( Dolgopolsky,1996) and a part of Greater Austric macro-phylum( Bengston,1997). None of these existing studies to date have provided conclusive evidence for a genetic relationship between Nihali and other existing languages. All these hypotheses present the anomalous position of Nihali language, hence identified as an isolate in the context of current Indian linguistic diversity.

The recent genetic studies by Federica Crivellaro (unpublished Ph.D thesis, 2011), confirm that Nihali speakers are a genetic outlier. They preserve genetic signatures of an old population that has remained isolated until recently. However, the genetic data are not supporting the hypothesis that Nihali would be a relic population from the earliest migrations of modern humans in South Asia, the Y-chromosome Y-STRs suggest a late introgression of the O2a-M95 due to gene flow with Korkus and other neighbours.

Originally, the Nihali language speakers were believed to be hunters and foragers in the jungles, now they are mainly agricultural labourers. Many Nihali speakers now speak Korku, an Austro-asiatic language of the Munda branch, but a segment of Nihali speakers still speak their native language. There are Nihali speaking Nihals and Korku speaking Nihals. Nihali speaking Nihals are now mainly settled in the villages mentioned above. The Nihals of Nimar area have shifted to Korku language or other neighbouring languages.

W. Koppers and Robert Shafer believed that Nihals and Bhils have similarities, but the latter have discarded their original language in favour of Indo-Aryan language, whom Shafer identified with the Nisada of the Vedas.

The Nihal tribe is at present much reduced both in numbers and socio-economic status. The literacy rate among them is very low. Nihali language speaking Nihals are very few and it is considered a critically endangered language as per UNESCO endangered languages list. There are no monolinguals among them and are proficient in Hindi, Marathi and Korku languages.

 

Deposit contents

The majority of bundles in this collection are audio-video recordings. The deposit includes narration in Nihali, personal narratives, stories, holi festival, Nihali community lifestyles. 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, natural conversations. The audio-video materials will be provided with multi-tier annotations, morpheme-to-morpheme and free translations into English.”

 

Deposit history

The data for this collection was collected in the year 2011-12-13. The data was collected by Dr. Shailendra Mohan during summer and winter vacations. Dr. Swapnil Moon, Ms. Shirty Rai assisted Dr. Shailendra Mohan during this period.

 

Acknowledgement and citation

I am thankful to all my informants especially Vijay Yadav, Bhawram and other Nihali language speakers of Jamud, Sonballi, Kuardev, Nimkheri and Chalthana villages.

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 collection, please cite as follows:

Mohan, Shailendra. 2018. Documentation and Description of Nihali, a critically endangered language isolate of India. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: http://hdl.handle.net/2196/00-0000-0000-000F-B638-E. Accessed on [insert date here].

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