1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mundās

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MUNDĀS. The Mundā (Muṇḍā) family is the least numerous of the linguistic families of India. It comprises several dialects spoken in the two Chota Nagpur plateaux, the adjoining districts of Madras and the Central Provinces, and in the Mahadeo hills. The number of speakers of the various dialects, according to the census of 1901, are as follow: Santālī, 1,795,113; Mundārī, 460,744; Bhumij, 111,304; Birhår, 526; Kōdā, 23,873; Hō,: 371,860; Tūrī, 3880; Asurī, 4894; Korwā, 16,442; Korkū, 87,675; Khariā, 82,506; Juāng, 10,853; Savara, 157,136; Gadabā, 37,230;. total, 3,164,036. Santālī, Mundārī, Bhumij, Birhår, Kōdā, Hō, Tūrī, Asurī and Korwā are only slightly differing forms of one and the same language, which can be called Kherwārī, a name borrowed from Santālī tradition. Kherwārī is the principal Mundā language, and quite 88% of all the speakers of Mundā tongues belong to it. The Korwā dialect, spoken in the western part of Chota Nagpur, connects Kherwārī with the remaining Mundā languages. Of these it is most closely related to the Kūrkū language of the Mahadeo hills in the Central Provinces. Kūrkū, in its turn, in important points agrees with Khariā and Juāng, and Khariā leads over to Savara and Gadabā. The two last-mentioned forms of speech, which are spoken in the north-east of the Madras Presidency, have been much influenced by Dravidian languages.

The Mundā dialects are not in sole possession of the territory where they are spoken. They are, as a rule, only found in the hills and jungles, while the plains and valleys are inhabited by people speaking some Aryan language. When brought into close contact with Aryan tongues the Mundā forms of speech are apt to give way, and in the course of time they have been partly superseded by Aryan dialects. There are accordingly some Aryanized tribes in northern India who have formerly belonged to the Mundā stock. Such are the Cheros of Behar and Chota Nagpur, the Kherwars, who are found in the same localities, in Mirzapur and elsewhere, the Savaras, who formerly extended as far north as Shahabad, and others. It seems possible to trace an old Mundā element in some Tibeto-Burman dialects spoken in the Himalayas from Bashahr eastwards.

By race the Mundās are Dravidians, and their language was likewise long considered as a member of the Dravidian family. Max Müller was the first to distinguish the two families. He also coined the name Mundā for the smaller of them, which has later on often been spoken of under other denominations, such as Kolarian and Kherwarian. The Dravidian race is generally considered as the aboriginal population of southern India. The Mundās, who do not appear to have extended much farther towards the south than at present, must have mixed with the Dravidians from very early times. The so-called Nahālī dialect of the Mahadeo hills seems to have been originally a Mundā form of speech which has come under Dravidian influence, and finally passed under the spell of Aryan tongues. The same is perhaps the case with the numerous dialects spoken by the Bhils. At all events, Mundā languages have apparently been spoken over a wide area in central and north India. They were then early superseded by Dravidian and Aryan dialects, and at the present day only scanty remnants are found in the hills and jungles of Bengal and the Central Provinces.

Though the Mundā family is not connected with any other languages in India proper, it does not form an isolated group. It belongs to a widely spread family, which extends from India in the west to Easter Island in the eastern Pacific in the east. In the first place, we find a connected language spoken by the Khasis of the Khasi hills in Assam. Then follow the Mōn-Khmēr languages of Farther India, the dialects spoken by the aboriginal inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula, the Nancowry of the Nicobars, and, finally, the numerous dialects of Austronesia, viz. Indonesic, Melanesic, Polynesic, and so on. Among the various members of this vast group the Mundā languages are most closely related to the Mōn-Khmēr family of Farther India. Kūrkū, Khariā, Juāng, Savara and Gadabā are more closely related to that family than is Kherwārī, the principal Mundā form of speech.

We do not know if the Mundās entered India from without. If so, they can only have immigrated from the east. At all events they must have been settled in India from a very early period. The Sabaras, the ancestors of the Savaras, are already mentioned in old Vedic literature. The Mundā languages seem to have been influenced by Dravidian and Aryan forms of speech. In most characteristics, however, they differ widely from the neighbouring tongues.

The Mundā languages abound in vowels, and also possess a richly developed system of consonants. Like the Dravidian languages, they avoid beginning a word with more than one consonant. While those latter forms of speech shrink from pronouncing a short consonant at the end of words, the Mundās have the opposite tendency, viz. to shorten such sounds still more. The usual stopped consonants — viz. k, c (i.e. English ch), t and p—are formed by stopping the current of breath at different points in the mouth, and then letting it pass out with a kind of explosion. In the Mundā language this operation can be abruptly checked half-way, so that the breath does not touch the organs of speech in passing out. The result is a sound that makes an abrupt impression on the ear, and has been described as an abrupt tone. Such sounds are common in the Mundā languages. They are usually written k’, c’, t’ and p’. Similar sounds are also found in the Mōn-Khmēr languages and in Indo-Chinese.

