Korku language

Korku (also known as Kurku, or Muwasi[3]) is an Austroasiatic language spoken by the Korku tribe of central India, in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. It is isolated in the midst of the Gondi people, who are Dravidian, while its closest relatives are in eastern India. It is the westernmost Austroasiatic language.

RegionCentral India (Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra)
Native speakers
730,000 (2011 census)[1]
Devanagari script (Balbodh style)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3kfq
Korku is classified as Vulnerable by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
Distribution of the Munda languages in India, with Korku the leftmost in central India

Korkus are also closely associated with the Nihali people, many of whom have traditionally lived in special quarters of Korku villages.[4] Korku is spoken by around 700,000 people, mainly in four districts of southern Madhya Pradesh (Khandwa, Harda, Betul, Narmadapuram) and three districts of northern Maharashtra (Rajura and Korpana tahsils of Chandrapur district, Manikgarh pahad area near Gadchandur in Chandrapur district) (Amravati, Buldana, Akola).

The name Korku comes from Koro-ku (-ku is the animate plural), Koro 'person, member of the Korku community' (Zide 2008).[5]


The Indian national census of 2011 reported 727,133 people claiming to speak Korku, which is an unscheduled language according to the Indian system.[6] However, Korku is classified as “vulnerable” by UNESCO, the least concerning of the levels of language endangerment nonetheless.[7] Most adult men are bilingual in Hindi, or multilingual in Hindi and the local Dravidian languages (Zide 2008: 156). Literacy in the language is low.[1]

Throughout recent history, the use of the Korku language has been heavily influenced by larger hegemonic languages, especially Hindi. A few Korku-speaking groups have had relative success in increasing the viability of their dialect, specifically the Potharia Korku from the Vindhya Mountains.[8]


Zide (2008:256) lists two dialects for Korku, a Western and an Eastern one. The Western Dialect, which has a handful of subdialects is also called Korku. Among the Western varieties, the one spoken in Lahi is notable for its loss of the dual number.

  • Western (aka Korku) dialect: spoken in the districts of Melghat, Betul-Narmadapuram, and Narmadapuram.
  • Eastern (aka Muwasi/Mowasi/Mawasi, or Kurku): spoken in the Chhindwara district of northeastern Maharashtra.

Glottolog lists four dialects for Korku:[9]

  • Ruma (Korku)
  • Bondoy
  • Bouriya
  • Mawasi

Geographical Distribution

Korku is spoken in the following regions (Zide 2008:256):



Korku has 10 phonemic vowels, which can occur short or long (e.g. /aː/), plus one mid vowel that only occurs as a short segment /ə/.[10]

Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e ə o
Open a


Korku has a large consonant phoneme inventory,[10] in which stops occur in several places of articulation. Like many languages of India, Korku stops distinguish between voiced, plain voiceless, and voiceless aspirated consonants.

Bilabial Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop voiceless p t ʈ c k ʔ
aspirated ʈʰ
voiced b d ɖ ɟ ɡ
breathy ɖʱ ɟʱ ɡʱ
Fricative s h
Nasal m n ɲ
Approximant l ɭ j
Flap ɾ ɽ

Word-finally, all stops are unreleased.[10]


Korku is a highly agglutinating, suffixing language. It has postpositions, a case system, a two-gender system, and three numbers. The verb phrase can be complex in Korku; functions that in English and other languages may be encoded in by the use of auxiliary verbs and of prepositions may be expressed in Korku through suffixation.

Word order

Korku, as all Munda languages, shows a strict Subject-Object-Verb (SOV) word order.[11]

Subject Object Verb
iɲɟ dukanaʈen saːkaɾ sasaːba
I store-from sugar bring.will
“I will bring sugar from the store”

Adjectives are expressed verbally - as intransitive verbs - with the exception of a few cases in which a separate word occurs before the noun they are modifying.[3]

Numeral Adjective Noun
ɖiɟaʔ apʰai kenɖe simku
her/his three black chickens
“Her/His three black chickens”


Nouns in Korku are assigned one of two grammatical genders: animate, and inanimate, and inflect for several different grammatical cases.

Grammatical number

Korku distinguishes three grammatical numbers: singular, dual (two of X), and plural (three or more of X) for nouns in the animate class. Nouns in the inanimate class are rarely marked for number.[10][2]

Singular Dual Plural



‘two daughters’






‘two men’






‘two dogs’



Case system

In Korku, the function of participants in a sentence (e.g. agent, patient, etc) is expressed through grammatical case markings on nouns. Additionally, ideas that are expressed via prepositions in English (e.g. towards, from, with, etc.) are also expressed via case markings in Korku. The table below illustrates the different cases and the suffixes used to express them.[10][3]

Case Marker Example[3] Function
Nominative ɖiɟ



‘the dog’ (subj.)

Accusative-Dative -kʰe(ʔ) ɖiɟkʰeʔ



‘the dog’ (obj.)

(In)Direct object
Genitive -a(ʔ) ɗiʄ



‘of a porcupine’

Locative -en uɾagen

‘in the house’


‘in Nagpur’

Spatio-temporal location
Comitative -gon/-gella konɟegon

‘with a daughter’

Company, togetherness
Instrumental -ten kolomten

‘by/in pen’

Allative -ʈae Acalpurʈae

‘towards Achalpur'

Direction at/towards
Ablative -(a)ten uɾagaten

‘from the house’

Source, spatial origin

Additionally, Korku regularly marks direct object on the verb, as in other Munda languages.[3] In the sentence below, the suffix /eɟ/ on the verb compound /senɖawkʰen/ indicates that it was someone else who was given permission to go.

