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Maithili, also known as Maitli, Maitili, Methli,Tirahutia, Bihari, Tirhuti, and Tirhutia, is a member of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family. Its closest relatives are Magahi and Bhojpuri. Maithili is spoken in India, primarily in the state of Bihar, as well as in Nepal. The term Maithili comes from Mithila, an independent Indian state in ancient times. Relatively little is known about the history and origin of Maithili due to lack of written records, the earliest of which date back only to the 8th century AD.

Bihar map

  • India
    Maithili, is spoken by  34.7 million people in India. It is is one of the 22 official languages of India. It is a prestige language spoken by Brahmin and other high castes, and by educated Hindus. In addition, it is widely used in informal settings and at home in both rural and urban communities. Maithili is used in education, mass media, such as magazines, newspapers, radio, TV, and film, as well as in literature.
  • Nepal
    Maithili is by 2.8 million people in Nepal. It is the second most widely used languages in Nepal, spoken by both high and low castes. It is used in informal situations, as well as in education, and in the mass media.


Ethnologue identifies the following mutually intelligible dialects of Maithili which are based more on caste than on geographic variation. Brahmin and non-Brahmin dialects have very high lexical similarity.

Standard Maithili Jolaha
Southern Standard Maithili Central Colloquial Maithili
Eastern Maithili Kisan
Western Maithili Dehati


Sound system

Maithili’s sound system is similar to that of other Indo-Aryan languages.

Maithili has 8 vowels which can be oral or nasal. In romanization, nasalization is represented by a tilde over the vowel, e.g., nasalized /a/ is represented by /ã/.

  • /i/ = ea in peat
  • /e/ = e in pet
  • /æ/ = a in pat
  • /ə/ = a in ago
  • /a/ = a in bar
  • /u/ = oo in too
  • /o/ = o in token
  • /ɔ/ = o in bog


Maithili has 26 consonant phonemes, i.e., sounds that make a difference in word meaning. Most consonants can be geminated (doubled). Consonants in parentheses occur very infrequently, mostly in borrowed words.

Stops unaspirated voiceless
aspirated voiceless
unaspirated voiced
aspirated voiced
Fricatives voiceless
Affricates unaspirated voiceless
aspirated voiceless
unaspirated voiced
aspirated voiced
Nasals .
Laterals .
Flap or tap .
Approximant .
  • There is a contrast between aspirated vs. unaspirated stops and affricates, including voiced ones, e.g., p—pʰ, t—tʰ, k—kʰ, b—bʰ, d—dʰ, g—gʰ, dʒ – dʒʰ, etc. Aspirated consonants are produced with a strong puff of air.
  • There is a contrast between and apical vs. retroflex consonants, e.g., /t/ – /ʈ/, /d/ – /ɖ/, /n/ – /ɳ/. Apical consonants are produced with the tip of the tongue touching the roof of the mouth, whereas retroflex consonants are produced with the tongue curled, so that its underside comes in contact with the roof of the mouth.
  • /ʂ/ has no equivalent in English
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chop
  • /dʒ/ = j in job
  • /.ɳ/ = first n in canyon
  • /ŋ/ = ng in song
  • /ɽ/ = r in hurt
  • /ʋ/ can be realized as /w/ or /v/.
  • /j/ = y in yet


Stress and pitch
Stress in Maithili does not distinguish word meaning. Primary stress in a word usually falls on the penultimate (one before last) syllable or on a heavy syllable closest to it. There are three levels of pitch associated with stress: unstressed syllables carry low pitch, syllables with secondary stress carry medium pitch, and syllables with primary stress have a high pitch.


Maithili is a highly inflected language that uses suffixes and postpositions to express grammatical relations.

Nouns, adjectives, pronouns
Maithili nouns are marked for the following categories:

  • Gender in animate nouns is determined by sex, e.g., bap ‘father’ is masculine, maelmæ ‘mother’ is feminine. Verbs sometimes agree with their subjects in gender, mostly in formal style.
  • Number: singular and plural.
  • Traditional grammars list six cases: nominativeaccusativedativegenitivegenitiveinstrumental, and ablative. However, there are no case endings. Instead, case relations are expressed by postpositions.
  • There are two classes of adjectives: indefinite and definite. Definite adjectives are marked by a suffix, while indefinite adjectives are unmarked.
  • Pronouns are inflected for person (1st, 2nd, 3rd), number, case and honorificity. 2nd and 3rd person pronouns have high-honorific, honorific, mid-honorific, and non-honorific forms. These forms require corresponding verbal inflections.


The verb system of Maithili is extremely complex. Verbs agree in person with their subjects and occasionally with their objects. A typical verb in Maithili consists of the following components: verb stem + tense marker + mood marker + person/honorific marker (for agreement with the subject of the verb). Verbs are inflected for the following categories:


Word order
The typical word order in declarative sentences is Subject – Object – Verb. Modifiers generally precede the nouns they modify.


