Toda language

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தோதா tōtā
Native to India
Region Nilgiri Hills
Native speakers
1,600 (2001 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tcx
Glottolog toda1252[2]

Toda is a Dravidian language noted for its many fricatives and trills. It is spoken by the Toda people, a population of about one thousand who live in the Nilgiri Hills of southern India.

Phonemic inventory


For a Dravidian language, Toda's sixteen vowels is an unusually large number. There are eight vowel qualities, each of which may occur long or short. There is little difference in quality between the long and short vowels, except for /e/, which occurs as [e] when short and as [æː] when long.[3]

Front Central Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close i y ɨ u
Mid e ɵ o
Open æː ɑ


Toda has an unusually large number of fricatives and trills. Its seven places of articulation are the most for any Dravidian language. The voiceless laterals are true fricatives, not voiceless approximants; the retroflex lateral is highly unusual among the world's languages.[3]

Voiceless fricatives are allophonically voiced intervocalically in Toda. There are also the invariably voiced fricatives /ʒ, ʐ, ɣ/, though the latter is marginal. The nasals and /r̠, ɽ͡r, j/ are allophonically devoiced or partially devoiced in final position or next to voiceless consonants.[3]

Labial Denti-
Retroflex Palatal Velar
plain sib. plain pal. plain pal. plain pal.
Nasal m ɳ
voiceless p ts̪ t̻ʃ ʈ k
voiced b dz̪ d̻ʒ ɖ ɡ
Fricative voiceless f θ ʃ ʂ x
voiced ʒ ʐ (ɣ)
Lateral ɬ̪
Approximant ɭ j w
Trill r̘ʲ r̠ʲ ɽ͡r ɽ͡rʲ

All of these consonants may occur in word-medial and -final position. However, only a restricted set occur initially. These are /p, t̪, k, f, s̪, m, n̠, r̘, l̪, j, w/, in boldface above.

Unlike the other dental consonants, /θ/ is interdental. Similarly, /f/ is labiodental whereas the other labials are bilabial.

Apical consonants are either alveolar or postalveolar. The actual feature that distinguishes /r̘/ and /r̠/ is uncertain. They have the same primary place of articulation. Spajić and colleagues have found that the rhotic that may occur word initially (erroneously called "dental" in previous literature, perhaps because Dravidian coronals tend to be dental by default) has a secondary articulation, which they have tentatively identified as advanced tongue root until further measurements can be made. This analysis is assumed in the transcription /r̘/.

Another difference between them is that /r̘/ is the least strongly trilled, most often occurring with a single contact. However, unlike a flap, multiple contacts are normal, if less common, and /r̘/ is easily distinguishable from the other trills when they are all produced with the same number of contacts.

The retroflex consonants are subapical. Retroflex /ɽ͡r/ is more strongly trilled than the other rhotics. However, it is not purely retroflex. Although the tongue starts out in a sub-apical retroflex position, trilling involves the tip of the tongue, and this causes it to move forward toward the alveolar ridge. This means that the retroflex trill gives a preceding vowel retroflex coloration the way other retroflex consonants do, but that the vibration itself is not much different from the other trills.

See also

  • E. E. Speight who was compiling a Toda grammar in the period before his death[4]

External links


  1. Toda at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Toda". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Spajić et al. (1994)
  4. Walsh, R R (15 April 1953). "Ernest Speight - A Portrait". The Sunday Statesman. During his retirement he lived alone, devoting himself to the care of his fascinating library and extensive collection of Japanese art treasures and antiques. and the study of the language and customs and mythology of the Nilgiri hill tribes, the Badagas. He was compiling a Toda grammar when he died<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Emeneau, Murray B. 1984. Toda Grammar and Texts. American Philosophical Society, Memoirs Series, 155. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.
  • Siniša Spajić, Peter Ladefoged, P. Bhaskararao, 1994. "The rhotics of Toda". In UCLA Working Papers in Phonetics 87: Fieldwork Studies of Targeted Languages II.