Identification. Munda refers primarily to a group of Languages, but the tribes that speak those languages have collectively become known to scholarship by the same name. Individually, ethnic designations are (with important alternatives in parentheses): Korku, Santal (including the Mahali Subgroup), Munda, Ho, Bhumij, Birhor, Asur, Turi, Korwa, Kora, Kharia, Juang, Sora (Saora, Savara), Gorum (Parenga), Gadaba, Remo (Bondo, Bonda), and Gataq (Didayi, Dire). Some of these names (especially Kharia, Sora, and Gadaba) are shared with local groups of non-Munda speakers. The term "Munda" appears to be derived from a Sanskritic root meaning "substantial, wealthy," later "head," hence "headman"; it was thus originally a term applied by outsiders, a usage that became especially consolidated under the British regime. The word "Kol" (Kolarian), although pejorative, is probably really a corruption of their own hor, kor, etc., meaning "man," common in the north of their area but replaced by remo in southern Orissa, India.
Location. The Korku are located in southwest Madhya Pradesh and are isolated from other Munda. The last five groups in the list above are found mainly in the Koraput and Ganjam districts of southern Orissa. The remainder are found mainly on and around the Chota Nagpur Plateau—that is, in southern Bihar, northern Orissa, eastern Madhya Pradesh, and western West Bengal, with an outlier of Korwa in Mirzapur District, Uttar Pradesh. There are also some Santal in southeast Nepal (where they are called Satar), Bhutan, and northern Bangladesh.
Demography. There are just over 6 million Munda speakers, two-thirds of whom belong to just one tribe, the Santal, one of the largest tribes on earth. Other large groups of Munda speakers (with census figures in parentheses) are the Korku (275,654 in 1971), Munda (1,181,151 in 1971), Ho (538,124 in 1971), Kharia (274,540 in 1971), and Sora (521,187 in 1971). The rest number a few thousand each at the most, the Birhor 4,300 in 1971. Together they constitute well under 1 percent of the total Indian population.
Linguistic Affiliation. Munda is the westernmost branch of the Austroasiatic Language Family, which is otherwise associated mainly with continental Southeast Asia. The connection is remote and has been a matter of controversy but today is generally accepted: it manifests itself in common lexemes rather than any similarities in grammar, word morphology, or phonology. Literacy is generally low, and most literature is oral rather than written. However, missionaries and tribal educators have reduced many texts to writing, using the Roman script or one of the regional Indian scripts. There are also two dedicated tribal scripts, one for Santali (called ol cemit ), the other for Ho.