The Info List - Sino-Tibetan

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Some 40 well-established subgroups, of which those with the most speakers are

Sinitic Tibetic Lolo-Burmese Bodish Karen Bodo–Koch Tamangic Bai Meitei Kachin–Luic

ISO 639-2 / 5 sit

Linguasphere 79- (phylozone)

Glottolog sino1245

Major branches of Sino-Tibetan:

  Sinitic   Lolo-Burmese   Bodish

  Karen   others

The Sino-Tibetan languages, in a few sources also known as Trans-Himalayan, are a family of more than 400 languages spoken in East Asia, Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
and South Asia. The family is second only to Indo-European in terms of the number of native speakers. The Sino-Tibetan languages
Sino-Tibetan languages
with the most native speakers are the varieties of Chinese (1.3 billion speakers), Burmese (42 million), and the Tibetic languages
Tibetic languages
(8 million), but many Sino-Tibetan languages
Sino-Tibetan languages
are spoken by small communities in remote mountain areas and as such are poorly documented. Chinese linguists generally include Tai-Kadai
and Hmong-Mien
languages, but Western linguists do not. Several low-level subgroups have been securely reconstructed, but reconstruction of a proto-language for the family as a whole is still at an early stage, so the higher-level structure of Sino-Tibetan remains unclear. Although the family is traditionally presented as divided into Sinitic (i.e. Chinese) and Tibeto-Burman
branches, a common origin of the non- Sinitic languages has never been demonstrated.


1 History

1.1 Early work 1.2 Shafer and Benedict 1.3 Study of literary languages 1.4 Fieldwork

2 Classification

2.1 Li (1937) 2.2 Benedict (1942) 2.3 Shafer (1955) 2.4 Matisoff (1978) 2.5 Starostin (1996) 2.6 Van Driem (1997, 2001) 2.7 Van Driem (2001) 2.8 Blench and Post (2013)

3 Development of dialects and languages

3.1 Change in word structure 3.2 Change in tone

4 Typology

4.1 Word order 4.2 Morphology 4.3 Classifiers and definite marking

5 Vocabulary 6 External classification 7 Demographics 8 Origin 9 Notes 10 References

10.1 Works cited 10.2 General

11 External links

History[edit] A genetic relationship between Chinese, Tibetan, Burmese and other languages was first proposed in the early 19th century and is now broadly accepted. The initial focus on languages of civilizations with long literary traditions has been broadened to include less widely spoken languages, some of which have only recently, or never, been written. However, the reconstruction of the family is much less developed than for families such as Indo-European or Austroasiatic. Difficulties have included the great diversity of the languages, the lack of inflection in many of them, and the effects of language contact. In addition, many of the smaller languages are spoken in mountainous areas that are difficult to access, and are often also sensitive border zones.[1] Early work[edit] During the 18th century, several scholars had noticed parallels between Tibetan and Burmese, both languages with extensive literary traditions. Early in the following century, Brian Houghton Hodgson
Brian Houghton Hodgson
and others noted that many non-literary languages of the highlands of northeast India and Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
were also related to these. The name "Tibeto-Burman" was first applied to this group in 1856 by James Richardson Logan, who added Karen in 1858.[2][3] The third volume of the Linguistic Survey of India, edited by Sten Konow, was devoted to the Tibeto-Burman
languages of British India.[4] Studies of the "Indo-Chinese" languages of Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
from the mid-19th century by Logan and others revealed that they comprised four families: Tibeto-Burman, Tai, Mon–Khmer and Malayo-Polynesian. Julius Klaproth
Julius Klaproth
had noted in 1823 that Burmese, Tibetan and Chinese all shared common basic vocabulary but that Thai, Mon, and Vietnamese were quite different.[5][6] Ernst Kuhn envisaged a group with two branches, Chinese-Siamese and Tibeto-Burman.[a] August Conrady called this group Indo-Chinese in his influential 1896 classification, though he had doubts about Karen. Conrady's terminology was widely used, but there was uncertainty regarding his exclusion of Vietnamese. Franz Nikolaus Finck in 1909 placed Karen as a third branch of Chinese-Siamese.[7][8] Jean Przyluski introduced the French term sino-tibétain as the title of his chapter on the group in Meillet and Cohen's Les langues du monde in 1924.[9][10] He divided them into three groups: Tibeto-Burman, Chinese and Tai,[9] and was uncertain about the affinity of Karen and Hmong–Mien.[11] The English translation "Sino-Tibetan" first appeared in a short note by Przyluski and Luce in 1931.[12] Shafer and Benedict[edit] In 1935, the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber
Alfred Kroeber
started the Sino-Tibetan Philology Project, funded by the Works Project Administration
Works Project Administration
and based at the University of California, Berkeley. The project was supervised by Robert Shafer until late 1938, and then by Paul K. Benedict. Under their direction, the staff of 30 non-linguists collated all the available documentation of Sino-Tibetan languages. The result was eight copies of a 15-volume typescript entitled Sino-Tibetan Linguistics.[4][b] This work was never published, but furnished the data for a series of papers by Shafer, as well as Shafer's five-volume Introduction to Sino-Tibetan and Benedict's Sino-Tibetan, a Conspectus.[14] Benedict completed the manuscript of his work in 1941, but it was not published until 1972.[15] Instead of building the entire family tree, he set out to reconstruct a Proto- Tibeto-Burman
language by comparing five major languages, with occasional comparisons with other languages.[16] He reconstructed a two-way distinction on initial consonants based on voicing, with aspiration conditioned by pre-initial consonants that had been retained in Tibetic but lost in many other languages.[17] Thus, Benedict reconstructed the following initials:[18]

