The Info List - Tai Languages

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The Tai languages are: Northern Tai / Northern Zhuang Central Tai / Southern Zhuang Southwestern Tai / Thai

The TAI or ZHUANG–TAI languages (Thai : ภาษาไท or ภาษาไต, transliteration : _p̣hās̛̄āthay_ or _p̣hās̛̄ātay_) are a branch of the Tai–Kadai language family . The Tai languages include the most widely spoken of the Tai–Kadai languages, including standard Thai or Siamese, the national language of Thailand ; Lao or Laotian, the national language of Laos ; Myanmar 's Shan language ; and Zhuang , a major language in the southern Chinese province of Guangxi .


* 1 Name * 2 History

* 3 Internal classification

* 3.1 Haudricourt (1956) * 3.2 Li (1977) * 3.3 Gedney (1989)

* 3.4 Pittayaporn (2009)

* 3.4.1 Overview * 3.4.2 Sound changes

* 4 Reconstruction * 5 Comparison * 6 Writing systems * 7 See also * 8 References * 9 Further reading * 10 External links


Cognates with the name _Tai_ (_Thai, Dai_, etc.) are used by speakers of many Tai languages. The term _Tai_ is now well-established as the generic name in English. In his book _The Tai-Kadai Languages_ Anthony Diller claims that Lao scholars he has met are not pleased with Lao being regarded as a Tai language. For some, Thai should instead be considered a member of the Lao language family. One or more Ancient Chinese characters for ‘Lao’ may be cited in support of this alternative appellation. Some scholars including Benedict (1975), have used _Thai_ to refer to a wider (_Tai_) grouping and one sees designations like _proto-Thai _ and _Austro-Thai _ in earlier works. In the institutional context in Thailand, and occasionally elsewhere, sometimes _Tai_ (and its corresponding Thai-script spelling, without a final -y symbol) is used to indicate varieties in the language family not spoken in Thailand or spoken there only as the result of recent immigration. In this usage _Thai_ would not then be considered a _Tai_ language. On the other hand, Gedney , Li and others have preferred to call the standard language of Thailand _Siamese_ rather than _Thai_, perhaps to reduce potential _Thai/Tai_ confusion, especially among English speakers not comfortable with making a non-English initial unaspirated voiceless initial sound for _Tai_, which in any event might sound artificial or arcane to outsiders.

According to Michel Ferlus , the ethnonyms Tai/Thai (or Tay/Thay) would have evolved from the etymon *K(ə)RI: 'human being' through the following chain: KəRI: > KəLI: > KəDI:/KəDAJ (-L- > -D- shift in tense sesquisyllables and probable diphthongization of -I: > -AJ). This in turn changed to DI:/DAJ (presyllabic truncation and probable diphthongization -I: > -AJ). And then to *DAJA (Proto-Southwestern Tai) > TʰAJA2 (in Siamese and Lao) or > TAJA2 (in the other Southwestern and Central Tai languages by Li Fangkuei). Michel Ferlus ' work is based on some simple rules of phonetic change observable in the Sinosphere and studied for the most part by William H. Baxter (1992).

Many of the languages are called _Zhuang_ in China and _Nung_ in Vietnam.


_ Kra-Dai migration route according to James R. Chamberlain (2016). Tai alphabets. The phrase is kind elephant rider_.

Citing the fact that both the Zhuang and Thai peoples have the same exonym for the Vietnamese, _kɛɛuA1_, Jerold A. Edmondson of the University of Texas at Arlington posited that the split between Zhuang (a Central Tai language ) and the Southwestern Tai languages happened no earlier than the founding of Jiaozhi in Vietnam in 112 BCE but no later than the 5th-6th century AD. However, based on layers of Chinese loanwords in Proto- Southwestern Tai and other historical evidence, Pittayawat Pittayaporn (2014) suggests that the dispersal of Southwestern Tai must have begun sometime between the 8th and 10th centuries AD.



