The Austroasiatic languages,[note 1] formerly known as Mon–Khmer, are a large language family of Mainland Southeast Asia, also scattered throughout India, Bangladesh, Nepal and the southern border of China, with around 117 million speakers. The name Austroasiatic comes from a combination of the Latin words for "South" and "Asia", hence "South Asia". Of these languages, only Vietnamese, Khmer, and Mon have a long-established recorded history, and only Vietnamese and Khmer have official status as modern national languages (in Vietnam and Cambodia, respectively). In Myanmar, the Wa language is the de facto official language of Wa State. Santali is recognized as a regional language of India. The rest of the languages are spoken by minority groups and have no official status.
Ethnologue identifies 168 Austroasiatic languages. These form thirteen established families (plus perhaps Shompen, which is poorly attested, as a fourteenth), which have traditionally been grouped into two, as Mon–Khmer and Munda. However, one recent classification posits three groups (Munda, Nuclear Mon-Khmer and Khasi–Khmuic) while another has abandoned Mon–Khmer as a taxon altogether, making it synonymous with the larger family.
Austroasiatic languages have a disjunct distribution across India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Southeast Asia, separated by regions where other languages are spoken. They appear to be the extant autochthonous languages of Southeast Asia (if Andaman islands are not included), with the neighboring Indo-Aryan, Kra–Dai, Hmong-Mien, Dravidian, Austronesian, and Sino-Tibetan languages being the result of later migrations.
|South and Southeast Asia|
|Linguistic classification||One of the world's primary language families|
Regarding word structure, Austroasiatic languages are well known for having an iambic "sesquisyllabic" pattern, with basic nouns and verbs consisting of an initial, unstressed, reduced minor syllable followed by a stressed, full syllable. This reduction of presyllables has led to a variety among modern languages of phonological shapes of the same original Proto-Austroasiatic prefixes, such as the causative prefix, ranging from CVC syllables to consonant clusters to single consonants. As for word formation, most Austroasiatic languages have a variety of derivational prefixes, many have infixes, but suffixes are almost completely non-existent in most branches except Munda, and a few specialized exceptions in other Austroasiatic branches.
The Austroasiatic languages are further characterized as having unusually large vowel inventories and employing some sort of register contrast, either between modal (normal) voice and breathy (lax) voice or between modal voice and creaky voice. Languages in the Pearic branch and some in the Vietic branch can have a three- or even four-way voicing contrast.
However, some Austroasiatic languages have lost the register contrast by evolving more diphthongs or in a few cases, such as Vietnamese, tonogenesis. Vietnamese has been so heavily influenced by Chinese that its original Austroasiatic phonological quality is obscured and now resembles that of South Chinese languages, whereas Khmer, which had more influence from Sanskrit, has retained a more typically Austroasiatic structure.
Much work has been done on the reconstruction of Proto-Mon–Khmer in Harry L. Shorto's Mon–Khmer Comparative Dictionary. Little work has been done on the Munda languages, which are not well documented. With their demotion from a primary branch, Proto-Mon–Khmer becomes synonymous with Proto-Austroasiatic.
Paul Sidwell (2005) reconstructs the consonant inventory of Proto-Mon–Khmer as follows:
This is identical to earlier reconstructions except for *ʄ. *ʄ is better preserved in the Katuic languages, which Sidwell has specialized in. Sidwell (2011) suggests that the likely homeland of Austroasiatic is the middle Mekong, in the area of the Bahnaric and Katuic languages (approximately where modern Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia come together), and that the family is not as old as frequently assumed, dating to perhaps 2000 BCE. Peiros (2011) criticized Sidwell's theory heavily and calls it a bunch of contradictions. He show with his analysis that the homeland of Austroasiatic is somewhere near the Yangtze. He suggests the Sichuan Basin as likely homeland of proto-Austroasiatic before they migrated to other parts of central and southern China and than into Southeast Asia. He further suggests that the family must be as old as proto-Austronesian and proto-Sinotibetan or even older.
Georg van Driem (2011) proposes that the homeland of Austroasiatic is somewhere in southern China. He suggests that the region around the Pearl River (China) is the likely homeland of the Austroasiatic languages and people. He further suggests, based on genetic studies, that the migration of Kra–Dai people from Taiwan replaced the original Austroasiatic language but the effect on the people was only minor. Local Austroasiatic speakers adopted Kra-Dai languages and partially their culture.
The linguists Sagar (2011) and Bellwood (2013) support the theory of an origin of Austroasiatic along the Yangtze river in southern China.
