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Toto language

𞊒𞊪𞊒𞊪, তোতো
The word "Toto" in Toto and Bengali script
RegionWest Bengal
Native speakers
1,411 (2014)[1]
Bengali script and Toto (script)
Language codes
ISO 639-3txo

Toto (Bengali: তোতো, Toto: 𞊒𞊪𞊒𞊪) 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.[2] 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 as well the members of the Toto community admit that the language is under threat and the influence of other languages, particularly Nepali and Bengali, is increasing day by day.[3]

The Himalayan Languages Project is working on the first grammatical sketch of Toto.


Toto consists of 25 segmental phonemes, of which 19 are consonants and six are vowels. The phonemes of this language are as follows:


There are six vowel phonemes in the Toto language: /i/, /e/, /ə/, /a/, /o/, /u/. They can be classified:

  • horizontally into three groups as front unrounded, central unrounded and back rounded vowels;
  • vertically into four groups as close, close-mid, open-mid and open.

There are eight diphthongs realized in Toto, these are:

  • /eu/ — occurring in initial and medial positions,
  • /au/, /ou/ — occurring only in the medial position,
  • /ei/, /əi/, /ai/, /oi/ — occurring in medial and final positions, and
  • /ui/ — occurring in all positions.[1]

The following minimal pairs establish the phonetics status of the vowel:

/iŋ/ 'brother in-law', vs. /eŋ/ 'ginger'
/ciwa/ 'tear', vs. /cewa/ 'cut' (cloth)
/guJi/ 'owl', vs. /guJa/ 'pocket'
/nico/ 'fire', vs. /naco/ 'two'
/Jiya/ 'rat', vs. /Juya/ 'bird'
/lepa/ 'brain', vs. /lapa/ 'jungle betel leaf'
/kewa/ 'birth', vs. /kawa/ 'sound'
/je/ 'grass', vs. /jo/ 'breast'


With regards to consonants, Toto has an inventory of seven sonorants (nasals and liquids) and twelve obstruents (stops and fricative), eight of which are contrastive in voicing. It also distinguishes the voiceless obstruents /t/ and /p/ with their aspirated equivalents /tʰ/ and /pʰ/, respectively.[1]

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain aspirated plain aspirated
Stop voiceless p t c k
voiced b d ɟ g
Fricative s h
Nasal m n ŋ
Approximant l j w
Trill r


Below are some Toto words from van Driem (1995), who uses these words to suggest that Toto may be a Sal language.[4]

  • aŋ- 'to drink'
  • bɔcɔŋ 'shoulder'
  • yoti 'cooking pot' (second syllable), cf. Dzongkha 'jug'
  • uŋtí 'seed'
  • haní 'today'
  • tarí 'moon'
  • lip- 'fall' (cf. Benedict's PTB *lip 'dive, sink, drown')
  • tɛ́bo 'big' (first syllable)
  • así 'shit'
  • daŋkre 'right' (vs. 'left')
  • buibé 'stomach' (first syllable); the second syllable -be is cognate with Toto biyá 'meat'
  • biyá 'meat'
  • wɔteŋ 'bamboo species' (first syllable), Nepali ḍhuṅgre ko ghās
  • maʔoŋ 'paddy'
  • bagreŋ 'wing'
  • saní 'sun'
  • jâr- 'stand'
  • anji 'yesterday'
  • böidi 'navel'
  • lâru- 'bring'
  • em- 'to shit'
  • jiŋ- 'sleep'
  • cici 'urine'
  • kiya 'dog'
  • miŋ 'name'
  • daŋ 'horn'
  • maibe 'flower'
  • pǘyɔ 'snake'
  • luŋtü 'stone'
  • lɛbɛ́ 'tongue'
  • maŋbü- 'to dream'
  • nanuŋ 'ear'
  • mico 'eye'
  • ŋaya 'fish'
  • musa 'body hair'
  • ka 'I'
  • taŋpa 'sole of the foot'
  • paká 'pig'
  • nati 'thou'
  • satáŋ 'tooth'
  • si- 'die'
  • ca- 'eat'
  • the- 'be sweet, taste sweet'
  • toise 'mango' (suffix: -se)
  • daŋse 'jackfruit' (suffix: -se)
  • sâ- 'kill'
  • dai- 'dig'
  • köitü 'egg'
  • yuŋ- 'sit, stay'
  • ti 'water'
  • mití 'tear'
  • totí 'spit'
  • wɛtí 'rain'
  • yutí 'blood'
  • yutí 'milk'
  • dikɔ́ 'buffalo'
  • ü- 'come down, descend'
  • ŋɛtɔ́ŋ 'neck'
  • to pa- 'weave'
  • kai- 'cry'
  • ŋɔká 'monkey'
  • jüwɔ́ 'mouse, rat'


The Toto personal pronouns are (van Driem 1995):[4]

singular plural
first person ka kibi
second person nati natibi
third person aku abi


The Toto numerals are (van Driem 1995):[4]

English numeral bare stem for counting counting humans counting animals inanimate objects
one i iccɔ ippu icce
two ni niso nipu nise
three suŋ sumcɔ suŋpu suŋse
four di dicɔ dipu dise
five ŋa ŋacɔ ŋapu ŋase
six tu tukcɔ tukpu tuse
seven ni nícɔ nípu níse
eight yấcɔ yấpu yấse
nine ku kucɔ kupu kuse
ten tâcɔ tâpu tâse
eleven eghâra eghârcɔ eghârpu eghârse
twelve bâra bârcɔ bârpu bârse
twenty ikai ikai cɔ ikai pu ikai se
twenty-one ikai-so i ikai-so iccɔ ikai-so ippu ikai-so icce
thirty ikai-so tâ ikai-so tâcɔ ikai-so tâpu ikai-so tâse
forty nikai nikai cɔ nikai pu nikai se
fifty nikai-so tâ nikai-so tâcɔ nikai-so tâpu nikai-so tâse
sixty suŋkai suŋkai cɔ suŋkai pu suŋkai se

Writing system

Toto script
Script type
CreatorDhaniram Toto
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Toto (294), ​Toto
Unicode alias

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; most significantly, the Toto alphabet was added to the Unicode Standard in September, 2021. 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.[3]


The Toto alphabet was added to the Unicode Standard in September, 2021 with the release of version 14.0.

The Unicode block for Toto is U+1E290–U+1E2BF:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1E29x 𞊐 𞊑 𞊒 𞊓 𞊔 𞊕 𞊖 𞊗 𞊘 𞊙 𞊚 𞊛 𞊜 𞊝 𞊞 𞊟
U+1E2Ax 𞊠 𞊡 𞊢 𞊣 𞊤 𞊥 𞊦 𞊧 𞊨 𞊩 𞊪 𞊫 𞊬 𞊭 𞊮
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.1
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Languages of India" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-02-08.|
  2. ^ Ben Doherty (April 29, 2012). "India's tribal people fast becoming lost for words". The Age. Retrieved 2015-02-08.
  3. ^ a b Singh, Shiv Sahay (1 August 2014). "Toto language more endangered than tribe". The Hindu. Retrieved 18 December 2019.
  4. ^ a b c van Driem, George. 1995. The Ṭoṭo language of the Bhutanese duars. Paper presented at ICSTLL 28.


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Toto language
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