Karbi language

Karbi—despite of the 420,000 speakers spread across North-East Indian states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland—is one of the vulnerable languages of South Asia as identified by UNESCO. Karbi is grouped under the Mikir languages which itself is part of the 50-odd-languages that are known as the Kuki-Chin language group or simply known as Kukish languages. The last known census was in 2001 and the number of speakers might have increased by now but there are only a handful of people that are working for reviving the language. One of them is D.S. Teron who is a veteran and is a full time self-sponsored researcher based in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam. This page that is based on our conversation with Teron leads to some of the most important aspects of the Karbi language—like narration of a folklore, folk song, local festival celebrations and traditional games. The Karbi elders have been historically great storytellers, be it while recounting the past of deceased family members through Mosera Kihir, or the wailing songs of Kecharhe remembering the dead. Karbi is also known as Arleng or Mikir. Our guest, Mr. Teron is from one of the five clans that are also known as Kur—these are Terang, Teron, Enghee. Ingti and Timung.

Introduction: Licensing, interviewee’s name (00:00 – 01:48); Meaning of Karbi and the Karbi people (01:48 – 03:27); Description of interviewee’s birthplace (03:27 – 04:18); Traditional games for the kids (04:18 – 08:52); Linguistic details of Karbi language (08:52 – 15:09); Storytelling of the Karbi people (15:09 – 27:21); Folk song (27:21 – 31:03); Local fairs/festivals (31:03 – 42:30); Daily activities of the interviewee (42:30 – 52:37)

1. Pronunciation of interviewee’s name (Download as .wav)

English: In this interview, Teron shares how his name is pronounced in his native language Karbi. In this interview, Teron pronounces his name in his native language, and shares some details about how the family name is given based on local traditions.

2. Meaning of Karbi and the Karbi people (Download as .wav)

English: In this interview, Teron shares about the meaning of the word “Karbi” and explains about the Karbi people citing local legends. One of the legends say that the Karbi people have to offer a portion of their food to the thier ancestors (see 0:34–) In this interview, Teron details about meaning of the word “Karbi” and how local legends have been guiding the Karbi people’s daily life, their belief and social activities.

3. Interviewee D.S. Teron’s birthplace Jor Teron (Download as .wav)

English: In this interview, Teron shares about Jor Teron, the place he took birth and the place was named after his grandfather. In this interview, Teron gives an account of his birthplace, how it got named after his grandfather who was a local leader of the community and founded the village.

4. Traditional games of the Karbi people (Download as .wav)

English: Karbi-language speaker D.S. Teron from Assam, India shares how his language has been influenced by other languages, influenced other languages and is related to other Asian languages. In this interview, D.S. Teron shares some of the linguistics details of the Karbi language. Karbi is part of the Kukish languages (also known as “”Kuki chin””; IPA:: /kuki t͡ʃin/). Teron cites findings of several linguists that have helped showing relation of the language (Karbi) with Naga, Meithei, Garo and Khasi, and Assamese (the recent-most interaction of all others as the Karbi people got involved with the Assamese people during and after India’s formation in 1947).

5. Karbi language – its language family and related languages (Download as .wav)

English: In this interview, Teron shares about the games he and his friends played as kids in the sixties. In this interview, D.S. Teron goes into details about his childhood and the society was back them. This portion of the full interview gives an account how the Karbi people lived in the 1960s. He then shares about two traditional games—one involving walking with stilts to avoid thorns to pierce one’s feet while walking on the swampy soil in naked feet, and a game called “Hambi” (meaning nickernut or nicker bean; IPA: /haːmbi/) which involved the locally-grown nickernut. The nickernut was played between two opponent teams (each team will have equal number of players with a minimum of two players). The opponent teams will keep about five meters of distance from each other. There are different stages and each stage has a name. Part of the game is also to tease the opponents.

6. Storytelling of the Karbi people (Download as .wav)

English: In this interview, Teron narrates stories of the Karbi people of the Jor Teron region in Assam.

  • Up to 04:36: In this interview, D.S. Teron narrates a story in Karbi (with an introduction and conclusion in English). The story’s introduction in English starts at 01:55
  • 04:33 – 11:19: Narration of story in Karbi. The story, titled “Votia temo” (IPA: /ot̪iaː t̪emɔ/), is about a hen (known as vo, vo means a bird in Karbi) who lived with a few friends—a cat, a pig, a dog and a duck in a house. When the hen was always responsible for seaching and cooking food, the other friends never contributed neither in collecting or cooking. The storyline is around how the hen deals with the irresponsible friends.
  • 11:19 – end: Conclusion of the story in English

7. Folk songs of the Karbi people (Download as .wav)

English: In this interview, Teron narrates about the folk songs of the Karbi people by singing a portion of a song.