Linguists traditionally recognize two primary divisions of Austroasiatic: the Mon–Khmer languages of Southeast Asia, Northeast India and the Nicobar Islands, and the Munda languages of East and Central India and parts of Bangladesh, parts of Nepal. However, no evidence for this classification has ever been published.
Each of the families that is written in boldface type below is accepted as a valid clade. By contrast, the relationships between these families within Austroasiatic are debated. In addition to the traditional classification, two recent proposals are given, neither of which accepts traditional "Mon–Khmer" as a valid unit. However, little of the data used for competing classifications has ever been published, and therefore cannot be evaluated by peer review.
In addition, there are suggestions that additional branches of Austroasiatic might be preserved in substrata of Acehnese in Sumatra (Diffloth), the Chamic languages of Vietnam, and the Land Dayak languages of Borneo (Adelaar 1995).
Peiros is a lexicostatistic classification, based on percentages of shared vocabulary. This means that languages can appear to be more distantly related than they actually are due to language contact. Indeed, when Sidwell (2009) replicated Peiros's study with languages known well enough to account for loans, he did not find the internal (branching) structure below.
Diffloth compares reconstructions of various clades, and attempts to classify them based on shared innovations, though like other classifications the evidence has not been published. As a schematic, we have:
|Austro - Asiatic||
Or in more detail,
This family tree is consistent with recent studies of migration of Y-Chromosomal haplogroup O2a1-M95. However, the dates obtained from by Zhivotovsky method DNA studies are several times older than that given by linguists. The route map of the people with haplogroup O2a1-M95, speaking this language can be seen in this link. Other geneticists criticise the Zhivotovsky method.
Other languages with proposed Austroasiatic substrata are:
John Peterson (2017) suggests that "pre-Munda" languages may have once dominated the eastern Indo-Gangetic Plain, and were then absorbed by Indo-Aryan languages at an early date as Indo-Aryan spread east. Peterson notes that eastern Indo-Aryan languages display many morphosyntactic features similar to those of Munda languages, while western Indo-Aryan languages do not.
Paul Sidwell (2009), in a lexicostatistical comparison of 36 languages which are well known enough to exclude loan words, finds little evidence for internal branching, though he did find an area of increased contact between the Bahnaric and Katuic languages, such that languages of all branches apart from the geographically distant Munda and Nicobarese show greater similarity to Bahnaric and Katuic the closer they are to those branches, without any noticeable innovations common to Bahnaric and Katuic.
He therefore takes the conservative view that the thirteen branches of Austroasiatic should be treated as equidistant on current evidence. Sidwell & Blench (2011) discuss this proposal in more detail, and note that there is good evidence for a Khasi–Palaungic node, which could also possibly be closely related to Khmuic.
If this would the case, Sidwell & Blench suggest that Khasic may have been an early offshoot of Palaungic that had spread westward. Sidwell & Blench (2011) suggest Shompen as an additional branch, and believe that a Vieto-Katuic connection is worth investigating. In general, however, the family is thought to have diversified too quickly for a deeply nested structure to have developed, since Proto-Austroasiatic speakers are believed by Sidwell to have radiated out from the central Mekong river valley relatively quickly.
Subsequently, Sidwell (2015a: 179) proposed that Nicobarese subgroups with Aslian, just as how Khasian and Palaungic subgroup with each other. A subsequent computational phylogenetic analysis of the Austroasiatic language family by Sidwell (2015b) suggests that Austroasiatic branches may have a loosely nested structure rather than a completely rake-like structure, with an east-west division (consisting of Munda, Khasic, Palaungic, and Khmuic forming a western group as opposed to all of the other branches) occurring possibly as early as 7,000 years before present.
Integrating computational phylogenetic linguistics with recent archaeological findings, Paul Sidwell (2015c) further expanded his Mekong riverine hypothesis by proposing that Austroasiatic had ultimately expanded into Indochina from the Lingnan area of southern China, with the subsequent Mekong riverine dispersal taking place after the initial arrival of Neolithic farmers from southern China.
Sidwell (2015c) tentatively suggests that Austroasiatic may have begun to split up 5,000 years B.P. during the Neolithic transition era of mainland Southeast Asia, with all the major branches of Austroasiatic formed by 4,000 B.P. Austroasiatic would have had two possible dispersal routes from the western periphery of the Pearl River watershed of Lingnan, which would have been either a coastal route down the coast of Vietnam, or downstream through the Mekong River via Yunnan. Both the reconstructed lexicon of Proto-Austroasiatic and the archaeological record clearly show that early Austroasiatic speakers around 4,000 B.P. cultivated rice and millet, kept livestock such as dogs, pigs, and chickens, and thrived mostly in estuarine rather than coastal environments.
