Toto language

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RegionWest Bengal
Native speakers
1,411 (2014)[1]
Bengali script, Devanagari
Language codes
ISO 639-3txo

Toto is a Sino-Tibetan language spoken on the border of India and Bhutan, by the tribal Toto people in Totopara, West Bengal along the border with Bhutan. It is also spoken in Subhapara, Dhunchipara, and Panchayatpara hillocks on India-Bhutan border in Jalpaiguri district, West Bengal (Ethnologue).


Toto is listed as a critically endangered language by UNESCO, with perhaps 1,000 speakers.[3] However, most families in the community speak Toto at home. Most children learn Toto at home, although they use Bengali in school.

Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI) set out to conduct a study on language of the primitive Toto tribe, whose population has dwindled to 1,536, they did not realize that the language is more endangered than the tribe itself. Researchers and even the members of Toto community admit that the language is under threat and influence of other languages, particularly Nepali and Bengali, is increasing day by day. Despite the language lacking a script, members of the community, whose literacy rate as per sample survey carried out in 2003 was just 33.64 per cent, have penned books and poems in their language albeit in the Bengali script.[4]

The Himalayan Languages Project is working on the first grammatical sketch of Toto. Himalayan Languages Project have arguably contributed more to advancing Tibeto-Burman linguistics than all other working scholars combined. George van Driem outlines the contributions of linguistics, archaeology and genetics to the population history of the greater Himalayan region, he emphasizes the role of genetics in the study of Tibeto-Burman linguistics.[5]



Toto Language consists of 25 segmental Phonemes of which 19 are consonants and 6 are vowels; the phonemes of this language are as follows: Vowels: These are 6 vowel phonemes in Toto language. They can be classified horizontally into three as front unrounded, central unrounded and back rounded vowels and vertically as close, close-mid, open-mid and open.

The following minimal pairs establish the phonetics status of the vowel


/Jiya/ ‘rat’

/Juya/ ‘bird’


/iŋ/ ‘brother in-law’

/eŋ/ ‘ginger’

/ciwa/ ‘tear’

/cewa/ ‘cut’ (cloth)


/guJi/ ‘owl’

/guJa/ ‘pocket’

/nico/ ‘fire’

/naco/ ‘two’


/je/ ‘grass’

/jo/ ‘breast’


/lepa/ ‘brain’

/lapa/ ‘jungle betel leaf’

/kewa/ ‘birth’

/kawa/ ‘sound’

There are eight diphthongs realized in Toto language; these are /ei/, /ai/, /oi/, /ui/, /əi/, /eu/, /au/ and /ou/. Diphthong /ui/ occurs in all positions, /eu/ occurs initial and medial positions, /ai/, /oi/, /əi/, and /ei/ occur medial and final positions. While /ou/ and /au/ occur only in the medial positions.[1] Furthermore, with regard to consonants, Toto has an inventory of ten obstruents, eight of which are contrastive in voicing. Toto also distinguishes the voiceless obstruents /t/ and /p/ with its aspirated equivalents /tʰ/ and /pʰ/, respectively. [1]


Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain aspirated plain aspirated
Stop voiceless p t c k
voiced b d ɟ g
Fricative s h
Nasal m n ŋ
Approximant l j w
Trill r


Below are some Toto words from van Driem (1995), who uses these words to suggest that Toto may be a Sal language.[6]

