Languages of the NE->Garo


        Garo speakers are primarily found in Meghalaya particularly in the west and the east Garo hills district. In the Brahmaputra valley the Garos are found mainly in the adjoining areas of the south Kamrup district and sporadically found in the Dhubri, Goalpara and the Darrang districts also. The Garos are divided into five different groups : Achik, Abeng or Ambeng, Awe, Ruga and Atong (see Boro-Garo group in the section on Assam). Achik is the standard dialect and has a well developed written form. It may be mentioned here that Ruga and Atong along with Rabha, Tintekia Koch and Koch form a distinct sub group within the Boro Garo group of languages. While Abeng or Ambeng, Achik and Awe comprise another group.

        According to Playfair, Tintekiya Koch and Rabha shared common features with Atong and Ruga which are not shared by the other Garo sub groups. The following examples prove such a claim.

Achik Ruga Atong T.Koch Rabha meaning.
atsak kui kui a kui ki dog.
dza tsaNne rarek naNrek raNrek moon.
sko dikim dukum a dukum dikam head.

        However, a recent survey conducted for this study has come across some more dialects as shown below:

The Matchi dialect is spoken in the central highlands on the upper reaches of the Simsang river.

The Chibok dialect is spoken in the upper Bhugi Valley.

Another such dialect Dual is spoken in the upper reaches of Simsang.

Chisak occupies a contiguous position from Matchi whereas Dual is much spoken in the South.

Gara Ganching is spoken in the mid south eastern portion West of Atong.

        All the dialects bear a strong resemblance to each other, each showing dialect variations, with the Atong and Ruga dialects presenting the greatest variation. As such the Garos from other parts of Garo Hills can make themselves understood except in the Atong and the Ruga speaking areas.

        The Garo language has a rich varied vocabulary, but prior to the advent of the American Baptist missionaries, no attempt has been made to compile the Garo words. The richness of the Garo language and vocabulary is manifested in the oral and traditional literature of the Garos like , Katta Agana (Epic Lore), Katta Sailing, (A type of folk-song) Doroa (folk song) and Minggrapa (Lamentation during the wake).

        It was only during the period of (1788-89) that John Eliot, the commissioner of Dacca, attempted to compile the Garo vocabulary for the first time.

        It may be noted here that " this language makes little use of the devices of internal change or suppletion. Reduplication is utilized to a considerable extent, but the preponderant grammatical device is affixation, particularly the use of suffixes, which is carried to such an extent that the language might almost be labeled as ‘agglutinative,’. (R.Burling 1961).

Adjectives in Garo

        Adjectives in Garo, generally follow the noun they qualify, the case ending being in that case attached to the adjective and not to the nouns. They undergo no change to make them agree with the gender and number of the noun. Comparison is expressed by the dative case of the noun, to which is added some word meaning ‘than’. The Garo numerals, take varying prefixes according to the class of objects to which they are applied. When human beings are referred to, sak# is prefixed; for irrational animals the corresponding prefix is ma#ng , and for inanimate objects ge#.

The Verb System in Garo

        The verb is an important phenomenon in the Garo language. Normally a verb is formed by a verb root plus suffix. In Garo there is no separate suffix used in verb to indicate the person of the subject as illustrated below:

                    na# reba#bo come

                    reba (vb.rt) + bo (suffix).

Similarly,         reba#ha# come reba (vb.rt.) + ha# (suff.)

                    reba#gen will come reba (vb.rt.) + gen (suff.)

The verb in Garo shows three prominent tenses as in other Tibeto-Burman languages; past, present, and future. These tenses are again divided into certain classes as noted below, with examples with the vb.rt. doka ‘to do’.

present simple ana daka . I do.
present continuous. ana dakena I am doing
present perfect continuous ana dakjok I have done.


past simple . ana dakaha I did.
Past continuous ana dakatsim I did.
Past remote . ana dakonatsim I was doing.
Plu perfect. ana dakahatsim I had done.
Plu perfect continuous. ana dakenahatsim I had been doing.


Future simple. ana dakgen I shall do.

Future immediate. ana dakginok

dak nasia . I (emphatic) do

dak gini

        The verbs in Garo shows "four moods" namely indicative, imperative, infinitive and subjunctive. These are also indicated by various suffixes i.e., mood markers added to the verb root. It is very interesting to note that there is no separate mood markers for the indicative mood in Garo verbs. Other moods of verbs are identified by different suffixes.

Imperative mood: This mood is indicated by the suffixes -bo in 2nd person, -tsina/-tson in 3rd person. But the use of -tson is restricted as it is used just to mean granting permission. Example:

-bo na saden-bo you stand up.

-tsina ca -tsina let him eat.


