Santali belongs to the North-Munda branch of the Austro-Asiatic language
family. It is the largest Munda language, spoken by 5.8 million people, who
live scattered over the Indian states of Bihar, West-Bengal and Orissa.
Most of them are bilingual in Santali and in the local dominant Indo-Aryan
The Santali phonemic system includes a series of retroflex consonants,
voiced and voiceless aspirated stops and glottalized stops in word-final
position, alternating with the voiced series. Some harmony rules underly
Nouns can be marked for number (singular, dual, plural), class (±animate),
case (seven in number), possessor and focus or topic. The demonstrative
system has four dimensions: distance (near / far / far away), ±emphatic,
±animate, and number.
Santali has a very elaborate verb morphology. Besides various types of
argument marking (subject, object, concerned object) the verb is inflected
for seven TAM categories the markers of which have two shapes, one for
active and one for middle voice. In addition, several derivational
processes apply to the stem, such as the marking of reciprocal or
intensive. Verbs in series are very common.
Santali is known to have a weak distinction between nouns and verbs, many
stems are used both in argument and predicate function. The analysis is
mainly based on data collected by Bodding, especially on his text
collection (published in 1925) and on his huge dictionary (1929-36).
Critical portions of the grammar have been discussed with a native speaker.