Tai peoples refers to the population of descendants of speakers of a common Tai language, including sub-populations that no longer speak a Tai language. There is a total of about 93 million people of Tai ancestry worldwide, with largest ethnic groups being Thais, Isan, Shan, Lao, Ahom and Northern Thai peoples.
The Tai are scattered through much of South China and Mainland Southeast Asia, with some (e.g. Khamti, Ahom) inhabiting parts of Northeast India. Tai peoples are both culturally and genetically very similar and therefore primarily identified through their language.
Distribution of Tai people
|Regions with significant populations|
China (Dai people, Zhuang people)
Myanmar (Shan people)
India (Tai Khamti, Tai Ahom ,Tai Phake, Tai Aiton, Tai Khamyang and Tai Turung)
|Theravada Buddhism, Ahom religion , Tai folk religion Hinduism, Animism, Shamanism|
Speakers of the many languages in the Tai branch of the Tai–Kadai language family are spread over many countries in Southern China, Indochina and Northeast India. Unsurprisingly, there are many terms used to describe the distinct Tai peoples of these regions.
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).
The ethnonym and autonym of the Lao people (lǎo 獠) together with the ethnonym Gelao (Gēlǎo 仡佬), a Kra population scattered from Guìzhōu (China) to North Vietnam, and Sino-Vietnamese 'Jiao' as in Jiaozhi (jiāo zhǐ 交趾), the name of North Vietnam given by the ancient Chinese, would have emerged from the Austro-Asiatic *k(ə)ra:w 'human being'.
The etymon *k(ə)ra:w would have also yielded the ethnonym Keo/ Kæw kɛːwA1, a name given to the Vietnamese by Tai speaking peoples, currently slightly derogatory. In fact, Keo/ Kæw kɛːwA1 was an exonym used to refer to Tai speaking peoples, as in the epic poem of Thao Cheuang, and was only later applied to the Vietnamese. In Pupeo (Kra branch), kew is used to name the Tay (Central Tai) of North Vietnam.
The name "Lao" is used almost exclusively by the majority population of Laos, the Lao people, and two of the three other members of the Lao-Phutai subfamily of Southwestern Tai: Isan speakers (occasionally), the Nyaw or Yaw and the Phu Thai.
The Zhuang in China do not constitute an autonymic unity: in various areas in Guangxi they refer to themselves as powC2 ɕu:ŋB2, pʰoB2 tʰajA2, powC2 ma:nA2, powC2 ba:nC1, or powC2 lawA2, while those in Yunnan use the following autonyms: puC2 noŋA2, buB2 dajA2, or buC2 jajC1 (=Bouyei, bùyi 布依). The Zhuang do not constitute a linguistic unity either, because Chinese authorities include within this group some distinct ethnic groups such as the Lachi speaking a Kra language.
The Nung living on both sides of the Sino-Vietnamese border have their ethnonym derived from clan name Nong (儂 / 侬), whose bearers dominated what are now north Vietnam and Guangxi in the 11th century AD. In 1048, a Nong general, Nong Zhigao, revolted against Annamese rule, and then marched eastwards to besiege Guangzhou in 1052.
The Tai peoples, from Guangxi began to move southwestward in the first millennium CE, eventually spreading across the whole of mainland Southeast Asia. Based on layers of Chinese loanwords in proto-Southwestern Tai and other historical evidence, Pittayawat Pittayaporn (2014) proposes that the southwestward migration of Tai-speaking tribes from the modern Guangxi and northern Vietnam to the mainland of Southeast Asia must have taken place sometime between the 8th-10th centuries. Tai speaking tribes migrated southwestward along the rivers and over the lower passes into Southeast Asia, perhaps prompted by the Chinese expansion and suppression. Chinese historical texts record that, in 722, 400,000 'Lao'[a] rose in revolt behind Mai Thúc Loan, who declared himself the king of Nanyue in Guangdong. After the 722 revolt, some 60,000 were beheaded. In 726, after the suppression of a rebellion by a 'Lao' leader in the present-day Guangxi, over 30,000 rebels were captured and beheaded. In 756, another revolt attracted 200,000 followers and lasted four years. In the 860s, many local people in what is now north Vietnam sided with attackers from Nanchao, and in the aftermath some 30,000 of them were beheaded. In the 1040s, a powerful matriarch-shamaness by the name of A Nong, her chiefly husband, and their son, Nong Zhigao, raised a revolt, took Nanning, besieged Guangzhou for fifty seven days, and slew the commanders of five Chinese armies sent against them before they were defeated, and many of their leaders were killed. As a result of these three bloody centuries, the Tai began to migrate southwestward.