The basic vocabulary of Maithili is Sanskrit in origin, but over the years Maithili has borrowed words from English, HindiBengali, as well as other neighboring Indo-Aryan languages.


Below are Maithili numerals 1-10 in romanization.



Maithili has a long literary tradition and close to half of all Maithili speakers are literate in their native language as well as a second or third language, such as Hindi or Bengali, and English. It was the literary language of all of eastern India in medieval times and was an official language of the court. It was traditionally written in the Mithilakshar script which is most closely related to the Bengali script. The close relationship of Maithili to Bengali, and more distantly to the Oriya, and Assamese scripts, is due to their common origin from the Proto-Bengali script which, in turn, developed from the Brahmi script around 1,000 AD. An effort is underway to preserve the Maithili script and to develop it for use in digital media by encoding the script in the Unicode standard. Maithili was also written in the Kaithi script, but the Devanagari script is the script most commonly used for writing Maithili today.

Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Maithili:

.Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Maithili


Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Maithili?
There is no data on the difficulty of Maithili for speakers of English but it should be comparable to that of Hindi.

17 Responses to Maithili

  1. Raj Kumar Jha

    In India Maithili is not spoken by Brahmins and high caste people only. Maithili is spoken by all people residing in Mithila. Maithils don’t speak Bengali. Please check your facts. Nevertheless, thanks for writing about Maithili.

    • Irene Thompson

      Thanksfor the correction.

    • Steven Ondrus

      Raj – do you speak this language? I am working with a bi-lingual student that I suspect knows some of this language. I frequently says “hadda dia”. Not sure how to spell that. Does this sound like something familiar? Trying to figure it out for months!

      • Rahul Jha

        Hadda dia could be either Hindi or Maithili.In both languages it means the same “removed it”

  2. Soumitra Bose

    Bangla is a derived form of Maithili prakrit. the tirhuta script is slightly modified into Bangla script or Bangakshar. Elderly people of the Mithila region still use the Tirhuta script. Bengalees & Assamese can all read Tirhuta and Maithili. Maithili is a very rich and old language and maintains the old Maithili Prakrit [ the latter word means that it is found naturally – derived from Prakriti], it is therefore older than Sanskrit- because Sanskrit means that which has been reformed – Sanskar] Nagari script is now imposed on Maithili and the civil society of Mithila does not seem to be sensitive or reactive on that issue- this is sad. Efforts of reviving Maithili in Tirhuta script has still not acquired the critical mass to make a telling movement!

    • shyam narayan

      we should give importance to hindi over maithli for unity.i am from madhubani a mithlia region

      • Irene Thompson

        Please elaborate on what you mean. Be more specific.


        This is a common misconception among Biharis and UP guys where they say and think that “hindi” will bring unity in country. These people fail to understand that unity comes from respecting each other’s diversity and having self respect for one’s own identity. Hindi is a common language but Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Punjabi, Gujrati, Maithili, Bhojpuri, Bangla are mother tongues of millions in India. Imposing one language on all will not only kill the diversity but will also bring insurgency in India. Giving importance is subjective. Maithili needs importance among its own people but when a Maithil talks with a non maithil, the language can be either hindi or english. Language doesnt bring unity, but hearts of people do.

        • Irene Thompson

          It depends what is meant by “unity”. It means different things to different people.

  3. Rahul Jha

    Maithili I think is the worst affected language due to the imposition of Hindi.I doubt whether the young generation of mithila knows that Maithili has it’s own script. Maithils who have left the countryside teach their kids Hindi putting the distant future of this language at risk.Maithili is one of the sweetest languages you did ever hear 🙂

  4. umesh kumar jha

    Maithili language is not difficulty for learning. It has similarity of hindi language. But script is different. Hindi script is devnagri. Some example in hindi to maithili : Wood (in English) means Lakri and same in maithili.
    Another example – Animal (in english) means pashu and same in maithili.


    I am also from sitamarhi district. And I am ashamed that now the parents are putting pressure on their kids to learn english and all languages but they forgot their own mother land’s language i.e. maithili. I have a small reqluest to all the mithilaas……plzzz teach maithili to your children.

  6. Rajeev Kumar Jha

    I am also from Madhubani district
    I have a small reqluest to all the mithilaas……plzzz teach maithili to your children.

  7. Amit Chandrana

    I am a native speaker of Maithili as well as a Researcher working on the Verbal Morphology of Maithili.I request the owner of this site to add a large amount of linguistic works on Maithili, especially related to the verbal system of this language as it is highly complex. It is also going to be quite useful for the upcoming researchers of Maithili. Thank you for this initiation.

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for the suggestion. I know that there is a large body of linguistic literature on Maithili. However, we try to keep this website at the level of non-specialist. Hence, as you may have noticed, we do not include the type of material you suggest in our pages.

      • Mr Ambikanand Jha

        Good work. Thanks n congratulations. Bahut dhanywad.


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