Tai-Kadai languages

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Distribution of the Kadai language family.

The Tai-Kadai languages, also known as Daic, Kadai, Kradai, or Kra-Dai, are a language family of highly tonal languages found in southern China and Southeast Asia. They include Thai and Lao, the national languages of Thailand and Laos respectively. There are nearly 100 million speakers of these languages in the world.[1] Ethnologue lists 92 languages in this family, with 76 of these languages being in the Kam-Tai branch.[2]

The diversity of the Tai-Kadai languages in southeastern China, especially in Guizhou and Hainan, suggests that this is close to their homeland. The Tai branch moved south into Southeast Asia only about a thousand years ago, founding the nations that later became Thailand and Laos in what had been Austroasiatic territory.

The name "Tai-Kadai" comes from an obsolete bifurcation of the family into two branches, Tai and Kadai (all else). Since this Kadai can only be a valid group if it includes Tai, it is sometimes used to refer to the entire family; on the other hand, some references narrow its usage to the Kra branch of the family.


External relationships

The Tai-Kadai languages were formerly considered to be part of the Sino-Tibetan family, but outside of China they are now classified as an independent family. They contain large numbers of words that are similar in Sino-Tibetan languages. However, these are seldom found in all branches of the family, and do not include basic vocabulary, indicating that they are old loan words (Ostapirat 2005).

Several Western scholars have presented suggestive evidence that Tai-Kadai is related to or a branch of the Austronesian language family. There are a number of possible cognates in the core vocabulary. Among proponents, there is yet no agreement as to whether they are a sister group to Austronesian in a family called Austro-Tai, a backmigration from Taiwan to the mainland, or a later migration from the Philippines to Hainan during the Austronesian expansion.

In China, they are called Zhuang-Dong languages and are generally considered to be related to Sino-Tibetan languages along with the Miao-Yao languages. It is still a matter of discussion among Chinese scholars whether Kra languages such as Gelao, Qabiao, and Lachi can be included in Zhuang-Dong, since they lack the Sino-Tibetan similarities that are used to include other Zhuang-Dong languages in Sino-Tibetan.

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