Kiranti Database Project

The Kiranti Database is a research programme for the study of the Kiranti languages, a major family of Tibeto-Burman languages spoken by various ethnic groups indigenous to eastern Nepal, specifically the Sunwar, Rai, Yakkha and Limbu. Unlike other databases in the field that have been ‘under construction’ for several years, the Kiranti Database has been operative and successfully used since 2004. The database is continually improved, updated and expanded.

Wambule Database

In 1997, I built my first database to store the fieldnotes which I took on Wambule. This database contained lexical, grammatical and cultural information as well as transcribed texts. Later I added new functionalities to the database system, including the capacity to analyse and interlinearise texts. I also added data which I had collected from other Kiranti languages, notably Jero, but also Bahing and Thulung.

Comparative and Etymological Kiranti Database

In 2004, I set up a new database system for comparative and etymological research entitled 'Comparative and Etymological Kiranti Database' (CEKiD) to advance my investigation into Proto-Kiranti reconstruction, Proto-Kiranti reflexes in the modern Kiranti languages and the classification and subgrouping of the Kiranti family. Data from the earliest versions of CEKiD appeared in 2004 and 2005 in the studies which I wrote on the development of Proto-Kiranti initials in 13 Kiranti languages (in total, there are some 30-odd Kiranti languages).

In my 2005 study, I also used a method of combining lexical isoglosses, i.e. counting etyma that are shared between all languages, with phonological isoglosses, i.e. counting phonological innovations, to update the classification and subgrouping of the Kiranti family. According to the results provided by this innovative method, the Western Kiranti languages Bahing, Sunwar, Jero and Wambule show great mutual affinity with a group average of around 90%. Thulung and Hayu are slightly more distantly related.

On the basis of the data given in my 2005 study, we can make the following classification of the 13 Kiranti languages investigated (the languages are listed geographically from West to East):

Classification of the 13 Kiranti languages on the basis of Opgenort (2005)

According to this lexicostatistical classification, which looks at the highest ressemblance between different languages and then takes the average values for further group classification, Khaling and Dumi surprisingly show a bit more affinity with Eastern Kiranti languages (Chamling, Bantawa, Kulung, Yamphu and Limbu) than with Western Kiranti languages (Bahing, Sunwar, Jero, Wambule, Thulung and Hayu). However, this could be due to the size of the sample. Khaling and Dumi are perhaps best classified as marginal members of Western Kiranti.

Note that my classification differs from that of Van Driem (2001: 615), in that Hayu is not considered to form a subgroup with Bahing and Sunwar. Also, unlike Van Driem, but like Michailovsky (1994), I consider there to be a major divide between Western Kiranti, on the one hand, and Eastern Kiranti, on the other.

Kiranti Database

In 2011, I integrated the various databases for descriptive and historical-comparative research into a single database on the Kiranti languages. The new database contains all the data which I collected on Wambule, Jero and Tilung and some other languages, complete lexicons published in descriptions of other Kiranti languages by other researchers as well as hundreds of Proto-Kiranti etyma which I reconstructed.

The Wambule, Jero and Kiranti databases on this website are special tabularised versions of the word list included in my grammars of Wambule and Jero.

Driem, George van
2001. Languages of the Himalayas. Volumes 1 and 2. Handbook of Oriental Studies. Section Two: India. Leiden/Boston/Köln: Brill.

Michailovsky, Boyd
1994. ‘Manner vs place of articulation in the Kiranti initial stops’. Current Issues in Sino-Tibetan Linguistics, Osaka (pp. 766–772).

Opgenort, Jean Robert
2005d. A grammar of Jero. With a historical comparative study of the Kiranti languages. Brill’s Tibetan Studies Library. Languages of the Greater Himalayan Region, 3. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill.

Opgenort, Jean Robert. 2004a
Implosive and preglottalized stops in Kiranti’, in Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area, Volume 27.1 (pp. 1–27).