An insatiable appetite for ancient and modern tongues

Alternative Names: Odia is now the official name of the language but Oriya is still widely used.

Classification: Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Modern Indo-Aryan, Eastern. Oriya is closely related to Bengali and Assamese.

Overview. Oriya is one of the many regional languages of India belonging to the Indo-Aryan branch of Indo-European. It was born in what is now the state of Orissa in the northeast of the country at a period when political fragmentation was giving way to a unified kingdom under the Oriental Ganga dynasty (10-11th centuries), a time that also saw the flourishing of a major style of Hindu architecture.

Distribution: Oriya is spoken mainly in the states of Orissa and Chhattisgarh in eastern India. There also significant numbers of Oriya speakers in Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Assam.

Speakers. Around 38 million in the following Indian states:






Andhra Pradesh


West Bengal









Status. Oriya is the official language of the Indian state of Orissa and one of the 23 official languages established in the Constitution of India.

Varieties. There are four dialects in the state of Orissa: Standard Oriya, prevalent in the capital Bhubaneshwar and in the districts of Cuttak and Puri, and Western, Northern, and Southern dialects, prevalent in the western, northern and southern regions of the state, respectively. The last three are influenced by the languages spoken in neighboring states (Hindi in the west, Bengali in the north and Telugu in the south). Two Oriya stylistic forms can be distinguished: formal and informal, the former using more Sanskrit loanwords and restricted mainly to writings.

Oldest Documents

1249. The first known inscription containing whole sentences in Oriya, though traces of Oriya words can be found in earlier inscriptions (from the 7th century onwards).

1200-1300. Palm-leaf chronicles of the Jagannatha temple at Puri.

1400-1500. The first literary texts.


Vowels (11). All except [o] have nasal counterparts and nasalization (indicated by a tilde) is phonemic. In Oriya, like in the other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages (Bengali, Assamese), the short and long vowels typical of Indo-Aryan have merged. Most words end in a vowel.


Consonants (31). Oriya has 31 consonants in total, including 20 stops, 2 fricatives, 4 nasals, and 5 liquids/glides. The stops are articulated at five different places, being classified as labial, dental, retroflex, palatal and velar. The palatal stops are, in fact, affricates. Every series of stops includes voiceless and voiced consonants, unaspirated and aspirated, this four-way contrast being unique to Indo-Aryan among Indo-European languages (Proto-Indoeuropean had a three-way contrast only).

    The retroflex consonants of Oriya, articulated immediately behind the alveolar crest, are not from Indo-European origin. They are, probably, the result of Dravidian language influence. Oriya has a retroflex liquid not inherited from Sanskrit.


In Oriya, like in Bengali and Assamese, the three sibilants of Sanskrit have coalesced into one fricative (s in Oriya, ʃ in Bengali, x in Assamese).

Script and Orthography

Oriya uses its own script, a descendant of Brāhmī. The Oriya script is an abugida alphabet in which every consonant carries the inherent vowel [ɔ]. Its principles are similar to those of the Devanāgarī alphabet (see Hindi). However, Oriya letters resemble those of Dravidian scripts.

The Oriya script has signs for short and long vowels (ā, ī, ū) but in informal speech they are all pronounced short.

The vowel [ɔ] is transliterated a. The syllabic vowel ṛ is present only in Sanskrit loanwords.

In the original script nasalization is marked by a dot or candrabindu (a dot inside the lower half of a circle) above the vowel while in transliteration is indicated by a tilde above the vowel.

The aspirated stops and affricates are rendered as digraphs (pʰ = ph, dʰ = dh, etc).

The retroflex stops [ʈ], [ɖ] are transliterated ṭ , ḍ.

The affricates [tʃ], [dʒ] are transliterated c , j.

The Oriya script has three signs for sibilants (ś, ṣ, s) but they are all pronounced [s].

The nasals [ɳ], [ŋ] are rendered ṇ, ṅ. There is a sign for the nasal palatal (ñ) in the script but it is not pronounced in native words.

The retroflex liquid [ɭ] is transliterated ḷ.

