The Tai or Zhuang–Tai languages (Thai: ภาษาไท or ภาษาไต, transliteration: p̣hās̛̄āthay or p̣hās̛̄ātay) are a branch of the Kra–Dai 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.
|Southern China (esp. Guangxi, Guizhou, Yunnan and Guangdong), Southeast Asia|
|ISO 639-2 / 5||tai|
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.
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. 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.
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'.
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.
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 Guangxi (especially in the Zuo River valley at the border to Vietnam) having 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 follows.
The following phonological shifts occurred in the Q (Southwestern), N (Northern), B (Ningming), and C (Chongzuo) subgroups (Pittayaporn 2009:300–301).
|Proto-Tai||Subgroup Q||Subgroup N||Subgroup B||Subgroup C|
|*ɤj, *ɤw, *ɤɰ||*aj, *aw, *aɰ||*i:, *u:, *ɯ:||*i:, *u:, *ɯ:||–|
|*ɯj, *ɯw||*iː, *uː||*aj, *aw||*iː, *uː||–|
|*we, *wo||*eː, *oː||*iː, *uː||*eː, *oː||*eː, *oː|
|*ɤn, *ɤt, *ɤc||–||*an, *at, *ac||–||–|
Furthermore, the following shifts occurred at various nodes leading up to node Q.
Jerold A. Edmondson's (2013) computational phylogenetic analysis of the Tai languages is shown below. Tay and Nung are both shown to be coherent branches under Central Tai. Northern Tai and Southwestern Tai are also shown to be coherent branches.
Proto-Southwestern Tai has also been reconstructed in 1977 by Li Fang-Kuei and by Nanna L. Jonsson in 1991.
Below is comparative table of Tai languages.
|English||Proto-Southwestern Tai||Thai||Lao||Northern Thai||Shan||Tai Lü||Standard Zhuang|
|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/|
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.
The Ahom language is a nearly extinct Tai language spoken by the Ahom people who ruled the Brahmaputra river valley in the present day Indian state of Assam between the 13th and the 18th centuries. The language is classified in a Northwestern subgrouping of Southwestern Tai owing to close affinities with Shan, Khamti and, more distantly, Thai. As the Ahom rulers of the area assimilated to the more numerous Assamese, the Indo-Aryan Assamese language gradually replaced Ahom as a spoken language, a process which became complete during the early 19th century. As of 2000, Ahom was only partially known by approximately 200 priests of the traditional Ahom religion and only used for ceremonial or ritualistic purposes.
Although the language is no longer spoken, the exhaustive 1795 Ahom-Assamese lexicon known as the Bar Amra preserves the form of the language that was spoken during the Ahom Kingdom. Ahom is an important language in Tai studies. It was relatively free of both Mon-Khmer and Indo-Aryan influences and has a written tradition dating back to the 13th century.Austro-Tai languages
Austro-Tai is a hypothesis that the Austronesian and Kra–Dai language families have a common origin. Related proposals include Austric (Wilhelm Schmidt 1906) and Sino-Austronesian (Laurent Sagart 2005b).Central Tai languages
The Central Tai languages include southern dialects of Zhuang, and various Nung and Tày dialects of northern Vietnam.
Central Tai languages differ from Northern Tai languages in that Central Tai distinguishes unaspirated and aspirated onsets, while Northern Tai generally does not (Li 1977). Southwestern Tai also displays this kind of aspiration contrast.Kam–Tai languages
The Kam–Tai languages, also called Dong–Tai (Chinese: 侗台语支) or Zhuang–Dong (Chinese: 壮侗语族) in China, are a proposed primary branch of the Kra–Dai language family. The Kam–Tai grouping is primarily used in China, including by the linguists Liang & Zhang (1996).
Liang & Zhang (1996) classify Kam–Sui, Be, and Tai together as the Dong-Tai 侗台 branch, due to the large number of lexical items shared by all three branches vis-a-vis the more divergent Kra (Chinese: Geyang 仡央) and Hlai (Chinese: Li 黎) branches. Liang & Zhang (1996) also propose a reconstruction of Proto-Kam–Tai.
A Kam–Tai group consisting of Kam–Sui and Tai is accepted by Edmondson & Solnit (1988). Hansell (1988) considers Be to be a sister of the Tai branch based on shared vocabulary, and proposes a Be–Tai grouping within Kam–Tai.
