The Tani peoples are a complex of languages and ethnic groups spreading from the Tibetan Plateau down to the valley of the Brahmaputra, principally in Arunachal Pradesh. They are also known as ‘Mirish’ and ‘Mishingish’ in some linguistic studies, but Tani is used here. It is generally considered they are Tibeto-Burman, although they contain much innovative lexicon. The Milang language, although full of Tani roots, is hard to relate directly to the other languages, and is probably not Tani, but rather a phylum provisionally called Siangic, of which the other member is Koro.


The most puzzling aspect of Tani is its relatively recent expansion; the Tani languages are all closely related which suggests that they must have expanded relatively recently, perhaps around 1500 years ago. This expansion must have assimilated many languages in central Arunachal Pradesh, although we believe that their traces can be discovered in substrate vocabulary. In particular, it may be that the specialised language used by shamans retains traces of this. The homeland of the Tani is also a subject for speculation, as they exploit so many different ecozones. It seems likely that they were not originally plains people and that their spread to the valley of the Brahmaputra is recent. However, whether they originated high up towards the Tibetan Plateau and spread down, or in the mid-ranges and spread into higher altitudes is still unknown. It is notable that the Tani root for ‘millet’ strongly resembles other Sino-Tibetan languages and indeed Old Chinese. As a consequence, it may be the adoption of millet cultivation was crucial in stimulating their spread. It is also notable that many Tani oral traditions trace their origins to Tibet, although this may be a later construct.


The table lists all the known Tani groups, defined by ethnicity. The languages they speak are not always very distinctive and may well run into one another. However, this is how the literature is organised.


The Tani-speaking peoples
































Hill Miri













The following are also listed in the Ethnologue as possible dialects of Tani: Komkar, Pangi, Shimong, Sagli, south Aya, Leli. Without further information, their distinctiveness is left open.




Cooper, T.T. 1873. The Mishmee Hills. London: Henry S. King and Co.

Dalton, E.J. T. 1845. Report of his visit to the Hills in the neighbourhood of the Soobanshiri river. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (14,1): 250-267.

Dalton, Edward J. Tuite. 1845. On the Meris and the Abors of Assam. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal 14, part 1: 426–30.

Das Gupta, Kamalesh. 1976. Agglutination in Adi languages of Arunachal. Resarun 2.4: 18-21.

DeLancey, Scott. 1991. Mirish languages. International encyclopaedia of linguistics, Vol. 2, ed. by William Bright, 431. New York: Oxford University Press.

Duff-Sutherland-Dunbar, George. 1915. Abors and Galongs. Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 5 (Extra number).

Dunbar, G. D-S. 1916. Abors and Galongs. Part 1: Notes on certain hill-tribes of the Indo-Tibetan border; part 2: Anthropometric section (by J. Coggin and S.W. Kemp); Part 3: Personal narrative of a visit to Pemakoichen. Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol 5. Calcutta: Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal.  

Konow, Sten. 1909. Abor-Miri and Dafla. Linguistic survey of India, ed. by G. A. Grierson, 584-602. Calcutta: Superintendent of Goverment Printing.

Konow, Sten. 1909. North Assam group. Linguistic survey of India, ed. by G. A. Grierson, 568-72. Calcutta: Superintendent of Government Printing.

Marrison, Geoffrey Edward. 1988. The Adi-Dafla languages of North-east India: a sketch. Prosodic analysis and Asian linguistics: to honour R. K. Sprigg (Pacific Linguistics C-104), ed. by David Bradley, Eug*nie J. A. Henderson and Martine Mazaudon, 205-222. Canberra: ANU.

Negi, Dev Singh. 1996. A Tryst with the Mishmi Hills. New Delhi: Tushar Publications.

Padun, Mahendra. 1971. A note on the North Assam Tibeto-Burman languages. Assam Academy Review 1: 86-103. [Ref. to Aka (Hruso), Dafla, Adi, Galong, Mishmi]

Ramirez, P. 1987. Esprits ennemis, esprits alliés: la cosmologie politique des sociétés de l'Arunachal Pradesh, Inde. Journal Asiatique 277 (3-4): 263-298.

Robinson, William. 1855. Notes on the languages spoken by the Mishmis. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (Calcutta) 24: 307-24.

Sun, Jackson T. S. 1993. A historical-comparative study of the Tani (Mirish) branch in Tibeto-Burman. PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.

Sun, Jackson T. S. 1993. The Linguistic Position of Tani (Mirish) in Tibeto-Burman: A Lexical Assessment. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 16.2: 143-188.

Sun, Jackson T. S. 2003. Tani languages. The Sino-Tibetan languages, ed. by Graham Thurgood & Randy J. LaPolla, 456-466. London & New York: Routledge.