The Info List - Tibeto-Burman Languages

The Tibeto-Burman languages
Tibeto-Burman languages
are the non-Sinitic members of the Sino-Tibetan language family, over 400 of which are spoken throughout the highlands of Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
as well as certain parts of East Asia and South Asia. Around 60 million people speak Tibeto-Burman languages, around half of whom speak Burmese, and 13% of whom speak Tibetic languages.[1] The name derives from the most widely spoken of these languages, namely Burmese (over 32 million speakers) and the Tibetic languages
Tibetic languages
(over 8 million). These languages also have extensive literary traditions, dating from the 12th and 7th centuries respectively. Most of the other languages are spoken by much smaller communities, and many of them have not been described in detail. Some taxonomies divide Sino-Tibetan into Sinitic and Tibeto-Burman branches (e.g. Benedict, Matisoff). However, other scholars deny that Tibeto-Burman comprises a monophyletic group. Van Driem argues that the Sino-Tibetan family should be called "Tibeto-Burman", but this usage has not been widely adopted. Others exclude a relationship with Chinese altogether (e.g. Beckwith, R. A. Miller).


1 History 2 Overview

2.1 Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
and southwest China 2.2 Tibet and South Asia

3 Classification

3.1 Shafer (1955) 3.2 Benedict (1972) 3.3 Matisoff (1978) 3.4 Bradley (2002) 3.5 Van Driem 3.6 Other languages

4 See also 5 Notes 6 References 7 Further reading 8 External links

History[edit] During the 18th century, several scholars noticed parallels between Tibetan and Burmese, both languages with extensive literary traditions. In the following century, Brian Houghton Hodgson
Brian Houghton Hodgson
collected a wealth of data on the non-literary languages of the Himalayas
and northeast India, noting that many of these were related to Tibetan and Burmese.[2] Others identified related languages in the highlands of south-east Asia and south-west China. The name "Tibeto-Burman" was first applied to this group in 1856 by James Logan, who added Karen in 1858.[3][4] Charles Forbes viewed the family as uniting the Gangetic and Lohitic branches of Max Müller's Turanian, a huge family consisting of all the Eurasian languages except the Semitic, "Aryan" (Indo-European) and Chinese languages.[5] The third volume of the Linguistic Survey of India was devoted to the Tibeto-Burman languages of British India. 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.[6] Several authors, including Ernst Kuhn in 1883 and August Conrady in 1896, described an "Indo-Chinese" family consisting of two branches, Tibeto-Burman and Chinese-Siamese.[7] The Tai languages
Tai languages
were included on the basis of vocabulary and typological features shared with Chinese. Jean Przyluski introduced the term sino-tibétain (Sino-Tibetan) as the title of his chapter on the group in Antoine Meillet
Antoine Meillet
and Marcel Cohen's Les Langues du Monde in 1924.[8] The Tai languages
Tai languages
have not been included in most Western accounts of Sino-Tibetan since the Second World War, though many Chinese linguists still include them. The link to Chinese is now accepted by most linguists, with a few exceptions such as Roy Andrew Miller
Roy Andrew Miller
and Christopher Beckwith.[9][10][11] More recent controversy has centred on the proposed primary branching of Sino-Tibetan into Chinese and Tibeto-Burman subgroups. In spite of the popularity of this classification, first proposed by Kuhn and Conrady, and also promoted by Paul Benedict (1972) and later James Matisoff, Tibeto-Burman has not been demonstrated to be a valid family in its own right.[12] Overview[edit] Most of the Tibeto-Burman languages
Tibeto-Burman languages
are spoken in inaccessible mountain areas and many are unwritten, which has greatly hampered their study. It is generally much easier to identify a language as Tibeto-Burman than to determine its precise relationship with other languages of the group.[citation needed] The subgroupings that have been established with certainty number several dozens, ranging from well-studied groups of dozens of languages with millions of speakers to several isolates, some only newly discovered but in danger of extinction.[13] These subgroups are here surveyed on a geographical basis. Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
and southwest China[edit]

Language families of Myanmar

The southernmost group are the Karen languages, spoken by three million people on both sides of the Burma–Thailand border. They differ from all other Tibeto-Burman languages
Tibeto-Burman languages
(except Bai) in having a subject–verb–object word order, attributed to contact with Tai–Kadai and Austroasiatic languages.[14] The most widely spoken Tibeto-Burman language is Burmese, the national language of Myanmar, with over 32 million speakers and a literary tradition dating from the early 12th century. It is one of the Lolo-Burmese languages, an intensively studied and well-defined group comprising approximately 100 languages spoken in Myanmar
and the highlands of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Southwest China. Major languages include the Loloish languages, with two million speakers in western Sichuan
and northern Yunnan, the Akha language and Hani languages, with two million speakers in southern Yunnan, eastern Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, and Lisu and Lahu in Yunnan, northern Myanmar
and northern Thailand. All languages of the Loloish subgroup show significant Austroasiatic influence.[15] The Pai-lang songs, transcribed in Chinese characters in the 1st century, appear to record words from a Lolo-Burmese language, but arranged in Chinese order.[16]