At 4,500 B.P., this "Neolithic package" suddenly arrived in Indochina from the Lingnan area without cereal grains and displaced the earlier pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherer cultures, with grain husks found in northern Indochina by 4,100 B.P. and in southern Indochina by 3,800 B.P. However, Sidwell (2015c) found that iron is not reconstructable in Proto-Austroasiatic, since each Austroasiatic branch has different terms for iron that had been borrowed relatively lately from Tai, Chinese, Tibetan, Malay, and other languages.
During the Iron Age about 2,500 B.P., relatively young Austroasiatic branches in Indochina such as Vietic, Katuic, Pearic, and Khmer were formed, while the more internally diverse Bahnaric branch (dating to about 3,000 B.P.) underwent more extensive internal diversification. By the Iron Age, all of the Austroasiatic branches were more or less in their present-day locations, with most of the diversification within Austroasiatic taking place during the Iron Age.
Paul Sidwell (2018) considers the Austroasiatic language family to have rapidly diversified around 4,000 years B.P. during the arrival of rice agriculture in Indochina, but notes that the origin of Proto-Austroasiatic itself is older than that date. The lexicon of Proto-Austroasiatic can be divided into an early and late stratum. The early stratum consists of basic lexicon including body parts, animal names, natural features, and pronouns, while the names of cultural items (agriculture terms and words for cultural artifacts, which are reconstructable in Proto-Austroasiatic) form part of the later stratum.
Roger Blench (2017) suggests that vocabulary related to aquatic subsistence strategies (such as boats, waterways, river fauna, and fish capture techniques), can be reconstructed for Proto-Austroasiatic. Blench (2017) finds widespread Austroasiatic roots for 'river, valley', 'boat', 'fish', 'catfish sp.', 'eel', 'prawn', 'shrimp' (Central Austroasiatic), 'crab', 'tortoise', 'turtle', 'otter', 'crocodile', 'heron, fishing bird', and 'fish trap'. Archaeological evidence for the presence of agriculture in northern Indochina (northern Vietnam, Laos, and other nearby areas) dates back to only about 4,000 years B.P. (2,000 B.C.), with agriculture ultimately being introduced from further up to the north in the Yangtze valley where it has been dated to 6,000 B.P.
Hence, this points to a relatively late riverine dispersal of Austroasiatic as compared to Sino-Tibetan, whose speakers had a distinct non-riverine culture. In addition to living an aquatic-based lifestyle, early Austroasiatic speakers would have also had access to livestock, crops, and newer types of watercraft. As early Austroasiatic speakers dispersed rapidly via waterways, they would have encountered speakers of older language families who were already settled in the area, such as Sino-Tibetan.
Other than Latin-based alphabets, many Austroasiatic languages are written with the Khmer, Thai, Lao, and Burmese alphabets. Vietnamese divergently had an indigenous script based on Chinese logographic writing. This has since been supplanted by the Latin alphabet in the 20th century. The following are examples of past-used alphabets or current alphabets of Austroasiatic languages.
According to Chaubey et al., "Austro-Asiatic speakers in India today are derived from dispersal from Southeast Asia, followed by extensive sex-specific admixture with local Indian populations." According to Riccio et al., the Munda people are likely descended from Austroasiatic migrants from southeast Asia.
According to Zhang et al., Austroasiatic migrations from southeast Asia into India took place after the last Glacial maximum, circa 10,000 years ago. Arunkumar et al. suggest Austroasiatic migrations from southeast Asia occurred into northeast India 5.2 ± 0.6 kya and into East India 4.3 ± 0.2 kya.
