Language of Meghalaya

Languages of Meghalaya

Author: Krishna Gamal
Date: 2020-04-21

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The language of any place or state is the reflection of its culture and tradition. Meghalaya language also represents the richness of its culture. There are three major tribes residing in Meghalaya – Khasi, Garo, and Jaintia tribes. Although English is the official language of the state, the principal spoken languages of Meghalaya are Khasi, Garo, and Jaintia. Thanks to the Christian missionaries, the languages and literature of Khasi, Garo, and Jaintia have been developed and emerged in Modern Indian Literature. Today, these languages are taught up to the postgraduate level.

Khasi Language

Also known as Khasia, Khassee, Cossyah, and Kyi, Khasi language comes from Mon-Khmer family and is one of the very few surviving dialects from the family that is still spoken in India. Khasis are the only people in India who speak Mon-Khmer language. Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya are the primary places where most Khasi speakers are from. However, there are a number of people from Assam and some even from Bangladesh who speak Khasi. It is an Austro-Asiatic language rich in folklore and folktales. There is a story behind naming every hill, river, waterfall, bird, flower, and other things.

Spoken by nearly 1.6 million people in Meghalaya (Census 2001), Khasi language had no script of its own, and it is believed that William Carrey was the first person to give life to the language in written form in Bengali script. Similarly, Khasi was first written in Latin by Thomas Jones, a Welsh missionary. The scripts used are basically in Latin and Bengali and are taught from elementary level till high school in Meghalaya and Bangladesh, respectively. Khasi language has been declared as an associate official language of Meghalaya since 2005.

The Khasi language has significant dialectal variation. While Bhoi and Nolung are completely different from other Khasi dialects and sometimes even considered separate languages, most dialects, however, have partially mutual intelligibility. Other dialects include Sohra, Khynrium, and War.

Garo Language

Garos are the second-largest tribe in Meghalaya after Khasis and reside in the western part of the state. The Garos, also called A•chiks, are one of the few remaining matrilineal societies in the world.

Spoken in northeast India, particularly in the Garo Hills of Meghalaya and some parts of Assam and Bangladesh, Garo language is a Tibeto-Burman language of Bodo-Konyak-Jingpho group. Garo language is closely related to Bodo language.

Garo scripts were first collected by British officials at the end of the 18th century. The language acquired its Latin-based spelling system in the 19th century. It was devised, furthermore, by American missionaries and was based on northeastern dialect of Garo. In Bangladesh, however, Bengali is used to write Garo language.

As the language is not traditionally written down, customs, traditions, and beliefs are handed over to the next generation orally. A-beng, Matabeng, Atong, Me-gam, Matchi, Dual, Matchi –Dual, Chibok, Chisak, Gara, Gan-ching are different sub-languages of Garo. A-beng is the usual dialect in Bangladesh while A-chik is used more in India.

Pnar/Jaintia Language

Another language that needs a special mention when talking about the languages of Meghalaya is Jaintia. Jaintia language is yet another variation of the standard Khasi language spoken by the people living in the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya. Tribal groups Khynriam, Bhoi, Pnar, and War use Jaintia language along with the Khasi language. It is interesting to know that the three major tribes living in Meghalaya have demarcated their territory where Khasis inhabit the central part, Garos the western part, and Jaintias the eastern part of Meghalaya.

Apart from these principal and official languages spoken in Meghalaya, there are other languages as well that are spoken by the people of Meghalaya. These include Pnar-Synteng, Nepali, Haijong, Bengali, Assamese, and Hindi. Furthermore, people in the south-eastern part of Meghalaya speak a language called Biate language. These languages not only represent their respective ethnic community but also the cultural diversity of Meghalaya.


3 Comments

  • Bijoy     July 25, 2022

Interesting read. Thanks for sharing.


  • Shiva     July 25, 2022

Hello team, your work is so good. I like your article writing.


  • Parthajit Gogoi     May 23, 2023

Thanks for this information. Can you give the linguistics status of Manipur? I am from Assam.


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