The high diversity of Kra–Dai languages in southern China points to the origin of the Kra–Dai language family in southern China. The Tai branch moved south into Southeast Asia only around 1000 AD.
James R. Chamberlain (2016) proposes that Tai–Kadai (Kra-Dai) language family was formed as early as the 12th century BCE in the middle Yangtze basin, coinciding roughly with the establishment of the Chu ﬁefdom and the end of the Shang dynasty. Following the southward migrations of Kra and Hlai (Rei/Li) peoples from the ancient state of Chu around the 8th century BCE, the Be-Tai people started to break away to the east coast in the present-day Zhejiang, in the 6th century BCE, establishing the state of Yue. After the destruction of the state of Yue by Chu army around 333 BCE, Yue people (Be-Tai) began to migrate southwards along the east coast of China to what are now Guangxi, Guizhou and northern Vietnam, forming Luo Yue (Central-Southwestern Tai) and Xi Ou (Northern Tai).
Chamberlain's proposal of the Chu 楚 Urheimat of Tai-Kadai is supported by unearthed epigraphic materials, which show clear substrate influence, predominantly from Tai-Kadai. One of the most notable items is the Chu graph for "one, once" written as (? < OC *nnəŋ) in the E jun qijie 鄂君啟筯 bronze tally and in Warring States bamboo inscriptions, which represents a Tai-Kadai areal word. The following are some Tai-Kadai words in Chu 楚 bronze inscriptions and early Chinese literature identified by Wolfgang Behr:
知～～智 zhī < *trje(H) < *te(-s)
嬭 mĭ < *mjieX < *mej-q ← proto-Tai *mɛɛB, proto-Kam-Sui *mlɛɛB, proto-Hlai *mʔaiB vs. proto-Austro-Asiatic *me-q, proto-Mon *meʔ, proto-Katuic *mɛ(:)ʔ “mother”
Bronze inscriptions-standard: 一, 壹, 弌 yī < *ʔjit < *ʔit "one, be / become one" etc. (> all later Sinitic languages)
Warring States-Chŭ dialect: 「」 ← p[能] néng < *nong < *nnəŋ
cf. 「其義也」"his propriety is unique"; 「能為，肰然句後能為君子」"if able to unify — only after this one may become a true gentlemen"; 「禱」"sacrifice once/in one piece?"; 「歲返」"to be returned once a year" (鄂君啟節)
← proto-Tai *hnïŋ = *hnɯŋ (Siamese 22nɯŋ, Dai 33nɯŋ, Longzhou nəəŋA etc.) "one, once"
In a paper published in 2004, Linguist Laurent Sagart hypothesized that the proto-Tai–Kadai language originated as an Austronesian language that migrants carried from Taiwan to mainland China. Afterwards, the language was then heavily influenced by local languages from Sino-Tibetan, Hmong–Mien, or other families, borrowing much vocabulary and converging typologically. Later, Sagart (2008) introduces a numeral-based model of Austronesian phylogeny, in which Tai-Kadai is considered as a later form of FATK,[b] a branch of Austronesian belonging to subgroup Puluqic developed in Taiwan, whose speakers migrated back to the mainland, both to Guangdong, Hainan and north Vietnam around the second half of the 3rd millennium BCE. Upon their arrival in this region, they underwent linguistic contact with an unknown population, resulting in a partial relexification of FATK vocabulary. On the other hand, Weera Ostapirat supports a coordinate relationship between Tai-Kadai and Austronesian, based on a number of phonological correspondences. The following are Tai-Kadai and Austronesian lexical items showing the genetic connection between these two language families:
The connection between Austronesian and Tai-Kadai can also be found in some common cultural practices. Roger Blench (2008) demonstrates that dental evulsion, face-tatooing, teeth-blackening and snake cults are shared between the Taiwanese Austronesian and Tai-Kadai population in Southern China.
Tai people tend to have high frequencies of Y-DNA haplogroup O-M95 (including its O-M88 subclade, which also has been found with high frequency among northern Vietnamese), moderate frequencies of Y-DNA haplogroup O-M122 (especially its O-M117 subclade, like speakers of Tibeto-Burman languages), and moderate to low frequencies of haplogroup O-M119. It is believed that the O-M119 Y-DNA haplogroup is associated with both the Austronesian people and the Tai. The prevalence of Y-DNA haplogroup O-M175 among Austronesian and Tai peoples suggests a common ancestry with speakers of the Austroasiatic, Sino-Tibetan, and Hmong–Mien languages some 30,000 years ago in China (Haplogroup O (Y-DNA)). Y-DNA haplogroup O-M95 is found at high frequency among most Tai peoples, which is a trait that they share with the neighboring ethnic Austroasiatic peoples. Y-DNA haplogroups O-M119 and O-M95 are subclades of O-M175, which itself is a subclade of Y-DNA haplogroup K, a genetic mutation that is believed to have originated 40,000 years ago, somewhere in China.
A recent genetic and linguistic analysis in 2015 showed great genetic homogenity between Kra-Dai speaking people, suggesting a common ancestry and a large replacement of former non-Kra-Dai groups in Southeast Asia. Kra-Dai populations are closest to southern Chinese and Taiwanese populations..
The Tai practice a type of feudal governance that is fundamentally different from that of the Chinese, and is especially adapted to state formation in ethnically and linguistically diverse montane environments centered on valleys suitable for wet-rice cultivation. The form of society is a highly stratified one.
|Chinese||Pinyin||Tai Lü||Tai Nüa||Thai||Conventional||Area(s)|
|tai˥˩ lɯː˩||ไทลื้อ||Tai Lü, Tai Lue||Xishuangbanna (China)|
|ไทเหนือ, ไทใต้คง||Tai Nüa, Northern Tai, Upper Tai, Chinese Shan||Dehong (China); Burma|
|傣擔||Dǎidān||tai˥˩ dam˥||ไทดำ, ลาวโซ่ง, ผู้ไท||Tai Dam, Black Tai, Tai Lam, Lao Song Dam*, Tai Muan, Tai Tan, Black Do, Jinping Dai, Tai Den, Tai Do, Tai Noir, Thai Den||Jinping (China), Laos, Thailand|
|傣繃||Dǎibēng||tai˥˩pɔːŋ˥||ไทเมา||Tay Pong||Ruili, Gengma (China),|
along the Mekong
|傣端||Dǎiduān||tai˥˩doːn˥||ไทขาว||White Tai, Tày Dón, Tai Khao, Tai Kao, Tai Don, Dai Kao, White Dai, Red Tai, Tai Blanc, Tai Kaw, Tày Lai, Thai Trang||Jinping (China)|
|傣雅||Dǎiyǎ||tai˥˩jaː˧˥||ไทหย่า||Tai Ya, Tai Cung, Cung, Ya||Xinping, Yuanjiang (China)|
along the Red River
|* lit. "Lao [wearing] black trousers"|
Listed below are lesser-known Tai peoples and languages.
In Burma, there are also various Tai peoples that are often categorized as part of a larger Shan ethnicity (see Shan people#Tai groups).
The United States is home to a significant population of Thai, Lao, Tai Kao, Isan, Lu, Phutai, Tai Dam, Tay and Shan people. There are a significant number of Thai and Lao people living in Canada as well.