Language families of China, with Tibeto-Burman in orange[a]

The Tibeto-Burman languages
Tibeto-Burman languages
of south-west China have been heavily influenced by Chinese over a long period, leaving their affiliations difficult to determine. The grouping of the Bai language, with one million speakers in Yunnan, is particularly controversial, with some workers suggesting that it is a sister language to Chinese. The Naxi language of northern Yunnan
is usually included in Lolo-Burmese, though other scholars prefer to leave it unclassified.[17] The hills of northwestern Sichuan
are home to the small Qiangic and Rgyalrongic groups of languages, which preserve many archaic features. The most easterly Tibeto-Burman language is Tujia, spoken in the Wuling Mountains on the borders of Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou and Chongqing. Two historical languages are believed to be Tibeto-Burman, but their precise affiliation is uncertain. The Pyu language of central Myanmar in the first centuries is known from inscriptions using a variant of the Gupta script. The Tangut language
Tangut language
of the 12th century Western Xia of northern China is preserved in numerous texts written in the Chinese-inspired Tangut script.[18] Tibet and South Asia[edit]

Language families of South Asia, with Tibeto-Burman in orange

Over eight million people in the Tibetan Plateau
Tibetan Plateau
and neighbouring areas in Baltistan, Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim
and Bhutan
speak one of several related Tibetic languages. There is an extensive literature in Classical Tibetan dating from the 8th century. The Tibetic languages are usually grouped with the smaller East Bodish languages
Bodish languages
of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh
Arunachal Pradesh
as the Bodish group. Many diverse Tibeto-Burman languages
Tibeto-Burman languages
are spoken on the southern slopes of the Himalayas. Sizable groups that have been identified are the West Himalayish languages of Himachal Pradesh
Himachal Pradesh
and western Nepal, the Tamangic languages of western Nepal, including Tamang with one million speakers, and the Kiranti languages of eastern Nepal. The remaining groups are small, with several isolates. The Newar language
Newar language
(Nepal Bhasa) of central Nepal
has a million speakers and a literature dating from the 12th century, and nearly a million people speak Magaric languages, but the rest have small speech communities. Other isolates and small groups in Nepal
are Dura, Raji–Raute, Chepangic and Dhimalish. Lepcha is spoken in an area from eastern Nepal
to western Bhutan.[19] Most of the languages of Bhutan
are Bodish, but it also has three small isolates, 'Ole ("Black Mountain Monpa"), Lhokpu and Gongduk and a larger community of speakers of Tshangla.[13] The Tani languages include most of the Tibeto-Burman languages
Tibeto-Burman languages
of Arunachal Pradesh
Arunachal Pradesh
and adjacent areas of Tibet.[20] The remaining languages of Arunachal Pradesh
Arunachal Pradesh
are much more diverse, belonging to the small Siangic, Kho-Bwa (or Kamengic), Hruso, Midzu and Digaro languages (or Mishmic) groups.[21] These groups have relatively little Tibeto-Burman vocabulary, and Bench and Post dispute their inclusion in Sino-Tibetan.[22]

Northeastern states of India (most of Arunachal Pradesh
Arunachal Pradesh
and the northern part of Assam are also claimed by China)

The greatest variety of languages and subgroups is found in the highlands stretching from northern Myanmar
to northeast India. Northern Myanmar
is home to the small Nungish group, as well as the Kachin–Luic languages, including Jingpho with nearly a million speakers. The Brahmaputran or Sal languages
Sal languages
include at least the Bodo–Koch and Konyak languages, spoken in an area stretching from northern Myanmar
through the Indian states of Nagaland, Meghalaya
and Tripura, and are often considered to include the Kachin–Luic group.[23][24] The border highlands of Nagaland, Manipur
and western Myanmar
are home to the small Ao, Angami–Pochuri, Tangkhul and Zeme groups of languages, as well as the Karbi language. Meithei, the main language of Manipur
with 1.4 million speakers, is sometimes linked with the 50 or so Kukish or Kuki-Chin languages are spoken in Mizoram
and the Chin State of Myanmar. The Mru language
Mru language
is spoken by a small group in the Chittagong Hill Tracts
Chittagong Hill Tracts
between Bangladesh and Myanmar.[25][26] Classification[edit] There have been two milestones in the classification of Sino-Tibetan and Tibeto-Burman languages, Shafer (1955) and Benedict (1972), which were actually produced in the 1930s and 1940s respectively. Shafer (1955)[edit] Shafer's tentative classification took an agnostic position and did not recognize Tibeto-Burman, but placed Chinese (Sinitic) on the same level as the other branches of a Sino-Tibetan family. He retained Tai–Kadai (Daic) within the family, allegedly at the insistence of colleagues, despite his personal belief that they were not related.