TB Tibetan Jingpho Burmese Garo Mizo S'gaw Karen Old Chinese[c]

*k k(h) k(h) ~ g k(h) k(h) ~ g k(h) k(h) *k(h)

*g g g ~ k(h) k g ~ k(h) k k(h) *gh

*ŋ ŋ ŋ ŋ ŋ ŋ y *ŋ

*t t(h) t(h) ~ d t(h) t(h) ~ d t(h) t(h) *t(h)

*d d d ~ t(h) t d ~ t(h) d d *dh

*n n n n n n n *n ~ *ń

*p p(h) p(h) ~ b p(h) p(h) ~ b p(h) p(h) *p(h)

*b b b ~ p(h) p b ~ p(h) b b *bh

*m m m m m m m *m

*ts ts(h) ts ~ dz ts(h) s ~ tś(h) s s(h) *ts(h)

*dz dz dz ~ ts ~ ś ts tś(h) f s(h) ?

*s s s s th th θ *s

*z z z ~ ś s s f θ ?

*r r r r r r γ *l

*l l l l l l l *l

*h h ∅ h ∅ h h *x

*w ∅ w w w w w *gjw

*y y y y tś ~ dź z y *dj ~ *zj

Although the initial consonants of cognates tend to have the same place and manner of articulation, voicing and aspiration is often unpredictable.[19] This irregularity was attacked by Roy Andrew Miller,[20] though Benedict's supporters attribute it to the effects of prefixes that have been lost and are often unrecoverable.[21] The issue remains unsolved today.[19] It was cited together with the lack of reconstructable shared morphology, and evidence that much shared lexical material has been borrowed from Chinese into Tibeto-Burman, by Christopher Beckwith, one of the few scholars still arguing that Chinese is not related to Tibeto-Burman.[22][23] Study of literary languages[edit]

Ancient Chinese text on bamboo strips

Old Chinese
Old Chinese
is by far the oldest recorded Sino-Tibetan language, with inscriptions dating from 1200 BC and a huge body of literature from the first millennium BC, but the Chinese script is not alphabetic. Scholars have sought to reconstruct the phonology of Old Chinese
Old Chinese
by comparing the obscure descriptions of the sounds of Middle Chinese
Middle Chinese
in medieval dictionaries with phonetic elements in Chinese characters
Chinese characters
and the rhyming patterns of early poetry. The first complete reconstruction, the Grammata Serica Recensa of Bernard Karlgren, was used by Benedict and Shafer. It was somewhat unwieldy, with many sounds having a highly non-uniform distribution.[24] Later scholars have refined Karlgren's work by drawing on a range of other sources. Some proposals were based on cognates in other Sino-Tibetan languages, though workers have also found solely Chinese evidence for them.[25] For example, recent reconstructions of Old Chinese
Old Chinese
have reduced Karlgren's 15 vowels to a six-vowel system originally suggested by Nicholas Bodman on the basis of comparisons with Tibetic.[26] Similarly, Karlgren's *l has been recast as *r, with a different initial interpreted as *l, matching Tibeto-Burman
cognates, but also supported by Chinese transcriptions of foreign names.[27] A growing number of scholars believe that Old Chinese
Old Chinese
did not use tones, and that the tones of Middle Chinese
Middle Chinese
developed from final consonants. One of these, *-s, is believed to be a suffix, with cognates in other Sino-Tibetan languages.[28]

Old Tibetan
Old Tibetan
text found at Turfan

Tibetic has extensive written records from the adoption of writing by the Tibetan Empire
Tibetan Empire
in the mid-7th century. The earliest records of Burmese (such as the 12th-century Myazedi inscription) are more limited, but later an extensive literature developed. Both languages are recorded in alphabetic scripts ultimately derived from the Brahmi script of Ancient India. Most comparative work has used the conservative written forms of these languages, following the dictionaries of Jäschke (Tibetan) and Judson (Burmese), though both contain entries from a wide range of periods.[29] There are also extensive records in Tangut, the language of the Western Xia
Western Xia
(1038–1227). Tangut is recorded in a Chinese-inspired logographic script, whose interpretation presents many difficulties, even though multilingual dictionaries have been found.[30] Gong Hwang-cherng has compared Old Chinese, Tibetic, Burmese and Tangut in an effort to establish sound correspondences between those languages.[16][31] He found that Tibetic and Burmese /a/ correspond to two Old Chinese
Old Chinese
vowels, *a and *ə.[32] While this has been considered evidence for a separate Tibeto-Burman
subgroup, Hill (2014) finds that Burmese has distinct correspondences for Old Chinese
Old Chinese
rhymes rhymes -ay : *-aj and -i : *-əj, and hence argues that the development *ə > *a occurred independently in Tibetan and Burmese.[33] Fieldwork[edit] The descriptions of non-literary languages used by Shafer and Benedict were often produced by missionaries and colonial administrators of varying linguistic skill.[34][35] Most of the smaller Sino-Tibetan languages are spoken in inaccessible mountainous areas, many of which are politically or militarily sensitive and thus closed to investigators. Until the 1980s, the best-studied areas were Nepal
and northern Thailand.[36] In the 1980s and 1990s, new surveys were published from the Himalayas
and southwestern China. Of particular interest was the discovery of a new branch of the family, the Qiangic languages of western Sichuan
and adjacent areas.[37][38] Classification[edit] Several low-level branches of the family, particularly Lolo-Burmese, have been securely reconstructed, but in the absence of a secure reconstruction of a Sino-Tibetan proto-language, the higher-level structure of the family remains unclear.[39][40] Thus, a conservative classification of Sino-Tibetan/ Tibeto-Burman
would posit several dozen small coordinate families and isolates; attempts at subgrouping are either geographic conveniences or hypotheses for further research. Li (1937)[edit] In a survey in the 1937 Chinese Yearbook, Li Fang-Kuei
Li Fang-Kuei
described the family as consisting of four branches:[41][42]

