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.
3 Internal classification
3.1 Haudricourt (1956)
3.2 Li (1977)
3.3 Gedney (1989)
3.4 Luo (1997)
3.5 Pittayaporn (2009)
3.5.2 Sound changes
3.6 Edmondson (2013)
6 Writing systems
7 See also
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
William H. Baxter (1992).
Many of the languages are called Zhuang in
China and Nung in Vietnam.
Kra-Dai (Tai-Kadai) migration route according to James R. Chamberlain
Map showing linguistic family tree overlaid on a geographic
distribution map of Tai-Kadai family. This map only shows general
pattern of the migration of Tai-speaking tribes, not specific routes,
which would have snaked along the rivers and over the lower passes.
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
University of Texas at Arlington posited that the split between Zhuang
(a Central Tai language) and the
Southwestern Tai languages
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
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, Southern
Zhuang, Tho/Tày, Nung
Dioi group: Yei Zhuang, Yongbei Zhuang, Bouyei/Buyi
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
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.
Gedney (1989) considers Central and
Southwestern Tai to form a
subgroup, of which Northern Tai is a sister. This classification is in
agreement with Haudricourt (1956).
Luo Yongxian (1997:232) classifies the
Tai languages as follows,
and proposes a fourth branch called Northwestern Tai that includes
Ahom, Shan, Dehong Dai, and Khamti. All branches are considered to be
coordinate to each other.
Zhuang languages § Varieties
Pittayawat Pittayaporn (2009) 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
preliminary classification system of the Tai languages, Central Tai is
considered to be paraphyletic and is split up into multiple branches,
with the Zhuang varieties of
Chongzuo in southwestern
the most internal diversity. The
Southwestern Tai and Northern Tai
branches remain intact as in Li Fang-Kuei's 1977 classification
system, and several of the Southern
Zhuang languages allocated ISO
codes are considered to be paraphyletic. The classification is as
A (Central Tai, Southwestern Tai)
Southwestern Tai (Laos, Thailand, Burma)
Tay: Tày of Bảo Yên, Tày of Cao Bằng, Dai Zhuang of Wenma
Nung: Yang Zhuang of Debao (德保), Yang Zhuang of
(Western) Nung of Mường Khương District, Nong Zhuang of Wenshan
City (文山), Nong Zhuang of Yanshan (砚山)
Lungming Zhuang, Daxin Zhuang
Lungchow Zhuang, Leiping Zhuang
Ningming Zhuang (Zuojiang Zhuang of
Chongzuo Zhuang (Yongnan Zhuang of
Chongzuo 崇左), Shangsi Zhuang
(Yongnan Zhuang of Shangsi 上思), Caolan (Vietnam)
D (Northern Tai)
Qinzhou Zhuang (Yongnan Zhuang of
Wuming Zhuang, Yongnan Zhuang, Long'an Zhuang, Fusui Zhuang
Core Northern Tai: Saek, Bouyei, Yay and others
Standard Zhuang is based on the dialect of Shuangqiao (双桥), Wuming
Sites surveyed in Zhang (1999), subgrouped according to Pittayaporn
(2009): N, M, I,
C, B, F, H, L,
See also: Proto-Tai language
The following phonological shifts occurred in the Q (Southwestern), N
(Northern), B (Ningming), and C (Chongzuo) subgroups (Pittayaporn
*ɤj, *ɤw, *ɤɰ
*aj, *aw, *aɰ
*i:, *u:, *ɯ:
*i:, *u:, *ɯ:
*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-
Jerold A. Edmondson's (2013) computational phylogenetic analysis
Tai languages is shown below. Tay and Nung are both shown to be
coherent branches under Central Tai. Northern Tai and Southwestern Tai
are shown to be coherent branches.
Northern Tai: Buyi, Yay, Po-Ai, Wuming Zhuang, Mashan Zhuang
Southwestern Tai: Ahom, Shan, Dehong, Tai Theeng (Nghe An), Black Tai,
White Tai, Padi, Lao, Thai
Core Central Tai: Nung Chau,
Pingxiang Zhuang, Leiping Zhuang,
Tay: Tay Bao Lac, Tay Khanh Trung, Cao Lan
Nung: Western Nung, Nung Yang, Nung An, Thu Lao
Main article: Proto-Tai language
Proto-Tai has been reconstructed in 1977 by
Li Fang-Kuei and by
Pittayawat Pittayaporn in 2009.
Southwestern Tai has also been reconstructed in 1977 by Li
Fang-Kuei and by Nanna L. Jonsson in 1991.
Proto-Tai Pronouns
Below is comparative table of Tai languages.
/pʰáj/ or /fáj/
Graphical summary of the development of Tai scripts from a Shan
perspective, as reported in Sai Kam Mong's Shan Script book.
Southwestern Tai languages
Southwestern Tai languages are written using Brahmi-derived
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
Thai alphabet 
Lao alphabet 
Shan alphabet 
Ahom alphabet 
Tai Dam alphabet 
Tai Le alphabet
Tai Le alphabet 
New Tai Lue alphabet
New Tai Lue alphabet 
Tai Tham alphabet
Tai Tham alphabet 
Miscellaneous Tai languages
^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds.
Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: 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.
^ 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.
^ Chamberlain, James R. (2016). "Kra-Dai and the Proto-History of
China and Vietnam", p. 67. In Journal of the Siam Society, Vol.
^ 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
Southwestern Tai as Evidence for the Dating of the Spread of
Southwestern Tai. MANUSYA: Journal of Humanities,
Special Issue No 20:
^ 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.
^ Luo, Yongxian. (1997). The subgroup structure of the Tai Languages:
a historical-comparative study. Journal of Chinese Linguistics
Monograph Series, (12), I-367.
^ 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
^ Edmondson, Jerold A. 2013. Tai subgrouping using phylogenetic
estimation. Presented at the 46th International Conference on
Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics (ICSTLL 46), Dartmouth College,
Hanover, New Hampshire, United States, August 7-10, 2013 (Session:
^ Jonsson, Nanna L. (1991) Proto Southwestern Tai. Ph.D dissertation,
available from UMI and SEAlang.net on http://sealang.net/crcl/proto/
^ Thai Lexicography Resources
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Comparative Tai–Kadai Swadesh vocabulary lists (from Wiktionary's
ABVD: Proto-Tai word list
Southwestern Tai word list
Kelley, Liam. Tai Words and the Place of the Tai in the Vietnamese
Tai Yo (Nyaw)
Tai Hang Tong
Tai Muong Vat