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). (See Language isolates and independent language families in Arunachal)


The Dené–Caucasian proposal

Austro-Tai links the Austronesian and Tai-Kadai languages. 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 that covered both this and Austric. Genetic similarities between the peoples of East and Southeast Asia 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]

External links[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.