Indo-Chinese (Sino-Tibetan)

Chinese Tai (later expanded to Kam–Tai) Miao–Yao (Hmong–Mien) Tibeto-Burman

Tai and Miao–Yao were included because they shared isolating typology, tone systems and some vocabulary with Chinese. At the time, tone was considered so fundamental to language that tonal typology could be used as the basis for classification. In the Western scholarly community, these languages are no longer included in Sino-Tibetan, with the similarities attributed to diffusion across the Mainland Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
linguistic area, especially since Benedict (1942).[42] The exclusions of Vietnamese by Kuhn and of Tai and Miao–Yao by Benedict were vindicated in 1954 when André-Georges Haudricourt demonstrated that the tones of Vietnamese were reflexes of final consonants from Proto-Mon–Khmer.[43] Many Chinese linguists continue to follow Li's classification.[d][42] However, this arrangement remains problematic. For example, there is disagreement over whether to include the entire Tai–Kadai family or just Kam–Tai (Zhuang–Dong excludes the Kra languages), because the Chinese cognates that form the basis of the putative relationship are not found in all branches of the family and have not been reconstructed for the family as a whole. In addition, Kam–Tai itself no longer appears to be a valid node within Tai–Kadai. Benedict (1942)[edit] Benedict overtly excluded Vietnamese (placing it in Mon–Khmer) as well as Hmong–Mien
and Tai–Kadai (placing them in Austro-Tai). He otherwise retained the outlines of Conrady's Indo-Chinese classification, though putting Karen in an intermediate position:[44][45]


Chinese Tibeto-Karen

Karen Tibeto-Burman

Shafer (1955)[edit] Shafer criticized the division of the family into Tibeto-Burman
and Sino-Daic branches, which he attributed to the different groups of languages studied by Konow and other scholars in British India
British India
on the one hand and by Henri Maspero
Henri Maspero
and other French linguists on the other.[46] He proposed a detailed classification, with six top-level divisions:[47][48][e]


Sinitic Daic Bodic Burmic Baric Karenic

Shafer was sceptical of the inclusion of Daic, but after meeting Maspero in Paris decided to retain it pending a definitive resolution of the question.[49][50] Matisoff (1978)[edit] James Matisoff abandoned Benedict's Tibeto-Karen hypothesis:


Chinese Tibeto-Burman

Some more-recent Western scholars, such as Bradley (1997) and La Polla (2003), have retained Matisoff's two primary branches, though differing in the details of Tibeto-Burman. However, Jacques (2006) notes, "comparative work has never been able to put forth evidence for common innovations to all the Tibeto-Burman
languages (the Sino-Tibetan languages
Sino-Tibetan languages
to the exclusion of Chinese)"[f] and that "it no longer seems justified to treat Chinese as the first branching of the Sino-Tibetan family,"[g] because the morphological divide between Chinese and Tibeto-Burman
has been bridged by recent reconstructions of Old Chinese. Starostin (1996)[edit] Sergei Starostin
Sergei Starostin
proposed that both the Kiranti languages and Chinese are divergent from a "core" Tibeto-Burman
of at least Bodish, Lolo-Burmese, Tamangic, Jinghpaw, Kukish, and Karen (other families were not analysed) in a hypothesis called Sino-Kiranti. The proposal takes two forms: that Sinitic and Kiranti are themselves a valid node or that the two are not demonstrably close, so that Sino-Tibetan has three primary branches:

Sino-Tibetan (version 1)

Sino-Kiranti Tibeto-Burman

Sino-Tibetan (version 2)

Chinese Kiranti Tibeto-Burman

Van Driem (1997, 2001)[edit] Van Driem, like Shafer, rejects a primary split between Chinese and the rest, suggesting that Chinese owes its traditional privileged place in Sino-Tibetan to historical, typological, and cultural, rather than linguistic, criteria. He calls the entire family "Tibeto-Burman", a name he says has historical primacy,[51] but other linguists who reject a privileged position for Chinese continue to call the resulting family "Sino-Tibetan".[citation needed] Like Matisoff, van Driem acknowledges that the relationships of the "Kuki–Naga" languages (Kuki, Mizo, Meitei, etc.), both amongst each other and to the other languages of the family, remain unclear. However, rather than placing them in a geographic grouping, as Matisoff does, van Driem leaves them unclassified. He has proposed several hypotheses, including the reclassification of Chinese to a Sino-Bodic subgroup:


Western (Baric, Brahmaputran, or Sal)

Dhimal Bodo–Koch Konyak Kachin–Luic


Northern (Sino-Bodic)

Northwestern (Bodic): Bodish, Kirantic, West Himalayish, Tamangic and several isolates Northeastern (Sinitic)


Southwestern: Lolo-Burmese, Karenic Southeastern: Qiangic, Jiarongic

a number of other small families and isolates as primary branches (Newar, Nungish, Magaric, etc.)