I. Sinitic

II. ?? Daic

III. Bodic

a. Bodish (Gurung, Tshangla, Gyarong, Tibetic) b. West Himalayish (incl. Thangmi, Baram, Raji–Raute) c. West Central Himalayish (Magar, Chepang, Hayu [misplaced]) d. East Himalayish e. Newarish f. Digarish g. Midźuish h. Hruish i. Dhimalish j. Miśingish k. Dzorgaish

IV. Burmic

a. Burmish b. Mruish c. Nungish d. Katśinish (Jingpho) e. Tśairelish f. Luish g. Taman h. Kukish

V. Baric

a. Barish b. Nagish

VI. Karenic

Benedict (1972)[edit] A very influential, although also tentative, classification is that of Benedict (1972), which was actually written around 1941. Like Shafer's work, this drew on the data assembled by the Sino-Tibetan Philology Project, which was directed by Shafer and Benedict in turn. Benedict envisaged Chinese as the first family to branch off, followed by Karen.


Chinese Tibeto-Karen

Karen Tibeto-Burman

The Tibeto-Burman family is then divided into seven primary branches: I. Tibetan–Kanauri (a.k.a. Bodish–Himalayish)

A. Bodish

(Tibetic, Gyarung, Takpa, Tsangla, Murmi & Gurung)

B. Himalayish

i. "major" Himalayish ii. "minor" Himalayish

(Rangkas, Darmiya, Chaudangsi, Byangsi)

(perhaps also Dzorgai, Lepcha, Magari)

II. Bahing–Vayu

A. Bahing (Sunuwar, Khaling) B. Khambu (Sampang, Rungchenbung, Yakha, and Limbu) C. Vayu–Chepang (perhaps also Newar)

III. Abor–Miri–Dafla

(perhaps also Aka, Digaro, Miju, and Dhimal)

IV. Kachin

(perhaps including Luish)

V. Burmese–Lolo

A. Burmese–Maru B. Southern Lolo C. Northern Lolo D. Kanburi Lawa E. Moso F. Hsi-fan (Qiangic and Jiarongic languages apart from Qiang and Gyarung themselves) G. Tangut (perhaps also Nung)

VI. Bodo-Garo languages

A. Bodo B. Garo (A·chik) C. Borok (Tripuri (Tøipra)) D. Dimasa E. Mech F. Rava (Koch) G. Kachari H. Sutiya I. Saraniya J. Sonowal (Perhaps also "Naked Naga" a.k.a. Konyak)

VII. Kuki–Naga (a.k.a. Kukish)

(perhaps also Karbi, Meithei, Mru)

Matisoff (1978)[edit] James Matisoff proposes a modification of Benedict that demoted Karen but kept the divergent position of Sinitic.[27] Of the 7 branches within Tibeto-Burman, 2 branches (Baic and Karenic) have SVO-order languages, whereas all the other 5 branches have SOV-order languages.


Chinese Tibeto-Burman

Tibeto-Burman is then divided into several branches, some of them geographic conveniences rather than linguistic proposals:

Kamarupan (geographic)

Kuki-Chin–Naga (geographic) Abor–Miri–Dafla Bodo–Garo

Himalayish (geographic)

Mahakiranti (includes Newar, Magar, Kiranti) Tibeto-Kanauri (includes Lepcha)

Qiangic Jingpho–Nungish–Luish

Jingpho Nungish Luish

Lolo–Burmese–Naxi Karenic Baic Tujia (unclassified)

Matisoff makes no claim that the families in the Kamarupan or Himalayish branches have a special relationship to one another other than a geographic one. They are intended rather as categories of convenience pending more detailed comparative work. Matisoff also notes that Jingpho–Nungish–Luish is central to the family in that it contains features of many of the other branches, and is also located around the center of the Tibeto-Burman-speaking area. Bradley (2002)[edit] Since Benedict (1972), many languages previously inadequately documented have received more attention with the publication of new grammars, dictionaries, and wordlists. This new research has greatly benefited comparative work, and Bradley (2002) incorporates much of the newer data.[28] I. Western (= Bodic)

