Classification schemes for Southeast Asian languages

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There have been various classification schemes for Southeast Asian languages (see the articles for the respective language families). Language families include:

A number of language groups in Arunachal Pradesh traditionally considered to be Sino-Tibetan (Tibeto-Burman) may in fact constitute independent language families or isolates (Roger Blench 2011).


The Dené–Caucasian proposal

Austric links the languages of Southeast Asia apart from Sino-Tibetan. Sagart proposes instead Sino-Austronesian, linking Austronesian and Sino-Tibetan; Starosta proposed a family called East Asian which covered both this and Austric. Genetic similarities between the peoples of East and Southeast Asian languages have led some to speculate about "Haplogroup O" languages. In a different direction, the Dené–Caucasian hypothesis links Sino-Tibetan to languages of Siberia (Dene–Yeniseian) and the Caucasus.



The following table compares the phonemic inventories of various recently reconstructed proto-languages of Southeast Asia.

Comparison of Proto-languages
Proto-language Proto-Kra Proto-Tai Proto-Hlai Proto-S. Tai–Kadai Proto-Austronesian Proto-Tibeto-Burman Proto-Mon–Khmer
Source Ostapirat (2000) Pittayaporn (2009)[1] Norquest (2007)[2] Norquest (2007)[2] Blust (2009)[3] Matisoff (2003)[4] Shorto (2006)[5]
Consonants 32 33-36 32 28-29 25 23 21
Vowels 6 7 4-5 5-7 4 5-6 7
Diphthongs 4 5 1+ 4 2+ 3
Consonantal finals 7 10-11 6
Vowel length
No Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes

Maps of language families[edit]

Distribution of Sino-Tibetan 
Distribution of Hmong–Mien 
Distribution of Tai–Kadai 
Distribution of Austronesian – Greenhill, Blust & Gray (2008) 
Distribution of Austroasiatic 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pittayaporn, Pittayawat. 2009. The Phonology of Proto-Tai. Ph.D. dissertation. Department of Linguistics, Cornell University.
  2. ^ a b Norquest, Peter K. 2007. A Phonological Reconstruction of Proto-Hlai. Ph.D. dissertation. Tucson: Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona.
  3. ^ Blust, Robert A. 2009. The Austronesian Languages. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University. ISBN 0-85883-602-5, ISBN 978-0-85883-602-0.
  4. ^ Matisoff, James. 2003. Handbook of Proto-Tibeto-Burman: System and Philosophy of Sino-Tibetan Reconstruction. University of California publications in linguistics, v. 135. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  5. ^ Shorto, Harry L., et al. 2006. A Mon–Khmer Comparative Dictionary. Canberra: Australian National University. Pacific Linguistics. ISBN 0-85883-570-3.