Van Driem points to two main pieces of evidence establishing a special relationship between Sinitic and Bodic and thus placing Chinese within the Tibeto-Burman
family. First, there are a number of parallels between the morphology of Old Chinese
Old Chinese
and the modern Bodic languages. Second, there is an impressive body of lexical cognates between the Chinese and Bodic languages, represented by the Kirantic language Limbu.[52] In response, Matisoff notes that the existence of shared lexical material only serves to establish an absolute relationship between two language families, not their relative relationship to one another. Although some cognate sets presented by van Driem are confined to Chinese and Bodic, many others are found in Sino-Tibetan languages generally and thus do not serve as evidence for a special relationship between Chinese and Bodic.[53] Van Driem (2001)[edit] Van Driem has also proposed a "fallen leaves" model that lists dozens of well-established low-level groups while remaining agnostic about intermediate groupings of these.[54] In the most recent version, 42 groups are identified:[55]

Bodish Tshangla West Himalayish Tamangic Newar Kiranti Lepcha Magaric Chepangic Raji–Raute Dura 'Ole Gongduk Lhokpu Siangic Kho-Bwa Hruso Digaro Midzu Tani Dhimal Bodo–Koch + Konyak Ao Angami–Pochuri Tangkhul Zeme Meitei Karbi Sinitic Bai Tujia Lolo-Burmese Qiangic Ersuish Naic rGyalrongic Kachin–Luic Nungish Karenic Pyu Mru Kukish

Van Driem also suggested that the Sino-Tibetan language family be renamed "Trans-Himalayan", which he considers to be more neutral.[56] Blench and Post (2013)[edit] Roger Blench and Mark W. Post have criticized the applicability of conventional Sino-Tibetan classification schemes to minor languages lacking an extensive written history (unlike Chinese, Tibetic, and Burmese). They find that the evidence for the subclassification or even ST affiliation at all of several minor languages of northeastern India, in particular, is either poor or absent altogether.

While relatively little has been known about the languages of this region up to and including the present time, this has not stopped scholars from proposing that these languages either constitute or fall within some other Tibeto-Burman
subgroup. However, in absence of any sort of systematic comparison – whether the data are thought reliable or not – such "subgroupings" are essentially vacuous. The use of pseudo-genetic labels such as "Himalayish" and "Kamarupan" inevitably give an impression of coherence which is at best misleading. — Blench & Post (2013), p. 3

In their view, many such languages would for now be best considered unclassified, or "internal isolates" within the family. They propose a provisional classification of the remaining languages:


Karbi (Mikir) Mruish (unnamed group)

(unnamed group)

Tani Nagish: Ao, Kuki-Chin, Tangkhul, Zeme, Angami–Pochuri and Meitei

(unnamed group)

Western: Gongduk, 'Ole, Mahakiranti, Lepcha, Kham–Magaric–Chepang, Tamangic, and Lhokpu Karenic Jingpho–Konyak–Bodo Eastern

Tujia Bai Northern Qiangic Southern Qiangic (unnamed group)