The glide [w] is transliterated v.

The glide [j] has two signs (y, ẏ); generally y occurs in initial position and ẏ does not.


  1. Nominal

  2. gender: Oriya, like other Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, has no grammatical gender but distinguishes male and female beings. Feminine nouns and adjectives derive from masculine nouns by suffixing with -ā, -i, -i, -āi, -ui, etc. Some adjectives have no feminine forms and, even when they have one, their masculine forms can still be used to qualify feminine nouns.

  1. ḍāktar (male 'doctor') → ḍaktarāṇi (female 'doctor')

  2. sundara ('beautiful' male) → sundari ('beautiful' female)

  3. dusṭa ('wicked' male) → dusṭā ('wicked' female)


  1. number: singular and plural. Plurals of human nouns may be made with the suffix -māne while -guika/guāka is used for non-humans. The latter can be also used for humans who are not respected or as a sign of pity. Another way to pluralize a human noun is to use a numeral followed by jaa ('person') placed before or after the noun. For non-human nouns jaa is not adequate; instead the numeral is suffixed with -ā or -i.

  1. ḍāktar ('doctor') → ḍāktarmāne ('doctors')

  2. dui jaṇa ḍāktar ('two doctors')

  3. ḍāktar dui jaṇa ('two doctors')

  4. bahi ('book') → bahiguḍika ('books')

  5. tini-ṭā bahi ('three books')

  6. bahi tini-ṭā ('three books')

  1. case: nominative, genitive, objective.

  2. The genitive expresses possession and the objective marks the object of the verb. The nominative is unmarked, the genitive is marked with -ra and the objective with -ku. For example: bahi (‘book’), bahira, bahiku.

  1. When a noun or pronoun in the genitive is used attributively the suffix -ra is usually deleted:


  1. attributive: Rāma bahi ('Rama's book') 

  2. predicative: bahi-ṭā Rāmara (This book is Rama's)

  1. Note: ṭa makes the noun definite (see below).

  1. definiteness: to make a singular human noun definite the suffix -ka may be appended to jaa ('person'). For singular non-human nouns -ā or i are employed. Plural nouns are made definite with a demonstrative pronoun.

  2. To make a singular human noun indefinite jae ('one person') is used: for singular non-humans goe ('one'), -e, -ie and -āe are used.

  1. pronouns: personal, demonstrative, interrogative.

  2. Personal pronouns are genderless. Second person pronouns distinguish between several degrees of status. Third person pronouns distinguish between human and non-human as well as between near and far.


  1. Demonstratives are very similar to 3rd person pronouns: e/ei (‘this’, ‘these’), se/sei (‘that’, ‘those’).

  1. Interrogative pronouns and adverbs are kie ('who?'), a ('what?'), kāhāku ('whom?'), kāhiki ('why?'), kete ('how many?'), etc.

  1. Verbal

  2. A conjugated verb includes the root plus a number of suffixes for aspect, auxiliary verb, tense, and agreement with the subject (in that order). Tense and agreement are obligatory.

  1. person and number: 1s, 2s, 3s; 1p inclusive, 1p exclusive 2p, 3p. Besides, honorific and non-honorific are distinguished in the 2nd and 3rd persons.

  1. aspect: progressive, perfect. The progressive or continuous aspect indicates  an incomplete or ongoing action. The perfect aspect expresses a past action relevant to the present.

  1. tense: past, present, future, conditional.

  2. Each of these have a simple, a continuous (or progressive), and a perfect form. There are four possible slots for suffixes in a finite verb:

  1. I.The first slot is reserved for aspect; it is empty in the simple tenses; it is filled by -u- in the continuous tenses and by -i- in the perfect ones. When aspect is marked an auxiliary verb must be used i.e. the next slot has also to be filled.

  1. II.The second slot is reserved for an auxiliary verb which is filled in the continuous and perfect tenses by -(a)ch- or -th(ā)-. The first one can only occur in the present tense while the second has not such restriction.