The most significant communities of Tai peoples in Europe are in the Lao communities of the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Switzerland, the Isan communities of the United Kingdom and Iceland, the Thai communities of Finland, Iceland and Norway, the Tai Dam and Tay communities of France, and the Southern Thai community of the United Kingdom.
Media related to Tai peoples at Wikimedia CommonsBouyei people
The Bouyei (also spelled Puyi, Buyei and Buyi; self called: Buxqyaix [puʔjai], or "Puzhong", "Burao", "Puman"; Chinese: 布依族; Pinyin: Bùyīzú; Vietnamese: người Bố Y) are an ethnic group living in southern mainland China. Numbering 2.5 million, they are the 11th largest of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China. Some Bouyei also live in Vietnam, where they are one of that nation's 54 officially recognized ethnic groups. Despite the Chinese considering them a separate group, they consider themselves Zhuang (Tai peoples).The Bouyei live in semi-tropical, high-altitude forests of Guizhou province, as well as in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, and speak a Tai language.Isan people
The Isan people (Thai: คนอีสาน, RTGS: Khon Isan, Thai pronunciation: [kʰōn ʔīːsǎːn]; Lao: ຄົນອີສານ) or Northeastern Thai people are an ethno-regional group native to Northeastern Thailand ("Isan") with an estimated population of about 22 million. Like Thais (Siamese) and Lao, they belong to the linguistic family of Tai peoples.
In a broader sense, everyone who comes from the 20 northeastern provinces of Thailand may be called khon isan. In the narrower sense, the term refers only to the ethnic Lao who make up the majority population in most parts of the region. Following the separation of Isan from the state of Laos, its integration into the Thai nation state and the central government's policy of "Thaification", they have developed a distinct regional identity that differs both from the Laotians of Laos and the Thais of Central Thailand. Alternative terms for this group are T(h)ai Isan, Thai-Lao, Lao Isan, or Isan Lao.
Almost all inhabitants of Thailand's Northeast are Thai nationals. Yet a majority of them (approximately 80%) are ethnically Lao and speak a variant of the Lao language when at home (the Lao dialects spoken in Northeastern Thailand are summarized as Isan language). To avoid being subjected to derogatory stereotypes and perceptions associated with Lao-speaking people, most prefer to call themselves khon isan.Lao Ga
The Lao Ga (Thai: ลาวกา, RTGS: Lao Ka, pronounced [lāːw kāː]), are a Tai sub-ethnic group of Lao people.Lao Krang
The Lao Krang (Thai: ลาวครั่ง, RTGS: Lao Khrang, pronounced [lāːw kʰrâŋ]; endonym: [laːw kʰaŋ]) are a sub-group of the Lao ethnic group. Also known as the Tai Krang (Thai: ไทครั่ง), they speak a dialect of the Lao language that is not too different from the modern Lao/Isan languages of Laos and Isan. The Lao Krang should not be confused with the Tai Khang (spelt the same as 'Thai Krang' in Thai) who are a closely related people inhabiting northeastern Laos.Lao Lom
The Lao Lom (Thai: ลาวหล่ม, pronounced [lāːw lòm]), also called Tai Lom (ไทหล่ม, pronounced [tʰāj lòm]) or Tai Loei (ไทเลย, pronounced [tʰāj lɤ̄ːj]), are an ethnic group in Thailand and Laos. They should not be confused with the Lao Loum (lowland Lao), who make up approximately 69% of the population of Laos.Lao Song
The Lao Song (Thai: ลาวโซ่ง, pronounced [lāːw sôːŋ]) are an ethnic group of Thailand. The Lao Song are also known as the Tai Song (ไทโซ่ง), Lao Song Dam (ลาวโซ่งดำ), or simply as the Song or Song Dam.Lao Ti
Lao Ti (Thai: ลาวตี้, pronounced [lāːw tîː]) also called Lao Di are an ethnic group of Ratchaburi Province in western Thailand near the Burma border. The group was first studied in 1939 by the Danish ethnologist Erik Seidenfaden.Lao Wiang
The Lao Wiang (Thai: ลาวเวียง, pronounced [lāːw wīa̯ŋ]), sometimes also referred to as Lao Wieng, are a Tai sub-ethnic group of the Isan region. Of the approximately 50,000 proclaimed Lao Wiang live in villages through the region, especially the provinces of Prachinburi, Udon Thani, Nakhon Pathom, Chai Nat, Lopburi, Saraburi, Phetchaburi and Roi Et with a significant number in Bangkok as migrant labourers or in search of better economic opportunities.Lao people
The Lao people or Laotians are a Tai ethnic group native to Southeast Asia, who speak the eponymous language of the Tai–Kadai group, originating from present-day southern China. They are the majority ethnic group of Laos, making up 53.2% of the total population. The majority of Lao people adhere to Theravada Buddhism. They are closely related to other Tai peoples, especially (or synonymous) with the Isan people, who are also speakers of Lao language, but native to neighboring Thailand.