Chinese (Sinitic) Lolo-Burmese–Naic Bodish


However, because they propose that the three best-known branches may actually be much closer related to each other than they are to "minor" Sino-Tibetan languages, Blench and Post argue that "Sino-Tibetan" or "Tibeto-Burman" are inappropriate names for a family whose earliest divergences led to different languages altogether. They support the proposed name "Trans-Himalayan". Development of dialects and languages[edit] Change in word structure[edit] The phenomenon of drift, proposed by American linguist Edward Sapir, occurred in many languages and dialects in the Sino-Tibetan family. Proto-Chinese and Proto- Tibeto-Burman
are both agglutinative languages. The change in Proto-Chinese to Old Chinese
Old Chinese
around the Shang Dynasty could be found in the Book of songs when the classifications of the noun, verbs, and modifier were all dependent on prefixes such as *s-, *p-, *-k.[57] After the Warring State Period in China, Old Chinese developed and started to use tones as the classification of words.[58] The suffix *-s also presented in the new classification system. The characteristics of Old Chinese
Old Chinese
were maintained in most dialects of southern China.[59] The Chinese dialects of Min and Wu which were mainly spoken in southern parts of China, had similarities in pronunciation with reptiles and birds as seen in the Old Tai-Kadai
language according to You Rujie's research. The prefixes used for differentiating reptiles and birds in Chinese dialects showed similar features with the Old Tai-Kadai
language.[60] The old Tai-Kadai
language was mainly used in the Xiangxi and Guizhou areas of China. You believed that these unique prefixes maintained by both the local dialects and the old Tai-Kadai language could be a product of local environmental influence.[61] Dialects in the Tibeto-Burman
language area developed more conservatively; they keep the rules for pronunciation and word structure the same compared to Proto-Tibeto-Burman. The Tibetic languages are classified between fusional and analytic language; the Lolo-Burmese languages are mostly analytic languages, and the Jingpho languages are a mix of an agglutinative and fusional language.[62] The Bodo–Koch and the Kuki-Chin–Naga languages
Kuki-Chin–Naga languages
kept some particular characteristics of the Proto- Tibeto-Burman
language such as agglutination and vowel prefixes. This phenomenon could be that the two language groups were separated early from the Proto-Tibeto-Burman language therefore did not undergo much development. The same happened to Sinitic, where its agglutinative property was kept even when it developed into an analytic language. Old Tibetan
Old Tibetan
and the Qiangic both exhibit consonant clusters caused by the dropping of vowel prefixes, which is believed to be the same structure Proto-Sino-Tibetan had.[63] Old Burmese
Old Burmese
and Old Tibetan
Old Tibetan
dropped the vowel prefixes during the dialect acquisition, leaving only Tibeto-Burmese, Jingpho, the Bodo–Koch and Kuki-Chin–Naga languages
Kuki-Chin–Naga languages
that kept the vowel form of prefixes. The Lolo-Burmese languages and other languages from the Bodish-Himalayish language group preferred a suffix structure which they inherited from the Tibetan-Qiangic-Lolo-Burmese group. Their similarities could be proven by example like the phonetics of the Tibetic language for "sun": ŋi ma; Achang for "sun": ni31 mɔ31; the Hakun language for "sun": nɔ55 ma33; and Naxi for "sun": ŋi33 me33. These inherited suffixes were later retained in these languages and became widespread in dialects of Old Tibetan, which caused the usage of the prefix in the modern language to decrease.[64] According to Dai Qingxia, half of the vocabulary in the Jingpho language are disyllabic as well as most of the nouns of Jingpho. This significant amount of disyllabic words came from the consonant cluster in monosyllabic words and compound words mainly found in the Proto- Tibeto-Burman
language.[65] The development of the Sino-Tibetan language had been focused on solving the problem of phoneme rhyme, as well as coordinate the crucial point between monosyllabic morpheme and disyllabic word. Because the Sino-Tibetan language consists of a monosyllabic root, a prefix and suffix are needed for classifying word meaning and point of view (aspect?). The prefix *a- appeared in many Sino-Tibetan dialects to coordinate different morpheme structures. The repetition of a syllable has the same coordination effect.[66] Change in tone[edit] Chinese and the Hmong-Mien
and Tai–Kadai languages
Tai–Kadai languages
are analytic languages that have similar grammar, pronunciation, and syllable structure. They all started with four tones, soon afterward developed into different phonological tones such as checked tone because of the voiced and voiceless properties of the initial. The aspiration of the initial and the length of the vowel in checked tone led to further tone development of dialects in these languages. Cantonese in Jiangyang area for Chinese developed eight different tones because of the length of the vowel. The aspiration property also determined the tone development of Tai-Kadai, of which the tone eventually developed into sixteen types of tone.[67] Zongdi dialect of Hmong-Mien
had also experienced the change in tone because of the aspiration property.[68] Typology[edit] Word order[edit] Except for the Chinese, Karen, and Bai languages, the usual word order in Sino-Tibetan languages
Sino-Tibetan languages
is object–verb. Most scholars believe this to be the original order, with Chinese, Karen and Bai having acquired subject–verb–object order due to the influence of neighbouring languages in the Mainland Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
linguistic area.[69] However, Chinese and Bai differ from almost all other VO languages in the world in placing relative clauses before the nouns they modify.[70] Morphology[edit] Hodgson had in 1849 noted a dichotomy between "pronominalized" (inflecting) languages, stretching across the Himalayas
from Himachal Pradesh to eastern Nepal, and "non-pronominalized" (isolating) languages. Konow (1909) explained the pronominalized languages as due to a Munda substratum, with the idea that Indo-Chinese languages were essentially isolating as well as tonal. Maspero later attributed the putative substratum to Indo-Aryan. It was not until Benedict that the inflectional systems of these languages were recognized as (partially) native to the family. Scholars disagree over the extent to which the agreement system in the various languages can be reconstructed for the proto-language.[71][72] In morphosyntactic alignment, many Tibeto-Burman
languages have ergative and/or anti-ergative (an argument that is not an actor) case marking. However, the anti-ergative case markings can not be reconstructed at higher levels in the family and are thought to be innovations.[73] Classifiers and definite marking[edit]

This section may be confusing or unclear to readers. In particular, the syntax is garbled. Please help us clarify the section . There might be a discussion about this on the talk page. (March 2018) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