  1. III.The third slot is for a tense marker. The present marker is zero. The past tense marker is -(i)l-; the future marker is -(i)b-, the conditional marker is -(a)nt-.

  1. IV.The fourth slot is for agreement with the subject in person and number. Some of these personal endings are the same across some persons and tenses but others differ.

  1. For example, the conjugation of as̄  ('come') in the 3rd. singular is as follows:

  1. black: verb root

  1. brown: aspect marker

  1. green: auxiliary verb

  1. red: tense marker

  1. blue: subject agreement.

  1. mood: indicative, imperative-subjunctive.

  2. There are no mood markers but the imperative-subjunctive is differentiated from the indicative by having specific personal markers. It has only present tense which can be simple or continuous. The latter requires the auxiliary verb th(ā); (a)ch is not allowed.

  1. black: verb root

  1. brown: aspect marker

  1. green: auxiliary verb; blue: subject agreement.

  1. non-finite forms: infinitive, conjunctive participle, imperfective participle, perfective participle, conditional participle.

  2. They are formed by adding the suffixes to the stem and don’t agree with the person of the subject though they have tense-aspect connotations.

  1. The infinitive is made by suffixing  -ibā  and is used with postpositions like ku (‘to’) e.g. āsibā ku ('to come').

  2. The conjunctive participle or gerund, formed by suffixing -i, indicates that an action was completed before another one e.g. āsi ('after coming').

  3. The imperfective or present participle, made by suffixing -u and total reduplication, expresses a continuous action e.g. āsu āsu ('coming').

  4. The perfective or past participle, formed by adding to the stem, means a completed action.

  5. The conditional participle is formed with -ile e.g. āsile ('if he/she will come').


The basic, neutral, order is Subject-Indirect Object-Direct Objet-Verb but it can be altered because of emphasis and style. Passive constructions are usually impersonal. Negation is marked with nāhī, na or no.


Lexical borrowings from Sanskrit, Munda languages (Austroasiatic), Dravidian, Perso-Arabic, Turkish, English and Portuguese.

Basic Vocabulary

one: ek

two: dui

three: tin

four: cār

five: pānc

six: cha

seven: sāt

eight: āṭh

nine: na

ten: das

hundred: sahe

father: piara

mother: māā

brother: bhāi

son: puta

daughter: jhi

head: sira

eye: ākhi

heart: hiā

tongue: jibha

Key Literary Works. Heavily influenced by Sanskrit, Oriya literature began as a recreation of the Epics and Puranas, and only towards the end of the 19th century achieved maturity.

1898-1918    Short stories. Fakir Mohan Senapati

  1. The founder of modern Oriya prose.

  1. 1900    Chaa Maana Atha Guntha. (Six Acres and a Third). Fakir Mohan Senapati

  2. A novel depicting the exploitation of landless peasants by a landlord in the 1830s under British colonial rule.

  1. 1944    Dadi Budha (The Ancestor). Gopinath Mohanty

  2. The novel tells the moving story of the disintegration of a tribal community under the impact of modern civilization.

  1. 1945    Paraja (Paraja). Gopinath Mohanty

  2. The protagonist of this novel is a tribal family sinking slowly into bondage to a moneylender.

  1. 1961    Laya Bilaya (High Tide, Ebb Tide). Gopinath Mohanty

  2. This later novel of Mohanty explores the psychology of three members of a middle-class family from Calcutta on a short trip to Puri.

  1. 2005    Gambhiri Gahara (The Dark Abode). Sarojini Sahoo

  2. A love affair between a Hindu housewife and a Pakistani artist conducted through e-mail.

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -'Oriya'. T. S. Ray. In The Indo-Aryan Languages, 485-522. G. Cardona & D. Jain (eds). Routledge (2007).

  2. -The Indo-Aryan Languages. C. P. Masica. Cambridge University Press (1991).

  3. -A Synchronic Grammar of Oriya: Standard Spoke and Written. S. P. Mahapatra. Central Institute of Indian Language (2010).

  1. Top   Home   Alphabetic Index   Classificatory Index   Largest Languages & Families   Glossary



Address comments and questions to: