Tani languages

Arunachal Pradesh
Linguistic classificationSino-Tibetan
  • Tani
  • Eastern (Abor)
  • Western (Nishi)
  • Middle (Tagin)

Tani (alternatively Miric, Adi–Galo–Mishing–Nishi-Tagin (Bradley 1997), or Abor–Miri–Dafla (Matisoff 2003)), is a branch of Sino-Tibetan languages spoken mostly in Arunachal Pradesh, India and neighboring regions.


The Tani languages are spoken by about 600,000 people of Arunachal Pradesh, including the Adi, Apatani, Galo, Mising, Nyishi, Hill Miri, Tagin, and of the East Kameng, West Kameng, Papumpare, Lower Subansiri, Upper Subansiri, West Siang, East Siang, Upper Siang, Lower Dibang Valley and Lohit districts of Arunachal Pradesh and Dhemaji, North Lakhimpur, Sonitpur etc. districts of Assam. In Arunachal Pradesh alone the Tani-speaking area covers some 40,000 square kilometers, or roughly half the size of the state. Scattered Tani communities spill over the Sino-Indian border into adjacent areas in Mêdog (Miguba people), Mainling (Bokar and Tagin peoples), and Lhünzê (Bangni, Na, Bayi, Dazu, and Mara peoples) counties of Tibet, where together with the non-Tani Idu and Taraon they form the Lhoba nationality.

The name Tani was originally suggested by Jackson Tianshin Sun in his 1993 doctoral dissertation.[1]


The Tani languages are conservatively classified as a distinct branch in Sino-Tibetan. Their closest relatives may be their eastern neighbors the Digaro languages, Taraon and Idu; this was first suggested by Sun (1993), but a relationship has not yet been systematically demonstrated. Blench (2014) suggests that Tani has a Greater Siangic substratum, with the Greater Siangic languages being a non-Sino-Tibetan language family consisting of Idu-Taraon and Siangic languages.

Mark Post (2015)[2] observes that Tani typologically fits into the Mainland Southeast Asia linguistic area, which typically has creoloid morphosyntactic patterns,[3] rather than with the languages of the Tibetosphere. Post (2015) also notes that Tani culture is similar to those of Mainland Southeast Asian hill tribe cultures, and is not particularly adapted to cold montane environments.

A provisional classification in Sun (1993), who argued that Tani is a primary branch of Tibeto-Burman (within Sino-Tibetan), is:

To Eastern Tani, van Driem (2008)[4] adds the following possible languages:


Milang has traditionally been classified as a divergent Tani language, but in 2011 was tentatively reclassified as Siangic (Post & Blench 2011).

Proto-Tani was partially reconstructed by Sun (1993). A large number of reconstructed roots have cognates in other Sino-Tibetan languages. However, a great deal of Proto-Tani vocabulary have no cognates within Sino-Tibetan (Post 2011), and most Tani grammar seems to be secondary, without cognates in grammatically conservative Sino-Tibetan languages such as Jingpho or the Kiranti languages (Post 2006). Post (2012)[5] suggests that Apatani and Milang have non-Tani substrata, and that as early Tani languages had expanded deeper into Arunachal Pradesh, mixing with non-Tani languages occurred.

Mark Post (2013)[6] proposes the following revised classification for the Tani languages.

The undocumented Ashing language presumably belongs here.


Sun (1993: 254-255) lists the following 25 lexical isoglosses between Western Tani and Eastern Tani.

Gloss Proto-Western Tani Proto-Eastern Tani
urine *sum *si
blind *mik-čiŋ *mik-maŋ
mouth *gam *nap-paŋ
nose *ñV-pum *ñV-buŋ
wind (n.) *rji *sar
rain (n.) *mV-doŋ *pV-doŋ
thunder *doŋ-gum *doŋ-mɯr
lightning *doŋ-rjak *ja-ri
fish *ŋo-i *a-ŋo
tiger *paŋ-tə *mjo/mro
root *m(j)a *pɯr
old man *mi-kam *mi-ǰiŋ
village *nam-pom *duŋ-luŋ
granary *nam-suŋ *kjum-suŋ
year *ñiŋ *tak
sell *pruk *ko
breath *sak *ŋa
ferry/cross *rap *koŋ
arrive *-ki *pɯŋ
say/speak *ban±man *lu
rich *mi-tə~mi-ta *mi-rem
soft *ñi-mjak *rə-mjak
drunk *kjum -
back (adv.) *-kur *lat²
ten *čam *rjɯŋ

See also


  1. ^ Sun, Tianshin Jackson, 1993. A Historical–Comparative Study of the Tani (Mirish) Branch in Tibeto-Burman. Berkeley, University of California PhD Dissertation.
  2. ^ Post, M. W. 2015. ‘Morphosyntactic reconstruction in an areal-historical context: A pre-historical relationship between North East India and Mainland Southeast Asia?’ In N. J. Enfield and B. Comrie, Eds. Languages of Mainland Southeast Asia: The State of the Art. Berlin, Mouton de Gruyter: 205 – 261.
  3. ^ McWhorter, John H. 2007. Language Interrupted: Signs of non-native acquisition in standard language grammars. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Post, Mark. 2012. Morphological typology, North East India and Mainland Southeast Asia. Mainland Southeast Asian Languages: The State of the Art in 2012. Workshop held at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
  6. ^ Post, Mark W. (2013). Defoliating the Tani Stammbaum: An exercise in areal linguistics. Paper presented at the 13th Himalayan Languages Symposium. Canberra, Australian National University, Aug 9.


  • Bradley, David, 1997. "Tibeto-Burman languages and classification." In David Bradley, ed. Tibeto-Burman languages of the Himalayas. Canberra, Australian National University Press: 1–72. ISBN 978-0-85883-456-9.
  • Blench, Roger (2014). Fallen leaves blow away: a neo-Hammarstromian approach to Sino-Tibetan classification. Presentation given at the University of New England, Armidale, 6 September 2014.
  • James A. Matisoff, 2003. The Handbook of Proto-Tibeto-Burman: System and Philosophy of Sino-Tibetan Reconstruction. Berkeley, University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-09843-5.
  • van Driem, George, 2001. Languages of the Himalayas: An Ethnolinguistic Handbook of the Greater Himalayan Region. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-12062-4.
  • Post, Mark, 2006. "Compounding and the structure of the Tani lexicon." Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 29 (1): 41–60.
  • Post, Mark, 2011. "Isolate substrates, creolization and the internal diversity of Tibeto-Burman." Workshop on The Roots of Linguistic Diversity. The Cairns Institute, James Cook University, Australia, June 9–10.
  • Post, Mark, 2012. "The language, culture, environment and origins of Proto-Tani speakers: What is knowable, and what is not (yet)." In T. Huber and S. Blackburn, Eds. Origins and Migrations in the Extended Eastern Himalayas. Leiden, Brill: 161–194. ISBN 978-90-04-22691-3.
  • Post, Mark W. and Roger Blench, 2011. "Siangic: A new language phylum in North East India." 6th International Conference of the North East Indian Linguistics Society, Tezpur University, Assam, India, January 29 – February 2.
  • Sun, Tianshin Jackson, 1993. A Historical–Comparative Study of the Tani (Mirish) Branch in Tibeto-Burman. Berkeley, University of California PhD Dissertation.

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