In Western historiography, terms Lao people and Laotian have had a loose meaning. Both terms were irregularly applied both to all natives of Laos in general, aside from or alongside ethnic Lao during different periods in history; since the end of the French rule in Laos in 1953, Lao has been applied solely to the ethnic group while Laotian refers to any citizen of Laos regardless of their ethnic identity. Certain countries still conflate the terms in their statistics.Lu people
The Tai Lü people (Chinese: 傣仂 Dǎi lè, Lao: ລື້ Lư̄, Thai: ไทลื้อ RTGS: Thai Lue, Vietnamese: Người Lự) are an ethnic group of China, Laos, Thailand, Burma, and Vietnam. They speak a Southwestern Tai language.Mường Thanh
Mường Thanh is a ward (phường) of Điện Biên Phủ in Điện Biên Province in northwestern Vietnam. It was a township of Điện Biên District before it was incorporated into Điện Biên Phủ city.
Mường Thanh is named after Muang Theng or Müang Thaeng, which was, according to the Khun Borom creation myth, the original home of the Tai peoples (Lao, Thai, Shan, upland Tai peoples).
Until the 1950s, Mường Thanh was the centre of an autonomous chiefdom of the Tai Dam ("Black Tai"), one of the 12 cantons of the confederation Sip Song Chau Tai.Northern Thai people
The Northern Thai people or Tai Yuan (ไทยวน, [taj˧ ɲuːən˧]), self-designation khon mu(e)ang (ฅนเมือง, [xon˧ mɯːəŋ˧], meaning "people of the (cultivated) land" or "people of our community") are a Tai ethnic group of eight provinces in northern Thailand, principally in the area of the former kingdom of Lan Na. As a Tai group, they are closely related to Tai Lü and Tai Khün with regards to common culture, language and history as well as to Thailand's dominant Thai ethnic group (in contrast referred to as Siamese or Central Thai). There are approximately 6 million Tai Yuan. Most of them live in Northern Thailand, with a small minority 29,442 (2005 census) living across the border in Bokeo Province and Sainyabuli Province of Laos. Their language is called Northern Thai, Lanna, or Kham Mueang.Nyaw people
The Lao Nyaw, Thai Nyaw or Tai Yo (Thai/Isan: ไทญ้อ, Thai pronunciation: [tʰāj jɔ́ː], Isan pronunciation: [tʰɑj ɲɔː]) are an ethnic group of Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, scattered throughout the provinces of Isan such as Nong Khai, Sakon Nakhon, Nakhon Phanom, and parts of Bolikhamxai and Khammouan provinces of Laos. They are also referred to as simply Nyaw or Yaw, depending on either the Lao, Isan, and Nyaw pronunciation, which all pronounce the initial consonant as [ɲ], or the Thai pronunciation, which pronounces the initial consonant as [j].Phuan people
The Phuan people (พวน), also known as Tai Phuan, Thai Puan (Thai: ไทพวน) or Lao Phuan, are a Theravada Buddhist Tai people spread out in small pockets over most of the northeastern Isan region with other groups scattered in central Thailand and Laos (Xieng Khouang Province). There are also approximately 5000 Phuan in Mongkol Borei District of Banteay Meanchey Province in Cambodia, as well in Battambang Province. According to the Ethnologue Report, the Phuan number 204,704 and that is split fairly evenly between populations in Laos and Thailand.Saek people
The Saek (Thai: แสก) or Tai Saek are an ethnic group of Laos and Thailand. The Saek are a part of the larger Tai ethnicity.Tai Daeng people