There is no language originally in the Sino-Tibetan family that had classifiers, but some subgroups did develop some properties of classifier,[74][75] such as the Lolo-Burmese languages which had cognate nouns as classifiers.[76] Tibeto-Burman
and Sinitic languages also developed classifiers that are used more commonly in South East Asia and are mainly use without numerals, such as in Rawang lègā tiq bok [book one classifier] meaning "one book", lègā bok meaning "the book"; in Cantonese yat55 ga33 che55 [one classifier vehicle] meaning "one car", ga33 che55 meaning "the car" (verbally).[77] Some other classifiers in Tibeto-Burman
and Sinitic languages developed the same use as definite or specific marking. Definite marking did not appear in the Proto-Sino-Tibetan language either, but there is some use of it in Qiangic of the Tibeto-Burmese languages,[78] where the markings seem to evolve from demonstratives.[79] Vocabulary[edit] See also: List of numbers in various languages

Sino-Tibetan numerals

gloss Old Chinese[80] Old Tibetan[81] Old Burmese[81] Jingpho[82] Garo[82] Limbu[83] Kanauri[84]

"one" 一 *ʔjit – ac – – – id

隻 *tjek "single" gcig tac – – thik –

"two" 二 *njijs gnyis nhac – gin-i nɛtchi niš

"three" 三 *sum gsum sumḥ mə̀sūm git-tam sumsi sum

"four" 四 *sjijs bzhi liy mə̀lī bri lisi pə:

"five" 五 *ŋaʔ lnga ṅāḥ mə̀ŋā boŋ-a nasi ṅa

"six" 六 *C-rjuk drug khrok krúʔ dok tuksi țuk

"seven" 七 *tsʰjit – khu-nac sə̀nìt sin-i nusi štiš

"eight" 八 *pret brgyad rhac mə̀tshát cet yɛtchi rəy

"nine" 九 *kjuʔ dgu kuiḥ cə̀khù sku – sgui

"ten" 十 *gjəp – kip[85] – – gip –

– bcu chay shī ci-kuŋ – səy

External classification[edit] Beyond the traditionally recognized families of Southeast Asia, a number of possible broader relationships have been suggested. One of these is the "Sino-Caucasian" hypothesis of Sergei Starostin, which posits that the Yeniseian languages
Yeniseian languages
and North Caucasian languages
North Caucasian languages
form a clade with Sino-Tibetan. The Sino-Caucasian
hypothesis has been expanded by others to "Dené–Caucasian" to include the Na-Dené languages of North America, Burushaski, Basque and, occasionally, Etruscan. Edward Sapir
Edward Sapir
had commented on a connection between Na-Dené and Sino-Tibetan.[86] A narrower binary Dené–Yeniseian
family has recently been well-received, though not conclusively demonstrated. In contrast, Laurent Sagart proposes a Sino-Austronesian family relating Sino-Tibetan to the Austronesian and Tai–Kadai languages.[87] Demographics[edit]

Proportion of first-language speakers of larger branches of Sino-Tibetan[88]   Chinese (94.28%)   Lolo-Burmese (3.39%)   Tibetic (0.44%)   Karen (0.30%)   others (1.59%)

The most numerous are the Han Chinese, numbering 1.3+ billion. The other more numerous peoples speaking other Sino-Tibetan languages
Sino-Tibetan languages
are the Burmese (42 million), Han Taiwanese
Han Taiwanese
(22,5 million), Tibetans (7,5 million), Yi (Lolo) (7 million) and Karen (5 million). Origin[edit] Main article: Sino-Tibetan homeland J. A. Matisoff proposed that ancient Sino-Tibetan homeland
Sino-Tibetan homeland
was around the upper reaches of the Yangtze, Brahmaputra, Salween, and Mekong. The Sino- Tibetan people
Tibetan people
(Han Chinese, Burmese and Tibetans) started to split off from common ancestors a few thousand years ago. This view is in accordance with the hypothesis that bubonic plague, cholera, and other diseases made the easternmost foothills of the Himalayas
between China and India difficult for people outside to migrate in, but relatively easily for the indigenous people, who had been adapted to the environment, to migrate out.[89][90] Notes[edit]

^ Kuhn (1889), p. 189: "wir das Tibetisch-Barmanische einerseits, das Chinesisch-Siamesische anderseits als deutlich geschiedene und doch wieder verwandte Gruppen einer einheitlichen Sprachfamilie anzuerkennen haben." (also quoted in van Driem (2001), p. 264.) ^ The volumes were: 1. Introduction and bibliography, 2. Bhotish, 3. West Himalayish, 4. West central Himalayish, 5. East Himalayish, 6–7. Digarish–Nungish, 8. Dzorgaish, 9. Hruso, 10. Dhimalish, 11. Baric, 12. Burmish–Lolish, 13. Kachinish, 14. Kukish, 15. Mruish.[13] ^ Karlgren's reconstruction, with aspiration as 'h' and 'i̯' as 'j' to aid comparison. ^ See, for example, the "Sino-Tibetan" (汉藏语系 Hàn-Zàng yǔxì) entry in the "languages" (語言文字, Yǔyán-Wénzì) volume of the Encyclopedia of China (1988). ^ For Shafer, the suffix "-ic" denoted a primary division of the family, whereas the suffix "-ish" denoted a sub-division of one of those. ^ les travaux de comparatisme n’ont jamais pu mettre en évidence l’existence d’innovations communes à toutes les langues « tibéto-birmanes » (les langues sino-tibétaines à l’exclusion du chinois) ^ il ne semble plus justifié de traiter le chinois comme le premier embranchement primaire de la famille sino-tibétaine


