I mentioned the Munda languages in a recent post. They form a distinct branch of the Austroasiatic family. One way in which people can determine the common origin of a set of languages is by comparing their lexicons. There will be certain words which will sound similar and go back to an etymological root (in keeping with the laws governing sound change), revealing their genetic relationship. Certain words have a greater chance of  providing evidence, such as those describing kinship (father, mother, brother, sister), body parts (eyes, teeth, blood, bone), food (grain, meat, milk), and plants and animals native to the region where the language family evolved.

The Munda languages are no exception. Among the list of words selected by linguists reflecting their common origin is the name used for the tiger. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that the homeland of the Munda speaking tribes overlaps with the tiger’s range. They also have a number of tales revolving around the big cat. Some of the more interesting ones involve shape-shifting. Like the werewolves of Europe, the weretigers of South Asia reflect man’s complicated relationship with apex predators across the world. I will be putting up one such story (narrated by the Santhals) later. Before that the list of words used by the Munda speaking tribes for the mighty felid:

Language (name for the tiger)

  • Santhali (kul)
  • Mundari (kula)
  • Ho (kula)
  • Korku (kula)
  • Kharia (kirog)
  • Juang (kilog)
  • Sora (kina)
  • Gorum (kula)
  • Gutob (kilo)
  • Remo (kilo)
  • Gta (nku)

Image Attribution: The image above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons and shows a painting (Great Tiger) by the German painter, author and illustrator Friedrich Wilhelm Kuhnert (1865-1926). He studied at the Berlin University of the Arts, traveled across Europe, Africa and Asia and illustrated highly acclaimed books such as ‘Animal Life on Earth’ and ‘Brehms Tierleben’.

Reference: The Language Gulper