The Red Tai (in Vietnamese language Thái Đỏ; in Lao language Tai Daeng) are an ethnic group of Vietnam and Laos. They speak the Tai Daeng language. In Vietnam they are called Thái Đỏ and are included in the group of the Thái people, together with the Thái Đen ("Black Tai"), Thái Trắng ("White Tai"), Phu Thai, Tày Thanh and Thái Hàng Tổng. The group of the Thái people is the third largest of the fiftyfour ethnic groups recognized by the Vietnamese government.Tai Dam people
The Tai Dam (Thai: ไทดำ) are an ethnic minority predominantly from China, northwest Vietnam, Laos, Thailand. They are part of the Tai peoples and ethnically similar to the Thai from Thailand ,the Lao from Laos and the Shan from Shan State, Myanmar. Tai Dam means "Black Tai". This name comes from the black clothing worn by the group, especially females. In Vietnam they are called Thái Đen and are included in the group of the Thái people, together with the Thái Đỏ ("Red Tai"), Thái Trắng ("White Tai"), Phu Thai, Tày Thanh and Thái Hàng Tổng. The group of the Thái people is the third largest of the 54 ethnic groups recognized by the Vietnamese government. The Tai Dam's language is similar to Lao, but Tai Dam use their own unique writing system and traditionally rejected Buddhism. According to the Tai Dam's creation story, the Lo Cam family is to be the ruling class and the Luong the priests.
During the Indochina War, most Tai Dam allied with the communists. However, some Tai Dam allied with the French and fought against communism. After the fall of Điện Biên Phủ, this anticommunist faction fled Vietnam for northern Laos. By 1955, most Tai Dam moved to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. They worked as domestics, government officials, and soldiers. As communism descended on South Vietnam and Laos, the Tai Dam feared reprisals for their anticommunist past. They evacuated to Thailand and campaigned for sanctuary. Arthur Crisfield, an American language instructor, wrote letters to foreign governments on the group's behalf. In the summer of 1975, Governor Robert D. Ray agreed to resettle the Tai Dam in the state of Iowa. He needed an exemption from President Gerald Ford to bring a large ethnic population to one state. Today, more Tai Dam live in Iowa than anywhere outside of Asia.Tai Dón people
White Tai (in Thai language and Lao language Tai Khao; in Vietnamese language Tai Dón or Thái Trắng, in Chinese language Dai Duan) is an ethnic group of Laos, Vietnam and China. In Vietnam they are called Tai Dón or Thái Trắng and are included in the group of the Thái people, together with the Thái Đen ("Black Tai"), Thái Đỏ ("Red Tai"), Phu Thai, Tày Thanh and Thái Hàng Tổng. The group of the Thái people is the third largest of the fiftyfour ethnic groups recognized by the Vietnamese government.
|Live, raw||*qudip||*Kud-||dip||ʔdjup||ri:p||kthop (Tm)|
|Fowl, bird[d]||*manuk (PMP)||*maN-||nok||nok||no:k (Bd)||nok|
|I||*aku||*aku:||kuu||—||hou (Bd)||kuu (By)|
|Sesame||*leŋa||—||ŋaa||ʔŋaa||keɯ (Bd)||ŋaa (By)|
|Saliva||*ŋalay||—||laai||ŋwee (K)||la:i||laai (By)|
This tree diagram depicts the relationships of the major ethnic, linguistic and religious groups in India. For example, an H under Gujarati implies a Hindu, Gujarati-speaking Indian of Indo-Aryan ancestry. This list excludes caste groups like the Dalits which is a socio-political identity across linguistic, religious and racial lines. In addition, it should be noted that the terms 'Indo-Aryan' and 'Dravidian' refer to linguistic differences that exist between both groups.