The Arem language (Cmbrau) is an endangered language spoken in a small area on either side of the Laos–Vietnam border. It is an Austro-Asiatic language that is a member of the Vietic language branch. Specifically, it is a member of the Chut language family, which is one of the six Vietic language families. This language is considered severely endangered by UNESCO. Like other Vietic languages, the Arem language makes use of a tonal or phonational system that is unique to Vietic languages. Like many southern Vietic Languages, the Arem language also makes use of pre-syllables or sesquisyllables within the language.Arem lacks the breathy phonation common to most Vietic languages, but does have glottalized final consonants.Birhor language
The Birhor language is a highly endangered Munda language spoken by the Birhor people in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal, and Maharashtra states in India.According to Vidyarthi (1960:519), the Birhor are found mostly in Chota Nagpur and Santhal Paragana, with the Uthlu Birhors living near Bishunpur, Gumla district, Jharkhand (along the western border with Chhattisgarh).Bolyu language
The Bolyu language (autonym: pɔ˧lju˩˧; Chinese: 巴琉语, 布流语; also known as Paliu, Palyu, or Lai 俫语, 徕语) is an Austroasiatic language of the Pakanic branch (Sidwell 1995). The Bolyu are among the unrecognized ethnic groups of China. In 1984, Bolyu was first studied by Liang Min of the Nationalities Research Institute in Beijing. Liang was the first to suggest the Mon–Khmer affiliation of Bolyu, which was later confirmed by Western linguists such as Paul K. Benedict, Paul Sidwell, and Jerold A. Edmondson.Chong language
Chong (Thai: ภาษาชอง, also spelled Chawng, Shong, Xong) is an endangered language spoken in southeastern Thailand and formerly in Cambodia by the Cong people. It is a Western Pearic language in the Mon–Khmer language family. Chong is currently the focus of a language revitalization project in Thailand.
The Chong language is marked by its unusual four-way contrast in register. Its grammar has not been extensively studied, but it is unrelated to the Thai language which is in the Tai–Kadai language family. Chong had no written form until 2000, when researchers at Mahidol University used a simplified version of standard Thai characters to create a Chong writing system, after which the first teaching materials in the language appeared. Chong is currently considered to be at stage 7 in Joshua Fishman's Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (GIDS), where stage 8 is the closest to extinction.Chong is actually two languages, Western Chong, and Central Chong or Samre.
The Western Chong community in Thailand is primarily located in and around Chanthaburi.Central Chong includes the Kasong dialect of Trat. (See that article for details.)
While the language spoken in Thailand has been studied recently, the Chong language in Cambodia has not been investigated yet. Bradley (2007) reports no remaining speakers.Gutob language
The Gutob or Bodo Gadaba language is a Munda language of India, with the greatest concentrations of speakers being found in Koraput district of Odisha and Visakhapatnam district of Andhra Pradesh. It is also known simply as the Gadaba language, but it is different from the Dravidian Gadaba language. Other names for the Bodo Gadaba language include Gadba, Gutop, Gudwa, Godwa, Gadwa, and Boi Gadaba.Gérard Diffloth
Gérard Diffloth (born in Châteauroux, France, 1939) is a retired linguistics professor, formerly of the University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, and Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. He received his Ph.D. from UCLA, after a dissertation on the Irula language. Diffloth is a leading specialist in the Austroasiatic languages. He is an advocate of immersion fieldwork for linguistic research.Diffloth is known for his widely cited 1974 and 2005 classification of the Austroasiatic languages.
He is a Consulting Editor of the Mon–Khmer Studies Journal.Infix
An infix is an affix inserted inside a word stem (an existing word, or the core of a family of words). It contrasts with adfix, a rare term for an affix attached to the outside of a stem, such as a prefix or suffix (in mathematics, the terms prefix ("Polish Notation") and postfix are used).
When marking text for interlinear glossing, most affixes are separated with a hyphen, but infixes are separated with ⟨angle brackets⟩.Kasong dialect
Kasong, also previously known as "Chong of Trat", is an endangered Pearic language of the Austroasiatic family spoken in Bo Rai District, Trat Province of Thailand. On the basis of lexical similarity determined with a relatively short word list, Kasong has is classified as a dialect of Central Chong. However, further study and longer word lists point to Kasong being a separate language closely related to Chong and Samre. Kasong is nearly extinct; there are no monolinguals and all speakers use Thai as their primary language.
Of the vocabulary tested, 55.38 percent of the language is Thai loanwords.n These loanwords are grouped into two subtypes: direct from Thai or a Thai word added to an existing Kasong word. This high percentage is indicative of the language's route to potential extinction as Thai overtakes it and engulfs it.
More than 50 years ago, all Kasong people were forbidden to use the Kasong language in their families and with others as a result of governors believing that speaking Kasong interfered with speaking Thai. Thus, Kasong speakers taught their descendants Thai instead of Kasong. Thai nationalism led to the Kasong people becoming ashamed of their language and not being concerned with its preservation. The Kasong language and its people is representative of Thailand's many ethnolinguistic minoritiesKorku language
Korku is an Austroasiatic language spoken by the Korku tribe of central India, in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. It is isolated in the midst of the Gondi people, who are Dravidian, while its closest relatives are in eastern India.
