|Burma and across the border into Thailand|
|ISO 639-2 / 5:||kar|
The Karen //, or Karenic, languages are tonal languages spoken by some seven million Karen people. They are of unclear affiliation within the Sino-Tibetan languages. The Karen languages are written using the Burmese script. The three main branches are Sgaw, Pwo, and Pa'o. Karenni (also known Kayah or Red Karen) and Kayan (also known as Padaung) are related to the Sgaw branch. They are almost unique among the Sino-Tibetan languages in having a subject–verb–object word order; other than Karen, Chinese and Bai, Sino-Tibetan languages feature a subject–object–verb order. This is likely due to influence from neighboring Mon and Tai languages. The Karen languages are also considered unusual for not having any Chinese influence.
Because they differ from other Tibeto-Burman languages in morphology and syntax, Benedict (1972: 2–4, 129) removed the Karen languages from Tibeto-Burman in a Tibeto-Karen branch, but this is no longer accepted.
The internal structure of the family is as follows:
- Pwo (Eastern, Western, Northern, Phrae Pwo)
Manson (2011) classifies the Karen languages as follows. The classifications of Geker, Gekho, Kayaw, and Manu are ambiguous, as they may be either Central or Southern.
Shintani (2012:x) gives the following tentative classification, proposed in 2002, for what he calls the "Brakaloungic" languages, of which Karen is a branch. Individual languages are marked in italics.
However, at the time of publication, Shintani (2012) reports that there are more than 40 Brakaloungic languages and/or dialects, many of which have only been recently reported and documented. Shintani also reports that Mon influence is present in all Brakaloungic languages, while some also have significant Burmese and Shan influence.
Theraphan Luangthongkum (2014) lists the following sound changes that had taken place during the transition from Proto-Tibeto-Burman (PTB; James Matisoff's reconstruction) to Proto-Karenic (PK; Luangthongkum's own reconstruction).
- Retention of the PTB low central vowel *a in PK
- Retention of the PTB final nasals *-m *-n *-ŋ in PK
- PTB *voiced onsets > PK *voiceless or *glottalised onsets
- PTB prefix *s- followed by a stem with *voiced sonorant > PK *voiceless initials
- PTB *voiceless unaspirated stop initials > PK *voiceless aspirated stop initials
- PTB voiced rhotic *-r > PK *-Ø
- PTB *voiceless alveolar fricative *-s > PK *voiceless alveolar stop *-t
- PTB *voiceless stop finals have remained *voiceless stop or have become glottal stop *-ʔ in PK
- PTB high back vowel *u > PK mid back vowel *o (vowel lowering)
- PTB off-gliding rhyme *-iy > PK monophthong *-i
- PTB off-gliding rhyme *-ey > PK monophthong *-e
- PTB off-gliding rhymes *-ay and *-a:y > PK monophthong *-e
- PTB off-gliding rhyme *-əy > PK off-gliding rhyme *-ej(ey)
- PTB *prefix-stem and/or *-infix-stem > PK *CC-
- Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Karen". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
- Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student's Handbook, Edinburgh
- Graham Thurgood, Randy J. LaPolla (2003). The Sino-Tibetan Languages. Routledge. ISBN 0-7007-1129-5.
- Description of the Sino-Tibetan Language Family
- Matisoff, James A. (1991). "Sino-Tibetan Linguistics: Present State and Future Prospects". Annual Review of Anthropology (Annual Reviews Inc.) 20: 469–504. doi:10.1146/annurev.an.20.100191.002345.
- Thai Cultural Tourism
- Shintani Tadahiko (2012). A handbook of comparative Brakaloungic languages. Tokyo: ILCAA.
- Luangthongkum, Theraphan. 2014. Karenic As A Branch of Tibeto-Burman: More Evidence From Proto-Karen. Paper presented at the 24th Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society (SEALS 24), Yangon, Burma.
- George van Driem (2001) Languages of the Himalayas: An Ethnolinguistic Handbook of the Greater Himalayan Region. Brill.
- Ken Manson (2010) A bibliography of Karen linguistics
- Dawkins, Erin and Audra Phillips (2009) A Sociolinguistic Survey of Pwo Karen in Northern Thailand Chiang Mai: Payap University.
- Dawkins, Erin and Audra Phillips (2009) An investigation of intelligibility between West-Central Thailand Pwo Karen and Northern Pwo Karen. Chiang Mai: Payap University.
- Free Anglo-Karen Dictionary
- Anglo-karen Grammar
- Drum Publication Group—Online Sgaw Karen language materials. Includes an online English - Sgaw Karen Dictionary.
- Karen Teacher Working Group—Several Karen fonts available for download.