However, following Ostapirat (2005), scholars outside China now usually do not make use of the Kam–Tai grouping.Khamti language
Khamti language ( Khamti : လိꩱ့်တဲးၵမ်းတီႈ (Khamti written), Khamti : ၵၢမ်းတဲးၵံးတီႈ (Khamti spoken) Shan ၶၢမ်းတႆးၶမ်းတီႈ , [kháːm táj], or Shan: ၽႃႇသႃႇတႆးၶမ်းတီႈ, [pʰàːsʰàː táj]; Burmese: ခန္တီးရှမ်းဘာသာ, [ʃáɴ bàðà]; Thai: ภาษาไทคำตี่ )
is a Southwestern Tai language spoken in Burma and India by the Khamti people.Khamyang language
Khamyang is a critically endangered Tai language of India, spoken by the Khamyang people. Approximately fifty people speak the language; all reside in the village of Powaimukh, located seven miles downstream of Margherita in the Tinsukia district. It is closely related to the other Tai languages in the Assam region: Aiton, Khamti, Phake, and Turung.Lao language
Lao, sometimes referred to as Laotian (ລາວ Lao or ພາສາລາວ Lao language), is a Kra–Dai language and the language of the ethnic Lao people. It is spoken in Laos, where it is the official language, as well as northeast Thailand, where it is usually referred to as Isan. Lao serves as a lingua franca among all citizens of Laos, who speak approximately 90 other languages, many of which are unrelated to Lao. Modern Lao (language) is heavily influenced by the Thai language. A vast number of technical terms as well as common usage are adopted directly from Thai.
Like other Tai languages, Lao is a tonal language and has a complex system of relational markers. Spoken Lao is mutually intelligible with Thai and Isan, fellow Southwestern Tai languages, to such a degree that their speakers are able to effectively communicate with one another speaking their respective languages. These languages are written with slightly different scripts but are linguistically similar and effectively form a dialect continuum.Although there is no official standard, the Vientiane dialect has become the de facto standard language in the second-half of the 20th century.Northern Tai languages
The Northern Tai languages are an established branch of the Tai languages of Southeast Asia. They include the northern Zhuang languages and Bouyei of China, Tai Mène of Laos and Yoy of Thailand.Nung language (Tai)
Nùng is a Tai–Kadai language spoken mostly in Cao Bằng and Lạng Sơn provinces in Vietnam. It is also known as Bu-Nong, Highland Nung, Nong, Tai Nung, Tay, and Tày Nùng. Nung is the name given to the various Tai languages of northern Vietnam that are spoken by peoples classified as Nùng by the Vietnamese government.
In the 1999 census, it had about 856,000 speakers. It had about 968,800 speaker in the 2009 census.Phu Thai language
Phu Thai (Phuu Thai; Thai, Phu Thai: Phasa Phuthai, ภาษาผู้ไท or ภูไท) is a Southwestern Tai spoken in Laos and Thailand. Although it appears different from the Isan and the Lao languages, it is spoken in areas where these languages are predominant and has been influenced by them. Comparisons of Phu Thai with other Tai languages such Tay Khang. have not yet been done systematically enough to yield convincing results.
Another aspect of Phu Thai is its contact with the Katuic languages, a branch of the Austroasiatic languages. Whether in the Phu Thai areas of Central Laos or in more recent locations of Northeastern Thailand, one can find, along with Phu Thai, a few Katuic dialects known locally as Bru, So or Katang. James R. Chamberlain (2012) focusing on anthropological issues describes “the Phou Thay – Brou relationship” as a “symbiosis” and states that “the Phou Thay – Brou relationship has never evolved into a feudal system”.Phuan language
Phuan is a Tai language spoken in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.Sapa language
Sapa, or Tày Sa Pa, is a Southwestern Tai language of Sa Pa, Lào Cai Province, northern Vietnam. According to Pittayaporn (2009) and Glottolog, it is the closest relative of the Southwestern Tai languages, but does not share the phonological innovations that define that group. There are about 300 speakers. Tày Sa Pa speakers are classified by the Vietnamese as ethnic Tay people, most of whom speak Central Tai languages rather than Southwestern Tai languages. According to Jerold Edmondson, the phonology, tones, and lexicon of Tày Sa Pa is similar to that of Standard Thai.
