Together with its closest relative, Mansi, Khanty forms the Ob-Ugric group of languages. It was previously thought that Hungarian and the Ob-Ugric languages were also closely related and belonged to the Ugric languages. Today, this classification has to some extent been abandoned.

There are around 30,000 Khantys, of whom 8,000 are native speakers of Khanty. The speaking area of Khanty is large, and this is why there are also major differences between dialects. Consequently, we often talk about the Khanty languages rather than dialects. Most of these dialects/languages only have a few hundred speakers. Khanty has three main dialect groups: East, South and North Khanty. The big differences between the dialects are reflected in features such as the major variation in the number of grammatical cases. There are 3 cases in North Khanty, 10–11 in the East Khanty and 6 in the South Khanty dialect group.

The first book printed in Khanty was the Gospel of Matthew published in 1868. This was followed by alphabet books in 1897 (Obdorsk dialect) and in 1903 (Vakh dialect). The development of a literary language began in the 1930s, and in the 1930s to 1950s period a total of five literary languages were created for Khanty due to the major dialectal differences.

Today, there are two literary languages, based on the Kazym and Shuryshkar dialects of North Khanty. The most commonly used is the literary language based on the Kazym variety. There are no clear norms for the literary languages, and this is why different writers may write the language in their own specific ways.

Hănty jasaŋ [Khanty Word] is a weekly four-page tabloid newspaper in Khanty. Articles are published in the four dialects of Khanty. The print run of the paper is 815 (in 2010). The paper also features a monthly children’s supplement in Khanty (Khatlyi).