A. Tibetan–Kanauri

i. Tibetic ii. Gurung iii. East Bodic (incl. Tsangla) iv. Kanauri

B. Himalayan

i. Eastern (Kiranti) ii. Western (Newar, Chepang, Magar, Thangmi, Baram)

II. Sal

A. Baric (Bodo–Garo–Northern Naga) B. Jinghpaw C. Luish (incl. Pyu) D. Kuki-Chin (incl. Meithei and Karbi)

III. Central (perhaps a residual group, not actually related to each other. Lepcha may also fit here.)

A. Adi–Galo–Mishing–Nishi B. Mishmi (Digarish and Keman) C. Rawang

IV. North-Eastern

A. Qiangic B. Naxi–Bai C. Tujia D. Tangut

V. South-Eastern

A. Burmese–Lolo (incl. Mru) B. Karen

Van Driem[edit] Van Driem rejects the primary split of Sinitic, making Tibeto-Burman synonymous with Sino-Tibetan. Other languages[edit] The classification of Tujia is difficult due to extensive borrowing. Anu-Hkongso, a pair of dialects listed as Tibeto-Burman for years, also remains unclassified. New Tibeto-Burman languages
Tibeto-Burman languages
continue to be recognized, some not closely related to other languages. Recently recognized distinct languages include Koki Naga. Randy LaPolla (2003) proposed a Rung branch of Tibeto-Burman, based on morphological evidence, but this is not widely accepted. Roger Blench and Mark Post (2011) list a number of divergent languages of Arunachal Pradesh, in northeastern India, that might have non-Tibeto-Burman substrates, or could even be non-Tibeto-Burman language isolates:[22]


Bugun (Khowa) Mey (Sherdukpen) of Shergaon Mey (Sherdukpen) of Rupa Sartang Chug and Lish

[Northern] Mishmi (Digarish)

Idu (Luoba) Taraon (Digaru)


Koro Milang

Puroik (Sulung) - East Kameng District Hruso (Aka) - Thrizino Circle, West Kameng District Miji (Sajolang, Dimai, Dhimmai) Miju

Blench and Post believe the remaining languages with these substratal characteristics are more clearly Sino-Tibetan:

East Bodish

Meyor (Zakhring) Monpa of Tawang - Tawang District Monpa of Kalaktang (Tshangla) Monpa of Zemithang Monpa of Mago-Thingbu

Tani: Nah

See also[edit]

Proto-Tibeto-Burman language


^ Source: United States Central Intelligence Agency, 1983. The map shows the distribution of ethnolinguistic groups according to the historical majority ethnic groups by region. Note this is different from the current distribution due to ongoing internal migration and assimilation.

References[edit] Notes

^ "Tibeto". www.languagesgulper.com. Retrieved 2017-10-15.  ^ Hodgson (1853). ^ Logan (1856). ^ Logan (1858). ^ Forbes (1878). ^ van Driem (2001), p. 334. ^ van Driem (2001), pp. 341–342. ^ Sapir (1925). ^ Miller (1974). ^ Beckwith (1996). ^ Beckwith (2002). ^ Handel (2008), p. 431. ^ a b van Driem (2011a). ^ Thurgood (2003), p. 18. ^ Thurgood (2003), pp. 8–9. ^ Coblin (1979). ^ Thurgood (2003), p. 20. ^ Thurgood (2003), pp. 17, 19–20. ^ van Driem (2007), p. 296. ^ Burling (2003), pp. 178, 180–181. ^ Burling (2003), pp. 178–182. ^ a b Blench & Post (2011). ^ Thurgood (2003), pp. 11–12. ^ Burling (2003), pp. 174–178. ^ Thurgood (2003), pp. 12–14. ^ Burling (2003), pp. 182–189. ^ Namkung (1996), p. 455. ^ Bradley (2002).