Infinitive mood: Only -na suffix indicates the infinitive mood of the verb in Garo. Example:

ua tusi-na sika he wishes to sleep.


Subjective mood: This is indicated by the suffix -oda used in present simple and future simple tenses. The suffix -gentsin indicates the past tense. Example.

na reba-o-de ana kusi ongen. If you come I will be happy.
uko nik-gentsim,ana uko dok-gentsim. If I had seen him, I would have struck him.

 The negative formation of the verbs in Garo is indicated by prefixing da- ‘not/no’ to the principal verb root. Such a verb with da- prefix always takes either -a or -bo suffix. Generally a verb root ending with a consonant takes -a otherwise -bo suffix. As for example:
ana da-nik-a I don’t see, ma da-reba-bo you don’t come.

Meanwhile it may be mentioned here that in present indicative , instead of the da- prefix, ja- suffix is added to the verb to form negation in Garo. This is a peculiarity of the Garo negative verb. For example:

ana kean-ja

I don’t go.


There are some other peculiar methods of negative formation in the Garo language. Such as:

Present Perfect and Past Simple by suffixing : kuja not yet.

Plu perfect by suffixing : kuja not/no which is used just like the infix in Garo.

Future simple by suffixing : jawa will not . example: bia reba-jawa he will not come.

Personal deictic or markers:

        The use of personal markers in regard to various kinship terms in reference to age and rank of the person concerned is as interesting phenomenon. In Garo such markers are attached before a noun within a phrase as in :


phag + gi + pa

my + marker + father.


        The extensive use of classifiers in Garo is a feature to be noted. This is an extensive class of morphemes which occur directly before a noun. The combination of such classifiers with a noun or a numeral in constructing phrases, also occur abundantly. Following are some frequently used classifiers:

/sak/ for people of all sorts, even Gods and ghosts.
/may/ for animals.
/ge/ for all objects of daily use and also for fingers.
/kiN/ for thin flat things.
/pat/ for paper.
/miN/ for words, stories, songs, etc
/roN/ for round objects.
/poN/ for hollow cylindrical objects.
/goN/ for rope-like things.
/te/ for houses, rice pots, cups and other hollow objects.
/goN/ for bank notes.
/paN/ for plants and trees.
/baN/ for parts of a whole
/dot/ for things that stick out from the ground
/nok/ for households.
/jak/ for leaves and pages of books
/gar/ for bunches of things.
/pak/ for half of anything.

The following sentences show the combination of noun+classifier+numeral as mentioned above

mikroN roN sa

eye classifier one

reka kiN gittam

paper classifier three

The Phonemic inventory of the Garo Language is as follows:
  Bilabial alveolar velar glottal
plosive p b


t d


k g


nasal m n N  
fricative   s    
affricate   ts dz    
trill   r    
lateral   l    
Semi vowel w    
i   w u
e   o


[p] : occurs in the initial and medial positions.

prwNni morning star. tsidiplek puddle
potas potash. rupa silver.

[b] : occurs in the initial and medial positions.

balwa air. salnabal sunrise.
balmanduri whirlwind. tsibanna flood.


[t] : occurs in the initial and medial positions.

tama copper. potas potash.
tin tin. pitolnisil brass.

[d] : occurs in the initial and medial positions.

dw?Na sw?Na hot coal adupe mud.
    a?dema powder.

[k] : occurs in the medial and final positions.

tsa?lwkom shade. agalsak world
    tsidiplek puddle

[g] : occurs in the initial and medial positions.

guri fog aNgal coal.

[?] : occurs only in the medial position.

a?a earth/ground.
a?stHe clay

[pH] : occurs in the initial and medial positions.

pHrwNni dawn. dzadzoNou sappHaul rabbit in moon

[tH] : occurs in the initial and medial positions.

tHeNa spark. ottHelaigapa nature.
tHe?Na light.    

[ts] : occurs in the initial and medial positions.

tsibol lake. tsitsaN island.
tsi water.    
tsatsi relation.    

[kH] : occurs in the initial and medial positions.

kHari salt. pukHri pond.

[m] : occurs in the initial, medial and the final positions.

mwkHa rain. tama copper tsa?lwkom shade.

[n] : occurs in the medial and the final positions.

sona gold. tin tin.

[N] :occurs in the medial and final positions.

aNdula dark. dzagroN shadow

[s] : occurs in the initial and medial positions.

sal sun sisa lead.
suri snow a?stHe clay.

[dz] : occurs in the initial and medial positions.

dzagroN shadow. dzadzoN moon.
dzroNa to melt.    

[r] : occurs in the initial and medial positions.

ro?oN stone. kHari salt.
rupa silver    

[l] : occurs in the initial, medial and final positions.

latHam andula dusk balwa wind sal day