Sinitic languages

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Linguistic classification: Sino-Tibetan
  • Sinitic
ISO 639-5: zhx
Glottolog: sini1245  (Chinese)[1]

The Sinitic languages,[2] often synonymous with the Chinese languages, are a family of Sino-Tibetan languages. They have frequently been postulated to constitute a primary branch,[3][4] but this is rejected by an increasing number of researchers. The Bai languages, whose classification is difficult, may be Sinitic;[5] otherwise Sinitic is equivalent to the Chinese languages, and often used in opposition to "Chinese dialects" to convey the idea that these are distinct languages rather than dialects of a single language.[6][7]


L1 speakers of Chinese languages and other Sino-Tibetan languages according to Ethnologue

Assuming Bai is Sinitic, it diverged at approximately the time of Old Chinese, perhaps before. By the time of Middle Chinese, the Min languages had also split off.[8] An evidence is that all Chinese languages can be fit into the structure of Qieyun except Min.[9] Languages traceable to Middle Chinese include Mandarin, Wu, Hakka, and Yue. As more comparative work is done, additional "dialects" are found to be mutually unintelligible with their parent language; the latest to be separated out as languages were Huizhou, Jin, Pinghua, and Qiongwen, though the remaining Wu and Yue varieties are not all mutually intelligible, or have very limited intelligibility. Some varieties remain unclassified within Chinese.


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Chinese". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ "Sinitic" means relating to China or the Chinese. It is derived from the Greco-Latin word Sīnai "the Chinese", probably from Arabic Ṣīn "China", from the Chinese dynastic name Qín. (OED)
  3. ^ Anatole Lyovin (1997) An Introduction to the Languages of the World, Oxford University Press
  4. ^ George van Driem (2001) Languages of the Himalayas: An Ethnolinguistic Handbook of the Greater Himalayan Region. Brill. pp. 329 ff.
  5. ^ Van Driem 2001:380 "Ba'i ... may form a constituent of Sinitic, albeit one heavily influenced by Lolo–Burmese."
  6. ^ N. J. Enfield (2003:69) Linguistics Epidemiology, Routledge.
  7. ^ See also, for example, W. Hannas (1997) Asia's Orthographic Dilemma, University of Hawaii Press.
  8. ^ Mei Tsu-lin (1970) "Tones and Prosody in Middle Chinese and The Origin of The Rising Tone," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 30:86–110
  9. ^ "Middle Chinese: A Study in Historical Phonology" by E. G. Pulleyblank