HAUDRICOURT emphasizes the specificity of Dioi (Zhuang) and proposes to make a two-way distinction between the following two sets. The language names used in Haudricourt's (1956) original are provided first, followed by currently more widespread ethnonyms in brackets.


Tai proper: Ahom, Shan, Siamese, Lao, White Tai, Black Tai, Tho (Tày) , Longzhou , Nung

Dioi group: Po-ai (Bo-ai) Zhuang , Tianzhou (Baise) , Dioi (Bouyei) , Wuming

Characteristics of the Dioi group pointed out by Haudricourt are (i) a correspondence between r- in Dioi and the lateral l- in the other Tai languages, (ii) divergent characteristics of the vowel systems of the Dioi group: e.g. 'tail' has a /a/ vowel in Tai proper, as against /ə̄/ in Bo-ai, /iə/ in Tianzhou, and /ɯə/ in Tianzhou and Wuming, and (iii) the lack, in the Dioi group, of aspirated stops and affricates, which are found everywhere in Tai proper.

As compared with Li Fang-kuei's classification, Haudricourt's classification amounts to consider Li's Southern Tai and Central Tai as forming a subgroup, of which Southwestern Tai is a sister: the three last languages in Haudricourt's list of 'Tai proper' languages are Tho (Tày) , Longzhou , and Nung , which Li classifies as 'Central Tai'.


Northern Tai

Central Tai

Southwestern Tai

LI (1977)

Li Fang-Kuei divided Tai into Northern, Central, and Southwestern (Thai) branches. However, Central Tai does not appear to be a valid group. LI (1977) proposes a tripartite division of Tai into three sister branches. This classification scheme has long been accepted as the standard one in the field of comparative Tai linguistics.


Northern Tai

Central Tai

Southwestern Tai

GEDNEY (1989)

GEDNEY (1989) considers Central and Southwestern Tai to form a subgroup, of which Northern Tai is a sister.


Northern Tai

Central Tai

Southwestern Tai



See also: Zhuang languages § Varieties

In a 2009 Ph.D. dissertation, Pittayawat Pittayaporn classifies the Tai languages based on clusters of shared innovations (which, individually, may be associated with more than one branch) (Pittayaporn 2009:298). In Pittayaporn's classification system, the Zhuang varieties of Chongzuo in Guangxi have the most internal diversity. Only the Southwestern Tai branch remains unchanged from Li Fang-Kuei 's 1977 classification system, and several of the Southern Zhuang languages allocated ISO codes are shown to be paraphyletic . The classification is as follows:


A (Zuojiang Zhang – Southwestern Tai )


G (Nung–Thai)


O (Sapa–Thai)

Q (Southwest = Thai)

Southwestern Tai (Laos, Thailand, Burma)

R (Sapa)

Sapa (Vietnam)

P (Tày)

Tày of Bảo Yên , Tày of Cao Bằng , Dai Zhuang of Wenma (文马)

L (Nung)

Yang Zhuang of Debao (德保), Yang Zhuang of Jingxi (靖西), (Western) Nung of Mường Khương District , Nong Zhuang of Wenshan City (文山), Nong Zhuang of Yanshan (砚山)


Daxin-Longming Zhuang


Longzhou-Leiping Zhuang

B (Ningming )

Ningming Zhuang (Zuojiang Zhuang of Ningming 宁明)

C ( Chongzuo Tai languages )

Chongzuo Zhuang (Yongnan Zhuang of Chongzuo 崇左), Shangsi Zhuang (Yongnan Zhuang of Shangsi 上思), Caolan (Vietnam)

D (Yongnan –Northern Tai )

I (Qinzhou)

Qinzhou Zhuang (Yongnan Zhuang of Qinzhou 钦州)


M (Yongnan)

Yongnan-Wuming Zhuang

N (Northern)

Northern Tai : Saek , Bouyei , and others

Standard Zhuang is based on the dialect of Shuangqiao (双桥), Wuming District . Sites surveyed in Zhang (1999), subgrouped according to Pittayaporn (2009): N, M, I, C, B, F, H, L, P

Sound Changes

See also: Proto-Tai language

The following phonological shifts occurred in the Q (Southwestern), N (Northern), B (Ningming), and C (Chongzuo) subgroups (Pittayaporn 2009:300–301).