  • aŋ- ‘to drink’
  • bɔcɔŋ ‘shoulder’
  • yoti ‘cooking pot’ (second syllable), cf. Dzongkha ‘jug’
  • uŋtí ‘seed’
  • haní ‘today’
  • tarí ‘moon’
  • lip- ‘fall’ (cf. Benedict’s PTB *lip ‘dive, sink, drown’)
  • tɛ́bo ‘big’ (first syllable)
  • así ‘shit’
  • daŋkre ‘right’ (vs. ‘left’)
  • buibé ‘stomach’ (first syllable); the second syllable <-be> is cognate with Toto biyá ‘meat’
  • biyá ‘meat’
  • wɔteŋ ‘bamboo species’ (first syllable), Nepali ḍhuṅgre ko ghās
  • maʔoŋ ‘paddy’
  • bagreŋ ‘wing’
  • saní ‘sun’
  • jâr- ‘stand’
  • anji ‘yesterday’
  • böidi ‘navel’
  • lâru- ‘bring’
  • em- ‘to shit’
  • jiŋ- ‘sleep’
  • cici ‘urine’
  • kiya ‘dog’
  • miŋ ‘name’
  • daŋ ‘horn’
  • maibe ‘flower’
  • pǘyɔ ‘snake’
  • luŋtü ‘stone’
  • lɛbɛ́ ‘tongue’
  • maŋbü- ‘to dream’
  • nanuŋ ‘ear’
  • mico ‘eye’
  • ŋaya ‘fish’
  • musa ‘body hair’
  • ka ‘I’
  • taŋpa ‘sole of the foot’
  • paká ‘pig’
  • nati ‘thou’
  • satáŋ ‘tooth’
  • si- ‘die’
  • ca- ‘eat’
  • the- ‘be sweet, taste sweet’
  • toise ‘mango’ (suffix: <-se>)
  • daŋse ‘jackfruit’ (suffix: <-se>)
  • sâ- ‘kill’
  • dai- ‘dig’
  • köitü ‘egg’
  • yuŋ- ‘sit, stay’
  • ti ‘water’
  • mití ‘tear’
  • totí ‘spit’
  • wɛtí ‘rain’
  • yutí ‘blood’
  • yutí ‘milk’
  • dikɔ́ ‘buffalo’
  • ü- ‘come down, descend’
  • ŋɛtɔ́ŋ ‘neck’
  • to pa- ‘weave’
  • kai- ‘cry’
  • ŋɔká ‘monkey’
  • jüwɔ́ ‘mouse, rat’


The Toto personal pronouns are (van Driem 1995):[6]

singular plural
first person ka kibi
second person nati natibi
third person aku abi


The Toto numerals are (van Driem 1995):[6]

English numeral bare stem for counting counting humans counting animals inanimate objects
one i iccɔ ippu icce
two ni niso nipu nise
three suŋ sumcɔ suŋpu suŋse
four di dicɔ dipu dise
five ŋa ŋacɔ ŋapu ŋase
six tu tukcɔ tukpu tuse
seven ni nícɔ nípu níse
eight yấcɔ yấpu yấse
nine ku kucɔ kupu kuse
ten tâcɔ tâpu tâse
eleven eghâra eghârcɔ eghârpu eghârse
twelve bâra bârcɔ bârpu bârse
twenty ikai ikai cɔ ikai pu ikai se
twenty-one ikai-so i ikai-so iccɔ ikai-so ippu ikai-so icce
thirty ikai-so tâ ikai-so tâcɔ ikai-so tâpu ikai-so tâse
forty nikai nikai cɔ nikai pu nikai se
fifty nikai-so tâ nikai-so tâcɔ nikai-so tâpu nikai-so tâse
sixty suŋkai suŋkai cɔ suŋkai pu suŋkai se

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Languages of India" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-02-08. Cite web requires |website= (help)|
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Toto". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Ben Doherty (April 29, 2012). "India's tribal people fast becoming lost for words". The Age. Retrieved 2015-02-08.
  4. ^ "Toto Language More Endangered than Tribe". Retrieved 2015-02-08. Cite web requires |website= (help)
  5. ^ Languages of the Himalayas: An Ethnolinguistic Handbook of the Greater Himalayan Region Containing an Introduction to the Symbiotic Theory of Language
  6. ^ a b c van Driem, George. 1995. The Ṭoṭo language of the Bhutanese duars. Paper presented at ICSTLL 28.


External links[edit]