Toto Language
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Toto Language

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 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. [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'


/i?/ 'brother in-law'

/e?/ '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/, /?i/, /eu/, /au/ and /ou/. Diphthong /ui/ occurs in all positions, /eu/ occurs initial and medial positions, /ai/, /oi/, /?i/, 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 /t?/ and /p?/, respectively. [1]



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

  • a?- 'to drink'
  • b?c 'shoulder'
  • yoti 'cooking pot' (second syllable), cf. Dzongkha 'jug'
  • u?tí 'seed'
  • haní 'today'
  • tarí 'moon'
  • lip- 'fall' (cf. Benedict's PTB *lip 'dive, sink, drown')
  • tbo 'big' (first syllable)
  • así 'shit'
  • da?kre 'right' (vs. 'left')
  • buibé 'stomach' (first syllable); the second syllable <-be> is cognate with Toto biyá 'meat'
  • biyá 'meat'
  • w?te? 'bamboo species' (first syllable), Nepali ?hu?gre ko gh?s
  • ma?o? 'paddy'
  • bagre? 'wing'
  • saní 'sun'
  • jâr- 'stand'
  • anji 'yesterday'
  • böidi 'navel'
  • lâru- 'bring'
  • em- 'to shit'
  • ji?- 'sleep'
  • cici 'urine'
  • kiya 'dog'
  • mi? 'name'
  • da? 'horn'
  • maibe 'flower'
  • p?y? 'snake'
  • lu?tü 'stone'
  • l?b 'tongue'
  • ma?bü- 'to dream'
  • nanu? 'ear'
  • mico 'eye'
  • ?aya 'fish'
  • musa 'body hair'
  • ka 'I'
  • ta?pa 'sole of the foot'
  • paká 'pig'
  • nati 'thou'
  • satá? 'tooth'
  • si- 'die'
  • ca- 'eat'
  • the- 'be sweet, taste sweet'
  • toise 'mango' (suffix: <-se>)
  • da?se 'jackfruit' (suffix: <-se>)
  • sâ- 'kill'
  • dai- 'dig'
  • köitü 'egg'
  • yu?- 'sit, stay'
  • ti 'water'
  • mití 'tear'
  • totí 'spit'
  • w?tí 'rain'
  • yutí 'blood'
  • yutí 'milk'
  • dik 'buffalo'
  • ü- 'come down, descend'
  • t 'neck'
  • to pa- 'weave'
  • kai- 'cry'
  • ká 'monkey'
  • jüw '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 icc? ippu icce
two ni niso nipu nise
three su? sumc? su?pu su?se
four di dic? dipu dise
five ?a ?ac? ?apu ?ase
six tu tukc? tukpu tuse
seven ni níc? nípu níse
eight y?c? y?pu y?se
nine ku kuc? kupu kuse
ten tâc? tâpu tâse
eleven eghâra eghârc? eghârpu eghârse
twelve bâra bârc? bârpu bârse
twenty ikai ikai c? ikai pu ikai se
twenty-one ikai-so i ikai-so icc? ikai-so ippu ikai-so icce
thirty ikai-so tâ ikai-so tâc? ikai-so tâpu ikai-so tâse
forty nikai nikai c? nikai pu nikai se
fifty nikai-so tâ nikai-so tâc? nikai-so tâpu nikai-so tâse
sixty su?kai su?kai c? su?kai pu su?kai se

Writing system

Toto script
CreatorDhaniram Toto
ISO 15924Toto, 294

An alphabetic script developed for the language by community elder and author Dhaniram Toto was published in 2015, and has seen limited but increasing use in literature, education, and computing; a proposal for encoding this script was accepted by the Unicode technical committee on October 8, 2019, and is currently awaiting ISO balloting.[7][8] Prior to the publication of this script, Dhaniram Toto and other members of the community (whose literacy rate as per sample survey carried out in 2003 was just 33.64 per cent) penned books and poems in the Bengali script. [4]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Languages of India" (PDF). Retrieved .|
  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 .
  4. ^ a b Singh, Shiv Sahay (1 August 2014). "Toto language more endangered than tribe". The Hindu. Retrieved 2019.
  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 ?o?o language of the Bhutanese duars. Paper presented at ICSTLL 28.
  7. ^ Anderson, Deborah (27 September 2019). "L2/19-330: Proposal for encoding the Toto script in the SMP of the UCS" (PDF). Retrieved 2019.
  8. ^ "Proposed New Characters: The Pipeline". Unicode Consortium. Retrieved 2019.


External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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