The vowels of consecutive syllables to a certain extent approach each other in sound. Thus in Khērwārī the open sounds å (nearly English a in all) and ä (the a in care) agree with each other and not with the corresponding close sounds o (the o in pole) and e (the e in pen). The Santālī passive suffix ok’ accordingly becomes åk’ after ä or å; compare sän-åk’, go, but dal-ok’, to be struck.

Words are formed from monosyllabic bases by means of various additions, suffixes (such as are added after the base), prefixes (which precede the base) and infixes (which are inserted into the base itself). Suffixes play a great rôle in the inflexion of words, while prefixes and infixes are of greater importance as formative additions. Compare Kurku k-ōn, Savara ōn, son; Kharia ro-mong, Kherwārī mū̃, nose; Santāli bor, to fear; bo-to-r, fear; dal, to strike; da-pa-1, to strike each other.

The various classes of words are not clearly distinguished. The same base can often be used as a noun, an adjective or a verb. The words simply denote some being, object, quality, action or the like, but they do not tell us how they are conceived.

Inflexion is effected in the usual agglutinative way by means of additions which are "glued" or joined to the unchanged base. In many respects, however, Mundā inflexion has struck out peculiar lines. Thus there is no grammatical distinction of gender. Nouns can be divided into two classes, viz. those that denote animate beings and those that denote inanimate objects respectively. There are three numbers—the singular, the dual and the plural. On the other hand, there are no real cases, at least in the most typical Mundā languages. The direct and the indirect object are indicated by means of certain additions to the verb. Certain relations in time and space, however, are indicated by means of suffixes, which have probably from the beginning been separate words with a definite meaning. The genitive, which can be considered as an adjective preceding the governing word, is often derived from such forms denoting locality. Compare Santālī hår-rä, in a man; hår-rän, of a man.

Higher numbers are counted in twenties, and not in tens as in the Dravidian languages.

The pronouns abound in different forms. Thus there are double sets of the dual and the plural of the pronoun of the first person, one including and the other excluding the person addressed. The Rev. A. Nottrott aptly illustrates the importance of this distinction by remarking how it is necessary to use the exclusive form if telling the servant that "we shall dine at seven." Otherwise the speaker will invite the servant to partake of the meal. In addition to the usual personal pronouns there are also short forms, used as suffixes and infixes, which denote a direct object, an indirect object, or a genitive. There is a corresponding richness in the case of demonstrative pronouns. Thus the pronoun "that" in Santālī has different forms to denote a living being, an inanimate object, something seen, something heard, and so on. On the other hand, there is no relative pronoun, the want being supplied by the use of indefinite forms of the verbal bases, which can in this connexion be called relative participles.

The most characteristic feature of Mundā grammar is the verb, especially in Kherwārī. Every independent word can perform the function of a verb, and every verbal form can, in its turn, be used as a noun or an adjective. The bases of the different tenses can therefore be described as indifferent words which can be used as a noun, as an adjective, and as a verb, but which are in reality none of them. Each denotes simply the root meaning as modified by time. Thus in Santālī the base dāl-ket’, struck, which is formed from the base dal, by adding the suffix ket’ of the active past, can be used as a noun (compare dal-ket’-ko, strikers, those that struck), as an adjective (compare dal-ket’-hår, struck man, the man that struck), and as a verb. In the last case it is necessary to add an a if the action really takes place; thus, dal-ket’-a, somebody struck.

It has already been remarked that the cases of the direct and indirect object are indicated by adding forms of the personal pronouns to the verb. Such pronominal affixes are inserted before the assertive particle a. Thus the affix denoting a direct object of the third person singular is e, and by inserting it in dal-ket’-a we arrive at a form dal-ked-e-a, somebody struck him. Similar affixes can be added to denote that the object or subject of an action belongs to somebody. Thus Santālī håpån-iñ-e dal-ket’-tako-tiñ-a, son-my-he struck-theirs-mine, my son who belongs to me struck theirs.

In a sentence such as har kōrā-e dal-ked-e-a, man boy-he struck him, the man struck the boy, the Santals first put together the ideas man, boy, and a striking in the past. Then the e tells us that the striking affects the boy, and finally the -a indicates that the whole action really takes place. It will be seen that a single verbal form in this way often corresponds to a whole sentence or a series of sentences in other languages. If we add that the most developed Mundā languages possess different bases for the active, the middle and the passive, that there are different causal, intensive and reciprocal bases, which are conjugated throughout, and that the person of the subject is often indicated in the verb, it will be understood that Mundā conjugation presents a somewhat bewildering aspect. It is, however, quite regular throughout, and once the mind becomes accustomed to these peculiarities, they do not present any difficulty to the understanding.

Bibliography.—Max Müller, Letter to Chevalier Bunsen on the Classification of the Turanian Languages. Reprint from Chr. K. J. Bunsen, Christianity and Mankind, vol. iii. (London, 1854), especially pp. 175 and sqq.; Friedrich Müller, Grundriss der Sprachwissenschaft, vol. iii. part i. (Wien, 1884), pp. 106 and sqq., vol. iv. part i. (Wien, 1888), p. 229; Sten Konow, "Mundā and Dravidian Languages" in Grierson's Linguistic Survey of India, iv. 1 and sqq. (Calcutta, 1906).  (S. K.)