A similar Southwestern Tai language called Padi [pa˧˩ zi˧˩] is spoken in Mường Khương District, Lao Cai Province, northern Vietnam.Southwestern Tai languages
The Southwestern Tai, Southwestern Thai or Thais languages are an established branch of the Tai languages of Southeast Asia. They include Siamese (Central Thai), Lanna (Northern Thai), Lao, Isan, Shan and others.Tai Aiton language
The Tai Aiton language is spoken in Assam, India (in the Dhonsiri Valley and the south bank of the Brahmaputra). It is currently classified as a threatened language, with less than two thousand speakers worldwide. Its other names include Antonia and Sham Doaniya.Tai Dón language
Tai Dón, also known as Tai Khao or White Tai, is a Tai language of northern Vietnam, Laos and China.Tai Lue language
Tai Lue (Tai Lü: ᨣᩴᩣᩱᨴᩭ, kam tai lue, [kâm.tâj.lɯ̀], Tai Tham spelling: ᨣᩴᩣᩱᨴᩭᩃᩧ ᩢ) or Tai Lɯ, Tai Lü, Thai Lue, Tai Le, Xishuangbanna Dai (Chinese: 傣仂语; pinyin: Dǎilèyǔ; Thai: ภาษาไทลื้อ, phasa thai lue, pronounced [pʰāː.sǎː.tʰāj.lɯ́ː]; Vietnamese: Lự or Lữ) is a Tai language of the Lu people, spoken by about 700,000 people in Southeast Asia. This includes 280,000 people in China (Yunnan), 200,000 in Burma, 134,000 in Laos, 83,000 in Thailand, and 4,960 in Vietnam. The language is similar to other Tai languages and is closely related to Kham Mueang or Tai Yuan, which is also known as Northern Thai language. In Yunnan, it is spoken in all of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, as well as Jiangcheng Hani and Yi Autonomous County in Pu'er City.
In Vietnam, Tai Lue speakers are officially recognised as the Lự ethnic minority, although in China they are classified as part of the Dai people, along with speakers of the other Tai languages apart from Zhuang.Tai Phake language
The Tai Phake language is spoken in the Buri Dihing Valley of Assam, India. The maːn˧ corresponds to the modern Thai บ้าน, ban, and Shan ဝၢၼ်ႈ wan which corresponds to 'village'.Turung language
The Turung language (Tailung, Tairong, Thai: (ภาษาไทตุรุง, pasa tai turung)) is an extinct Tai language formerly spoken in Assam. The Turung people who spoke this language now speak Assamese or Singpho languages.
The total population of the ethnic group is over 30,000 and primarily live in Jorhat, Golaghat and Karbi Anglong districts of Assam.Zhuang languages
The Zhuang languages (autonym: Vahcuengh, pre-1982: Vaƅcueŋƅ, Sawndip: 話僮, from vah 'language' and Cuengh 'Zhuang'; simplified Chinese: 壮语; traditional Chinese: 壯語; pinyin: Zhuàngyǔ) are any of more than a dozen Tai languages spoken by the Zhuang people of southern China in the province of Guangxi and adjacent parts of Yunnan and Guangdong. The Zhuang languages do not form a monophyletic linguistic unit, as northern and southern Zhuang languages are more closely related to other Tai languages than to each other. Northern Zhuang languages form a dialect continuum with Northern Tai varieties across the provincial border in Guizhou, which are designated as Bouyei, whereas Southern Zhuang languages form another dialect continuum with Central Tai varieties such as Nung, Tay and Caolan in Vietnam.Standard Zhuang is based on the northern Zhuang dialect of Wuming.
The Tai languages are believed to have been originally spoken in what is now southern China, with speakers of the Southwestern Tai languages (which include Thai, Lao and Shan) having emigrated in the face of Chinese expansion.
Noting that both the Zhuang and Thai peoples have the same exonym for the Vietnamese, kɛɛuA1, from the Chinese commandery of Jiaozhi in northern Vietnam, Jerold A. Edmondson posited that the split between Zhuang and the Southwestern Tai languages happened no earlier than the founding of Jiaozhi in 112 BC. He also argues that the departure of the Thai from southern China must predate the 5th century AD, when the Tai who remained in China began to take family names.