^ Handel (2008), pp. 422, 434–436. ^ Logan (1856), p. 31. ^ Logan (1858). ^ a b Hale (1982), p. 4. ^ van Driem (2001), p. 334. ^ Klaproth (1823), pp. 346, 363–365. ^ van Driem (2001), p. 344. ^ Finck (1909), p. 57. ^ a b Przyluski (1924), p. 361. ^ Sapir (1925), p. 373. ^ Przyluski (1924), p. 380. ^ Przyluski & Luce (1931). ^ Miller (1974), p. 195. ^ Miller (1974), pp. 195–196. ^ Matisoff (1991), p. 473. ^ a b Handel (2008), p. 434. ^ Benedict (1972), pp. 20–21. ^ Benedict (1972), pp. 17–18, 133–139, 164–171. ^ a b Handel (2008), pp. 425–426. ^ Miller (1974), p. 197. ^ Matisoff (2003), p. 16. ^ Beckwith (1996). ^ Beckwith (2002b). ^ Matisoff (1991), pp. 471–472. ^ Baxter (1992), pp. 25–26. ^ Bodman (1980), p. 47. ^ Baxter (1992), pp. 197, 199–202. ^ Baxter (1992), pp. 315–317. ^ Beckwith (2002a), pp. xiii–xiv. ^ Thurgood (2003), p. 17. ^ Gong (1980). ^ Handel (2008), p. 431. ^ Hill (2014), pp. 97–104. ^ Matisoff (1991), pp. 472–473. ^ Hale (1982), pp. 4–5. ^ Matisoff (1991), pp. 470, 476–478. ^ Handel (2008), p. 435. ^ Matisoff (1991), p. 482. ^ Handel (2008), p. 426. ^ DeLancey (2009), p. 695. ^ Li (1937), pp. 60–63. ^ a b c Handel (2008), p. 424. ^ Matisoff (1991), p. 487. ^ Benedict (1942), p. 600. ^ Benedict (1972), pp. 2–4. ^ Shafer (1955), pp. 94–96. ^ Shafer (1955), pp. 99–108. ^ Shafer (1966), p. 1. ^ Shafer (1955), pp. 97–99. ^ van Driem (2001), pp. 343–344. ^ van Driem (2001), p. 383. ^ van Driem (1997). ^ Matisoff (2000). ^ van Driem (2001), p. 403. ^ van Driem (2014), p. 19. ^ van Driem (2007), p. 226. ^ Wu (1987). ^ Wang (1980), p. 221. ^ Wu (2002), pp. 9-10. ^ You (1982). ^ Wu (2002), p. 12. ^ Sun (1996). ^ Wu (2002), pp. 10,12. ^ Wu (2002), p. 10. ^ Dai (1997). ^ Wu (2002), p. 11. ^ Shi (1991). ^ Wu (2002). ^ Dryer (2003), pp. 43–45. ^ Dryer (2003), pp. 50. ^ Handel (2008), p. 430. ^ LaPolla (2003), pp. 29–32. ^ LaPolla (2003), pp. 34–35. ^ Xu (1989), pp. 15-23. ^ Dai (1994), pp. 166-181. ^ Bradley (2012), pp. 171-192. ^ Baron (1973). ^ LaPolla & Huang (2003). ^ Thurgood & LaPolla (2017), p. 46. ^ Baxter (1992). ^ a b Hill (2012). ^ a b Burling (1983), p. 28. ^ van Driem (1987), pp. 32–33. ^ Sharma (1988), p. 116. ^ Yanson (2006), p. 106. ^ Shafer (1952). ^ Sagart (2005). ^ Lewis, Simons & Fennig (2015). ^ "LANGUAGE CHANGE, CONJUGATIONAL MORPHOLOGY AND THE SINO-TIBETAN URHEIMAT" by G. van Driem ^ "The Sino-Tibetan Language Family". STEDT. Berkeley: Department of Linguistics, University of California. Retrieved 27 March 2018. 

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External links[edit]

James Matisoff, Tibeto-Burman
languages and their subgrouping The Genetic Position of Chinese, by Guillaume Jacques

v t e

Sino-Tibetan branches

Western Himalayas

West Himalayish Tamangic Magaric Chepangic Raji–Raute Dura Newar

Eastern Himalayas

Bodish (Tibetic, East Bodish) Kiranti Baram–Thangmi Lepcha Tshangla Gongduk Lhokpu 'Ole Tani

circum- Myanmar
tribal belts (G–Hk–J–R–C)

Karbi Kukish (aka Chin, Zo) Mruic Nungish Pyu


Ao Angami–Pochuri Meithei Tangkhul Zeme


Bodo–Koch Konyak Dhimal Kachin–Luic

East Asia

Sinitic (Chinese, Bai) Tujia Karenic Naic Ersu Qiangic (rGyalrongic)


Mondzish Burmish Loloish

Dubious (possible isolates)

Greater Siangic

Siangic Idu–Taraon

Hrusish (Hruso, Miji) Puroik Kho-Bwa Kaman–Zakhring

Proposed groupings

Burmo-Qiangic Greater Bai Mahakiranti Rung Tibeto-Kanauri Tibeto-Burman Greater Magaric


Proto-Tibeto-Burman Proto-Loloish

v t e

List of primary language families


Afro-Asiatic Austronesian Khoe Kx'a Niger–Congo Nilo-Saharan? Tuu Mande? Songhay? Ijaw? Ubangian? Kadu?


