Linguistic Survey of India – Orissa


The Linguistic Survey of India (LSI) is an ongoing project of the Government of India that aims to document and study how languages have changed in the country over the years. It considers shifts in society, administrative regions and the reorganisation of states based on linguistic identity. This project has been undertaken by the Language Division, Office of the Registrar General, Government of India.

Part of this project is the Linguistic Survey of India – Orissa which studies 27 languages and dialects spoken in Orissa (now Odisha). The survey was carried out between 1981 and 2000.

The survey works on the census framework according to which ‘language’ and ‘mother tongue’ are ‘co-terminus’ or mean the same. The volume presents sketches of 27 languages: Oriya, Sambalpuri, Bhatri, Desia (Proja), Relli, Bhuyan, KeLa, Laria, Binjhia and Sadan/Sadri (Indo-Aryan family); Bhumji, Bonda, Didei, Gadaba (Gutob), Ho, Juang, Kharia, Mundari, Parengi, Santali, Savara (Austro-Asiatic family); and Khond/Kondh, Kisan, Koya, Kui, Kuvi, Gadaba (Ollari) (Dravidian family). This selection of the languages is based on regional importance, the number of speakers and the locations where the survey was conducted.

The present-day LSI is an extension of the survey first proposed by George Abraham Grierson, an Irish linguist who documented Indian languages during the pre-Independence era. This survey “complements and supplements” Grierson’s survey conducted when the states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, and present-day Bangladesh were part of the same province called the Bengal Presidency.

The document is divided into four main chapters. The first chapter introduces Grierson’s linguistic study and outlines the history, demography and administrative divisions of the state. The second chapter provides descriptive notes on 10 of the Indo-Aryan languages and dialects. The third chapter titled ‘provides similar descriptions of the 11 languages from the Austro-Asiatic family and the the fourth chapter outlines languages from the Dravidian family. The three chapters also include separate comparative lexicons of terms in the languages included in the chapter.


  1. Oriya is the official language of Orissa, the survey notes. It is the primary language used in educational institutions within the state. According to the 1991 Census, 26,199,346 people in Orissa spoke Oriya. Of these, 25,908,888 considered it their mother tongue. It has several dialects including Sambaluri, Bhatri, Desia (Proja), Relli and Bhuyan.

  2. The survey makes a note of the KeLa dialect spoken by people who reportedly migrated from eastern Bengal (now Bangladesh) around 1930 to the Padamkesaripur village of Puri district in Orissa.

  3. Three of the mother tongues recorded in the state, namely Laria, Sadan/Sadri, and Binjhia, are related to Hindi. As per the 1991 Census, 61,920 people in the state spoke Laria whereas 248,089 spoke Sadan/Sadri. Binjhia speakers recorded numbered less than 10,000 and were not reported in the Census.

  4. Bhumij was considered a dialect of Munda language in the Austro-Asiatic family tree by Grierson but further research classifies it as distinct. Speakers of Bhumij live in the states of Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal, the survey states. Total Bhumij speakers in Orissa numbered 27,669 in the 1991 Census.

  5. Bonda or Remo, belongs to the Austro-Asiatic family of languages. Data on Bonda was last recorded in the 1951 Census wherein the total speakers were reported to be 2,568 in the state as well as the country. Bonda has three genders in the language – masculine, feminine and neuter.

  6. Parengi falls under the southern group of Munda languages. It is spoken in the Koraput district of Orissa. The languages last appeared in the 1961 Census which recorded the total speakers of tha language to be 767 – 417 male and 350 female. Speakers of this language are bilingual and use Oriya to speak to the younger generation or others outside the community.

  7. Savara language is spoken mainly by the Savara tribe. It is classified under the Munda group of languages in the Austro-Asiatic family. According to the 1991 Census, there were 273,168 speakers of Savara in India. Of these, 214,523 lived in Orissa. Majority of the people speaking Savara in the state lived in the Ganjam district.

  8. Khond or Kondh belongs the Dravidian language family. A majority of speakers of this language live in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. The 1991 Census recorded 220,783 speakers of Khond in India of which 193,775 resided in Orissa.

  9. Kisan is another Dravidian language spoken in Orissa. Speakers of Kisan are concentrated in the Sundargarh and Sambalpur districts. In the state, of the 160,704 people speaking Kisan, 150,619 are situated in rural areas and 10,085 in urban areas. The language does not have its own script.

  10. People speaking Koya live in the Malkangiri area of Koraput. Of the overall 270,994 speakers of Koya in the country, 101,752 reside in Orissa. Koya does not have a script of its own.

    Focus and Factoids by Meghamala Ghosh.


Language Division, Office of the Registrar General, Government of India


Language Division, Office of the Registrar General, Government of India