Toda language

Toda is a Dravidian language well known 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.

Front Central Back
Close i y 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 apical coronals are marginally postalveolar, and are sometimes judged to be alveolar instead.) The voiceless laterals are true fricatives, not voiceless approximants; the retroflex is highly unusual among the world's languages.

Toda voiceless fricatives are allophonically voiced intervocalically. (There are also invariably voiced fricatives, , though the latter is marginal.) The nasals and are allophonically devoiced or partially devoiced in final position or next to voiceless consonants.

  Labial Inter-
Apical Laminal domed
Retroflex Palatal Velar
Plain Palata-
Plain Palata-
Nasal    ɳ
Plosive t̠  d̠ ʈ  ɖ
Affricate ts̪  dz̪ t̻ʃ  d̻ʒ
Fricative θ    s̠    ʃ̻  ʒ̻ ʂ  ʐ x (ɣ)
Lateral fricative ɬ̪    ɬ̢   
Trill    r̘ʲ
   ɽ͡r    ɽ͡rʲ
Lateral approximant    ɭ

All of these consonants may occur in word-medial and -final position. However, only a restricted set occur initially. These are in boldface above.

Apical consonants are either alveolar or postalveolar. The actual feature that distinguishes is obscure. They have the same primary place of articulation. Spajić et al. have found that the rhotic which 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.

Retroflex consonants are sub-apical.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



  • 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.

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