  • Upto 02:15: Conversation between D.S. Teron and Subhashish about the folk songs of Karbi people
  • 02:15 – 02:34: Introduction of the song in English. The song is an old folk love ballad.
  • 02:35 – 03:13: Singing the song
  • 03:13 – end: Conclusion/discussion

8. Local festival celebrations by the Karbi people (Download as .wav)

English: In this interview, Teron shares about the celebration of local festivals by the Karbi people.

  • 0:35 – 04:45: Introduction in English. The festival explained by Teron in this audio is about a funeral festival known as “Cho Mang Kan” (IPA: /t͡ʃo maːŋg kaːn/). The festival is generally observed after a few years of one’s death. The festival is for about 3 – 5 days and is expensive to organize, so family members of the deceased take their time to decide about it.
The entire community, especially the young boys and girls participate. The songs contain very erotic and explicit content (can be considered obscene). However the Karbi community is open and no one complains about these songs.
  • 04:45 – 06:48: Narration of the festival in Karbi. The narration explains about the procession which is a part of the festival where people of all age groups walk with holding a traditional and national Karbi emblem called “Jambili Athon” (IPA: /d͡ʒaːmbili aːt̪ʰɔn/) (an wooden pole made from Bengwoi ke-er (Wrightia coccinea Sims. (Apocynaceae) with a wood-crafted bird called “Voraju” (IPA: /boraːd͡ʒu/, Greater racket-tailed drongo) fixed on one end). Each village would have their own Jambili Athon. During the procession, drummers beat drums and young boys and girls sing and dance during the procession. The gatherings used to have a gathering of 400 – 1000 people. Poeple tease each other for fun. People drink local alcohol, feast, sing and dance during this festival.
  • 06:48 onwards: Conclusion in English to summarize the narration

9. Daily activities of the speakers. (Download as .wav)

English: In this interview, Teron shares his daily activities in Karbi.

  • 0:41 – 03:48: Teron narrates his daily activities in Karbi.
  • 03:48 – end: Explains the activities in English


Language details Recording details
Language Karbi Recording content Narration of a folklore, a folk song, a local festival, traditional games, Meaning of “Karbi”, speaker’s daily activities
Dialect N/A Recording location Remote, Speaker at Karbi Anglong district, Assam, India
Alternate name(s) Mikir Recording date Sunday, May 21, 2017 at 8:55 AM
SIL Code mjw Recordist(s) Subhashish Panigrahi
Current state Living, endangered Hardware Zoom H1
Language group Tibeto-Burman languages Software Audacity
Possible influences Assamese, Naga #files 10
Open Language Archives Community (OLAC) here File format(s) wav, flac
Swadesh word list here Bit rate 16 bit PCM
Ethnologue here Total audio length (HH:MM:SS) 00:53:37
SIL International here Copyright CC-BY-SA 4.0
Wikipedia here Video N/A
Wikipedia in respective language N/A Image N/A
Scholarly citations on Google Scholar here
Internet Archive resources here
Speaker details
Speaker Gender Male
Speaker Age 50–60
Speaker Origin Karbi Anglong district, Assam, India
Speaker’s Name D.S. Teron
Speaker’s Pictures N/A


  1. Moseley, Christopher (ed.). 2010. Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 3rd edn. Paris, UNESCO Publishing. Online version: http://www.unesco.org/culture/en/endangeredlanguages/atlas
  2. René Kolkman, Stuart Blackburn. “Tribal Architecture in Northeast India“. BRILL, 2014. ISBN 9004263926, 9789004263925
  3. “A grammar of Karbi” . Konnerth, Linda (2014)
  4. “South Asia and the Middle East” (283-348) . George van Driem (2007) , Christopher Moseley · London & New York: Routledge
  5. C. M. (2017) Endangered Languages Project – Karbi. Retrieved October 16, 2017, from http://www.endangeredlanguages.com/lang/mjw
  6. Ager, Simon. (2017) Karbi language, pronunciation and alphabet. Retrieved October 16, 2017, from https://www.omniglot.com/writing/karbi.htm
  7. An Introduction To The Karibi Language“. Shodhganga
  8. Anna Konnerth, Linda. “A Grammar Of Karbi“. Department of Linguistics, Graduate School of the University of Oregon, March 2014
  9. Serdihun Beypi and Sivasish Biswas. “Language, Culture, and Translation of the Karbi: A Brief Study” – ijssh