Beckwith, Christopher I. (1996), "The Morphological Argument for the Existence of Sino-Tibetan", Pan-Asiatic Linguistics: Proceedings of the Fourth International Symposium on Languages and Linguistics, January 8–10, 1996, Bangkok: Mahidol University at Salaya, pp. 812–826.  ——— (2002), "The Sino-Tibetan problem", in Beckwith, Chris; Blezer, Henk, Medieval Tibeto-Burman languages, BRILL, pp. 113–158, ISBN 978-90-04-12424-0.  Benedict, Paul K. (1972), Matisoff, J. A., ed., Sino-Tibetan: A conspectus, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-08175-7.  Bielmeier, Roland; Haller, Felix, eds. (2007), Linguistics of the Himalayas
and Beyond, Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, ISBN 978-3-11-019828-7.  Blench, Roger; Post, Mark (2011), (De)classifying Arunachal languages: Reconsidering the evidence (PDF).  ———; ——— (2013), "Rethinking Sino-Tibetan phylogeny from the perspective of North East Indian languages", in Hill, Nathan W.; Owen-Smith, Thomas, Trans-Himalayan Linguistics, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 71–104, ISBN 978-3-11-031083-2.  Bradley, David (1997), " Tibeto-Burman languages
Tibeto-Burman languages
and classification", in Bradley, David, Tibeto-Burman languages
Tibeto-Burman languages
of the Himalayas, Papers in South East Asian linguistics, 14, Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, pp. 1–71, ISBN 978-0-85883-456-9.  ——— (2002), "The Subgrouping of Tibeto-Burman", in Beckwith, Chris; Blezer, Henk, Medieval Tibeto-Burman languages, BRILL, pp. 73–112, ISBN 978-90-04-12424-0.  Burling, Robbins (2003), "The Tibeto-Burman languages
Tibeto-Burman languages
of northeast India", in Thurgood, Graham; LaPolla, Randy J., Sino-Tibetan Languages, London: Routledge, pp. 169–191, ISBN 978-0-7007-1129-1.  Coblin, W. South (1979), "A New Study of the Pai-lang Songs" (PDF), Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies, 12: 179–216.  van Driem, George (2001), Languages of the Himalayas: An Ethnolinguistic Handbook of the Greater Himalayan Region, BRILL, ISBN 978-90-04-12062-4.  ——— (2003), "Tibeto-Burman Phylogeny and Prehistory: Languages, Material Culture and Genes", in Bellwood, Peter; Renfrew, Colin, Examining the farming/language dispersal hypothesis, pp. 233–249, ISBN 978-1-902937-20-5.  ——— (2007), " South Asia
South Asia
and the Middle East", in Moseley, Christopher, Encyclopedia of the World's Endangered Languages, Routledge, pp. 283–347, ISBN 978-0-7007-1197-0.  ——— (2011a), "Tibeto-Burman subgroups and historical grammar", Himalayan Linguistics Journal, 10 (1): 31–39.  Forbes, Charles James (1878), "On Tibeto-Burman languages", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, New Series, X: 210–227, doi:10.1017/s0035869x00016956, JSTOR 25196796.  Handel, Zev (2008), "What is Sino-Tibetan? Snapshot of a Field and a Language Family in Flux", Language and Linguistics Compass, 2 (3): 422–441, doi:10.1111/j.1749-818X.2008.00061.x.  Hodgson, Brian Houghton (1853), "On the Indo-Chinese Borderers and their connexion with the Himálayans and Tibetans", Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 22 (1): 1–25.  Logan, James R. (1856), "The Maruwi of the Baniak Islands", Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, 1 (1): 1–42.  ——— (1858), "The West-Himalaic or Tibetan tribes of Asam, Burma and Pegu", Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, 2 (1): 68–114.  Miller, Roy Andrew (1974), "Sino-Tibetan: Inspection of a Conspectus", Journal of the American Oriental Society, 94 (2): 195–209, doi:10.2307/600891, JSTOR 600891.  Namkung, Ju, ed. (1996), Phonological Inventories of Tibeto-Burman Languages (PDF), STEDT Monograph, 3, University of California, Berkeley, ISBN 0-944613-28-4.  Sapir, Edward (1925), "Review: Les Langues du Monde", Modern Language Notes, 40 (6): 373–375, JSTOR 2914102.  Shafer, Robert (1966), Introduction to Sino-Tibetan (Part 1), Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.  ——— (1967), Introduction to Sino-Tibetan (Part 2), Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.  ——— (1968), Introduction to Sino-Tibetan (Part 3), Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.  ——— (1970), Introduction to Sino-Tibetan (Part 4), Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, ISBN 978-3-447-01286-7.  ——— (1974), Introduction to Sino-Tibetan (Part 5), Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, ISBN 978-3-447-01559-2.  Thurgood, Graham (2003), "A subgrouping of the Sino-Tibetan languages", in Thurgood, Graham; LaPolla, Randy J., Sino-Tibetan Languages, London: Routledge, pp. 3–21, ISBN 978-0-7007-1129-1. 

Further reading[edit]

Mann, Noel Walter. 1998. A phonological reconstruction of Proto Northern Burmic. Unpublished thesis. Arlington: The University of Texas.

External links[edit]

Tibeto-Burman bibliography website Sino-Tibetan Etymological Dictionary and Thesaurus (STEDT) Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area (journal)

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

Authority control

GND: 4117213-9 N