Korkus are also closely associated with the Nihali people, many of whom have traditionally lived in special quarters of Korku villages. Korku is spoken by around 200,000 people, mainly in four districts of southern Madhya Pradesh (Khandwa, Harda, Betul, Hoshangabad) and three districts of northern Maharashtra (Rajura and Korpana tahsils of Chandrapur district, Manikgarh pahad area near Gadchandur in Chandrapur district) (Amravati, Buldana, Akola). Korku is spoken in a declining number of villages and is gradually being replaced by Hindi. For these reasons, Korku is classified as 'vulnerable to extinction' by UNESCO.Languages of Bangladesh
The official and de facto national language of Bangladesh is Modern Standard Bengali (literary Bengali). It serves as the lingua franca of the nation, with 98% of Bangladeshis fluent in Bengali (including dialects) as their first language. English, having no official status, is prevalent across government, law, business, media and education, and can be regarded as the de facto co-official language of Bangladesh (see Bangladeshi English).The indigenous people of northern and southeastern Bangladesh speak a variety of native languages.Mangic languages
The Mangic languages, which include the Pakanic languages, constitute a branch of Austroasiatic languages. They are spoken in southern China and historically in central China and northern Vietnam. The Mangic languages consist of Mang and the two Pakanic languages Bolyu and Bugan.Mlabri language
Mlabri is a language spoken by the Mlabri people in the border area between Thailand and Laos.
It is usually classified as a Khmuic language, a subgroup of the Austroasiatic languages. Linguist Jørgen Rischel has studied the language and described its peculiarities in several works. He divides the language into three varieties: one spoken by a small group in Laos and previously called Yumbri, and two others spoken by larger groups in Thailand. They differ in intonation and in lexicon.
Although it is possible to count up to ten in Mlabri, only the numerals one and two may be used to modify a noun, and the word for 'two' has uses closer to 'pair' or 'couple' in English than a numeral.Mok language
Mok, also known as Amok, Hsen-Hsum, and Muak, is a possibly extinct Angkuic language spoken in Shan State, Myanmar and in Lampang Province, Thailand. In Lampang Province, Thailand, 7 speakers were reported by Wurm & Hattori (1981).Nicobarese languages
The Nicobarese languages, or Nicobaric languages, form an isolated group of about half a dozen closely related Austroasiatic languages, spoken by the majority of the inhabitants of the Nicobar Islands of India. They have a total of about 30,000 speakers (22,100 native). The majority of Nicobarese speakers speak the Car language. Paul Sidwell (2015:179) considers the Nicobarese languages to subgroup with Aslian.
The Nicobarese languages appear to be related to the Shompen language of the indigenous inhabitants of the interior of Great Nicobar Island (Blench & Sidwell 2011), which is usually considered a separate branch of Austroasiatic. However, Paul Sidwell (2017) classifies Shompen as a Southern Nicobaric language rather than as a separate branch of Austroasiatic.
The morphological similarities between Nicobarese and Austronesian languages have been used as evidence for the Austric hypothesis (Reid 1994).Paul Sidwell
Paul James Sidwell is an Australian linguist based in Canberra, Australia who has held research and lecturing positions at the Australian National University. Sidwell, who is also an expert and consultant in forensic linguistics, is most notable for his work on the historical linguistics of the Austroasiatic language family, and has published reconstructions of the Bahnaric, Katuic, and Palaungic proto-languages. Sidwell is currently the President of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society.Pear language
Pear is a moribund Mon-Khmer language of Cambodia. "Pear" is a pejorative term for the historical slave caste of the Khmer, but nonetheless is the usual term in the literature. Pear is spoken in 3–4 villages of Rovieng District, Preah Vihear Province, Cambodia (Ethnologue).Sa'och language
Sa'och (Khmer pronunciation: [sa ʔoc], also, "Sauch") is an endangered, nearly extinct Pearic language of Cambodia and Thailand spoken only occasionally by a decreasing number of older adults. There are two dialects, one spoken in Veal Renh Village, Prey Nob District, Sihanoukville Province (formerly known as Kampong Som Province), Cambodia and the other in Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand. "Sa'och" is the Khmer exonym for the people and the language. The Sa'och, however, consider this label, which means "scarlet fever" or "pimply" in Khmer, pejorative and use the autonym "Chung" (Sa'och: [t͡ɕʰṳˀŋ]) to refer to themselves and their language.Somray language
Somray, or Northern Chong, is a Pearic language of Cambodia.Suoy language
Suoy is an endangered Pearic language of Cambodia spoken by a decreasing number of people, mainly older adults. It is spoken in Kampong Speu Province and Pursat Province, in the Phumi Krang Trachak area (Ethnologue).
and the Pacific