*ɤJ, *ɤW, *ɤɰ *aj, *aw, *aɰ *i:, *u:, *ɯ: *i:, *u:, *ɯ: –

*ɯJ, *ɯW *i:, *u: *aj, *aw *i:, *u: –

*WE, *WO *e:, *o: *i:, *u: *e:, *o: *e:, *o:

*ɟM̩.R- *br- *ɟr- – *ɟr-

*K.T- – *tr- – *tr-

*ɤN, *ɤT, *ɤC – *an, *at, *ac – –

Furthermore, the following shifts occurred at various nodes leading up to node Q.

* E: *p.t- > *p.r-; *ɯm > *ɤm * G: *k.r- > *qr- * K: *e:, *o: > *ɛ:, *ɔ: * O: *ɤn > *on * Q: *kr- > *ʰr-


Main article: Proto-Tai language

Proto-Tai has been reconstructed in 1977 by Li Fang-Kuei and by Pittayawat Pittayaporn in 2009.

Proto- Southwestern Tai has also been reconstructed in 1977 by Li Fang-Kuei and by Nanna L. Jonsson in 1991.

Proto-Tai Pronouns


1st singular *ku กู

dual (exclusive) *pʰɯa เผือ

plural (exclusive) *tu ตู

Incl. dual (inclusive) *ra รา

plural (inclusive) *rau เรา

2nd singular *mɯŋ มึง

dual *kʰɯa เขือ

plural *su สู

3rd singular *man มัน

dual *kʰa ขา

plural *kʰau เขา


Below is comparative table of Tai languages.


_WIND_ *lom /lōm/ /lóm/ /lōm/ /lóm/ /lôm/ /ɣum˧˩/

_TOWN_ *mɯaŋ /mɯ̄aŋ/ /mɯ́aŋ/ /mɯ̄aŋ/ /mɤ́ŋ/ /mɤ̂ŋ/ /mɯŋ˧/

_EARTH_ *ʔdin /dīn/ /dìn/ /dīn/ /lǐn/ /dín/ /dei˧/

_FIRE_ *vai/aɯ /fāj/ /fáj/ /fāj/ /pʰáj/ or /fáj/ /fâj/ /fei˧˩/

_HEART_ *čai/aɯ /hǔa tɕāj/ /hǔa tɕàj/ /hǔa tɕǎj/ /hǒ tsǎɰ/ /hó tɕáj/ /sim/

_LOVE_ *rak /rák/ /hāk/ /hák/ /hâk/ /hak/ /gyai˧˩/

_WATER_ *naam /náːm/ /nâm/ /nám/ /nâm/ /nà̄m/ /ɣaem˦˨/


_ Graphical summary of the development of Tai scripts from a Shan perspective, as reported in Sai Kam Mong's Shan Script_ book.

Many Southwestern Tai languages are written using Brahmi-derived alphabets . Zhuang languages are traditionally written with Chinese characters called Sawndip , and now officially written with a romanized alphabet, though the traditional writing system is still in use to this day.

* Thai alphabet * Lao alphabet * Sawndip * Shan alphabet * Ahom alphabet * Tai Dam alphabet * Tai Le alphabet * New Tai Lue alphabet * Tai Tham alphabet


* Miscellaneous Tai languages * Zomia (region)


* ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Daic". _ Glottolog 2.7 _. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. * ^ Diller, 2008. _The Tai–Kadai Languages_. * ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ _D_ _E_ _F_ Diller, Anthony; Edmondson, Jerry; Luo, Yongxian (2004). The Tai-Kadai Languages. _Routledge (2004)_, pp. 5-6. ISBN 1135791163 . * ^ Ferlus, Michel (2009). Formation of Ethnonyms in Southeast Asia. _42nd International Conference on Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics, Nov 2009, Chiang Mai, Thailand. 2009_, p.3. * ^ _A_ _B_ Pain, Frédéric (2008). An Introduction to Thai Ethnonymy: Examples from Shan and Northern Thai. _Journal of the American Oriental Society Vol. 128, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 2008)_, p.646. * ^ A1 designates a tone. * ^ Edmondson, Jerold A. _The power of language over the past: Tai settlement and Tai linguistics in southern China and northern Vietnam_. Studies in Southeast Asian languages and linguistics, Jimmy G. Harris, Somsonge Burusphat and James E. Harris, ed. Bangkok, Thailand: Ek Phim Thai Co. Ltd. http://ling.uta.edu/~jerry/pol.pdf (see page 15) * ^ Pittayaporn, Pittayawat (2014). Layers of Chinese Loanwords in Proto- Southwestern Tai as Evidence for the Dating of the Spread of Southwestern Tai. _MANUSYA: Journal of Humanities,_ Special Issue No 20: 47–64. * ^ Haudricourt, André-Georges. 1956. De la restitution des initiales dans les langues monosyllabiques : le problème du thai commun. Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique de Paris 52. 307–322. * ^ Pittayaporn, Pittayawat. 2009. _The Phonology of Proto-Tai_. Ph.D. dissertation. Department of Linguistics, Cornell University. * ^ Unless indicated otherwise, all phonological shifts occurred at the primary level (node A). * ^ Unless indicated otherwise, all phonological shifts occurred at the primary level (node D). * ^ Also, the *ɯ:k > *u:k shift occurred at node A. * ^ Innovation at node N * ^ For node B, the affected Proto-Tai syllable was *we:, *wo:. * ^ For node C, the affected Proto-Tai syllable was *we:, *wo:. * ^ Innovation at node J * ^ http://language.psy.auckland.ac.nz/austronesian/language.php?id=698 * ^ http://language.psy.auckland.ac.nz/austronesian/language.php?id=684 * ^ Thai Lexicography Resources


* Brown, J. Marvin. _From Ancient Thai to Modern Dialects_. Bangkok: Social Science Association Press of Thailand, 1965. * Chamberlain, James R. _A New Look at the Classification of the Tai Languages_. : Instttute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, 1996. * Gedney, William J. _On the Thai Evidence for Austro-Thai_. : Northern Illinois University, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, 1992. ISBN 1-877979-16-3 * Gedney, William J., and Thomas J. Hudak. (1995). _William J. Gedney's central Tai dialects: glossaries, texts, and translations_. Michigan papers on South and Southeast Asia, no. 43. Ann Arbor, Mich: Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan ISBN 0-89148-075-7 * Gedney, William J., and Thomas J. Hudak. _William J. Gedney's the Yay Language: Glossary, Texts, and Translations_. Michigan papers on South and Southeast Asia, no. 38. Ann Arbor, Mich: Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, 1991. ISBN 0-89148-066-8 * Gedney, William J., and Thomas J. Hudak. _William J. Gedney's Southwestern Tai Dialects: Glossaries, Texts and Translations_. Michigan papers on South and Southeast Asia, no. 42. : Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, 1994. ISBN 0-89148-074-9 * Hudak, Thomas John. _William J. Gedney's The Tai Dialect of Lungming: Glossary, Texts, and Translations_. Michigan papers on South and Southeast Asia, no. 39. : Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, 1991. ISBN 0-89148-067-6 * Li, Fang-kuei. 1977. _Handbook of Comparative Tai_. Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawai’i Press. * Li, Fang-kuei. _The Tai Dialect of Lungchow; Texts, Translations, and Glossary_. Shanghai: Commercial Press, 1940. * Østmoe, Arne. _A Germanic-Tai Linguistic Puzzle_. Sino-Platonic papers, no. 64. Philadelphia, PA, USA: Dept. of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 1995. * Sathāban Sūn Phāsā Qangkrit. _Bibliography of Tai Language Studies_. : Indigenous Languages of Thailand<