Bangime Hadza Jalaa Sandawe Kwadi? Laal? Shabo?

Sign languages

Arab BANZSL French Lasima Tanzanian Others

Europe and Asia

Afro-Asiatic Ainu Austroasiatic Austronesian Chukotko-Kamchatkan Dravidian Eskimo–Aleut Great Andamanese Hmong–Mien Hurro-Urartian Indo-European Japonic Kartvelian Koreanic Mongolic Northeast Caucasian Northwest Caucasian Ongan Sino-Tibetan Tai–Kadai Tungusic Turkic Tyrsenian Uralic Yeniseian Yukaghir Dené–Yeniseian? Altaic? Austronesian–Ongan? Austro-Tai? Sino-Austronesian? Digaro? Kho-Bwa? Siangic? Miji? Vasconic?


Basque Burushaski Elamite Hattic Kusunda Nihali Nivkh Sumerian Hruso? Miju? Puroik?

Sign languages

BANZSL French German Japanese Swedish Chinese Indo-Pakistani Arab Chiangmai–Bangkok Others

New Guinea and the Pacific

Arai–Samaia Arafundi Austronesian Baining Binanderean–Goilalan Border Bulaka River Central Solomons Chimbu–Wahgi Doso–Turumsa East Geelvink Bay East Strickland Eleman Engan Fas Kaure–Kosare Kiwaian Kutubuan Kwomtari Lakes Plain Lower Mamberamo Lower Sepik Madang Mairasi North Bougainville Pauwasi Piawi Ramu Senagi Sentani Sepik Skou South Bougainville Teberan Tor–Kwerba–Nimboran Torricelli Trans-Fly Trans–New Guinea Turama–Kikorian West Papuan Yam Yawa Yuat North Papuan? Northeast New Guinea? Papuan Gulf?


Abinomn Anêm? Ata? Kol Kuot Porome Taiap? Pawaia Porome Sulka? Tambora Wiru

Sign languages

Hawai'i Sign Language Others


Arnhem/Macro-Gunwinyguan Bunuban Darwin River Eastern Daly Eastern Tasmanian Garawan Iwaidjan Jarrakan Mirndi Northern Tasmanian Northeastern Tasmanian Nyulnyulan Pama–Nyungan Southern Daly Tangkic Wagaydyic Western Daly Western Tasmanian Worrorran Yangmanic (Wardaman)


Giimbiyu Malak-Malak Marrgu Tiwi Wagiman

North America

Algic Alsea Caddoan Chimakuan Chinookan Chumashan Comecrudan Coosan Eskimo–Aleut Iroquoian Kalapuyan Keresan Maiduan Muskogean Na-Dene Palaihnihan Plateau Penutian Pomoan Salishan Shastan Siouan Tanoan Tsimshianic Utian Uto-Aztecan Wakashan Wintuan Yokutsan Yukian Yuman–Cochimí Dené–Yeniseian? Hokan? Penutian?


Chimariko Haida Karuk Kutenai Seri Siuslaw Takelma Timucua Waikuri Washo Yana Yuchi Zuni

Sign languages

Inuit (Inuiuuk) Plains Sign Talk Others


Chibchan Jicaquean Lencan Mayan Misumalpan Mixe–Zoque Oto-Manguean Tequistlatecan Totonacan Uto-Aztecan Xincan Totozoquean?


Cuitlatec Huave Tarascan/Purépecha

Sign languages

Plains Sign Talk Mayan Others

South America

Arawakan Arauan Araucanian Arutani–Sape Aymaran Barbacoan Boran Borôroan Cahuapanan Cariban Catacaoan Chapacuran Charruan Chibchan Choco Chonan Guaicuruan Guajiboan Jê/Gê Harákmbut–Katukinan Jirajaran Jivaroan Kariri Katembri–Taruma Mascoian Matacoan Maxakalian Nadahup Nambikwaran Otomákoan Pano-Tacanan Peba–Yaguan Purian Quechuan Piaroa–Saliban Ticuna–Yuri Timotean Tiniguan Tucanoan Tupian Uru–Chipaya Witotoan Yabutian Yanomaman Zamucoan Zaparoan Chimuan? Esmeralda–Yaruro? Hibito–Cholón? Lule–Vilela? Macro-Jê? Tequiraca–Canichana?

Isolates (extant in 2000)

Aikanã? Alacalufan Andoque? Camsá Candoshi Chimane Chiquitano Cofán? Fulniô Guató Hodï/Joti Irantxe? Itonama Karajá Krenak Kunza Leco Maku-Auari of Roraima Movima Mura-Pirahã Nukak? Ofayé Puinave Huaorani/Waorani Trumai Urarina Warao Yamana Yuracaré

See also

Language isolates Unclassified languages Creoles Pidgins Mixed languages Artificial languages List of sign languages

Families with more than 30 languages are in bold. Families in italics have no living members.

Authority control

GND: 4120360-4 SUDOC: 02784