Subject Object Verb
iɲɟ ɖikʰeʔ senɖawkʰen-eɟ
I her/him allowed.to.go-obj
“I allowed her/him to go”
Personal pronouns[12][10]

Personal pronouns in Korku show different number and gender patterns depending on the person. The first person (“I, we”) distinguishes not only the three numbers but also whether the hearer is included (“all of us”) or excluded (“us, but not you”) in the communicative context. The second person (“you, you all”) only encodes number, whereas the third person (“s/he, they”) distinguishes gender, and number for animate nouns.

  Singular Dual Plural
1st person Inclusive iɲɟ alaŋɟ abuɲ
Exclusive aliɲɟ ale
2nd person aːm apinɟ ape
3rd person Animate ɖic ~ in ɖikinɟ ɖiku
Inanimate ɖiː


In Korku, demonstratives (e.g. “this, that, those”) encode not only distance (e.g. “here and there”) but also gender and number. Unlike English, which only distinguishes between a single proximal (this) and distal (that) spatial references, Korku demonstratives encode four levels of proximity to the speaker (i.e. ‘very close’ vs. ‘close’ vs. ‘far’ vs. ‘very far’), plus a fifth distinction, when one is pinpointing.[10] The table below illustrates the forms used in Korku.

Gender Number Distance
Proximal Distal
Very close Close Far Very far Pinpointing
Inanimate Singular ni ini / noːɟe ɖi ha / hu / ho huɟɟe
Animate Singular nic inic ɖic huc / huɟ / huɟe hoːɟe
Dual niɲɟ inkiɲɟ / noːkiɲɟ ɖikiɲɟ huɟkiɲɟ hoːkiɲɟ
Plural niku inku / noːku ɖiku huɟku hoːku



The basic cardinal numbers from 1 to 10 (transcribed in IPA) are:

1 miɲaʔ
2 bari
3 apʰai
4 apʰun
5 monoe
6 tuɾui
7 ei
8 ilaɾ
9 aɾei
10 gel

Numbers after 11 are mainly of Indo-Aryan origin.[13]

Kinship terms

As with many Austroasiatic languages, Korku has several words to refer to members of one's family, including the extended family and in-laws. There are often separate terms for people depending on their gender and seniority, for instance /bawan/ “wife's older brother” and /kosɾeʈ/ “elder brother's son”. In the tables below, words that include the suffix -/ʈe/ refer to someone else's family member, so that /kon/ means “my son”, whereas /konʈe/ is used when talking about someone else's son, for instance /ɖukriaʔ konʈe/ “the old woman's son”.[10]

Immediate family[10]
mother anʈe / maːj
father baːʈe / aba
daughter konɟaj / konɟeʈe
son kon / konʈe
younger sister bokoɟe / bokoɟeʈe
older brother ɖaj / ɖajʈe
younger brother boko

Korku has words to refer to pairs or groups of people in the family.

Pairs or groups of family members
parents anʈebaːʈe
children baːlbacca
children and wife konkuɟapaj
mother and son ajomkokoɲa
father and son baːkokoɲa
siblings bombuku
In-laws (Wife's side)[10]
wife ɟapaj
wife's elder sister ɟiɟikaɲkaɾ(ʈe)
wife's younger sister bewanɟe(ʈe)
wife's sister's husband saɽgi(ʈe)
wife's elder brother baːw(ʈe)
wife's younger brother bawan(ʈe)

Writing system

The Korku language uses the Balbodh style of the Devanagari script, which is also used to write the Marathi language.[2]


  1. Korku at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022)
  2. Sebeok, Thomas Albert, ed. (1971). Current Trends in Linguistics. Walter de Gruyter. p. 425. Archived from the original on 7 December 2014.
  3. Anderson, Gregory D. S. (2015). Munda Languages. Taylor and Francis. ISBN 978-1-317-82886-0. OCLC 907525916.
  4. Nihali at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022)
  5. Cust, R. N. "Grammatical Note and Vocabulary of the Language of the Kor-ku, a Kolarian Tribe in Central India." The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. no. 2 (1884): 164 - 179. JSTOR 25196986
  6. Sengupta, Papia. "Endangered Languages: Some Concerns." Economic And Political Weekly. no. 32 (2009): 17-19. JSTOR 25663414
  7. "Korku". UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger. UNESCO. Retrieved 2018-03-18.
  8. Fuchs, Stephen. "Thirty Korku Dancing Songs." Asian Folklore Studies. no. 1 (2000): 109-140. JSTOR 1179030
  9. "Glottolog". Retrieved 2021-03-24.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. Nagaraja, K.S. (1999). Korku language : grammar, texts, and vocabulary. Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. ISBN 4872977459. OCLC 1035920730.
  11. Anderson, Gregory D. S. (2007). The Munda verb : typological perspectives. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. p. 19. ISBN 978-3-11-092425-1. OCLC 607263871.
  12. Anderson, Gregory D. S. (2017-03-29). Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics: Munda Languages. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199384655.013.37. ISBN 978-0-19-938465-5. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  13. Paul., Sidwell (8 December 2014). The handbook of Austroasiatic languages. ISBN 978-90-04-28357-2. OCLC 1058188885.

Further reading

  • Anderson, Gregory D. S. (ed.), The Munda languages. Routledge Language Family Series 3.New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-32890-X.
  • Nagaraja, K. S. (1999). Korku language: grammar, texts, and vocabulary. Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.
  • Zide, Norman H. (1963). Korku noun morphology. [Chicago: South Asian Languages Program, University of Chicago.
  • Zide, Norman H. (1960). Korku verb morphology. [S.l: s.n.]
  • Zide, Norman H. (2008). "Korku". In Gregory D. S. Anderson (ed.), The Munda languages, 256–298. Routledge Language Family Series 3. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-32890-X.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.