Meaning of TAI LANGUAGES in English

closely related family of languages, of which the Thai (Siamese) language of Thailand is the most important member. Because the word Thai has been designated as the official name of the language of Thailand, it would be confusing to use it for the various other languages of the family as well. Tai is therefore used to refer to the entire group. closely associated family of languages of which Thai (or Siamese), Lao (spoken in Laos), and Shan (spoken mostly in Myanmar ) are the best known. Known by different names and designations, the Tai languages are spoken in Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Assam state in northeast India, northern Vietnam, and the southwestern part of China. The Tai languages are related to a number of other languages and groups of southern China, the most populous being the Kam-Sui languages, spoken mostly in Kweichow province, China; and the Li or Hlai languages of Hainan. The entire language family containing Tai and all its linguistic relatives is called either Tai-Kadai or simply Kadai. The former assumption that Tai and its relatives belong to the Sino-Tibetan family is now not widely accepted. The similarity between the Tai and Chinese phonological systems (especially tone) is no longer taken as criterial; and, although many lexical items are also shared with Chinese, many moreincluding much of the most basic vocabularyare not. A competing proposal links Tai and its relatives with Austronesian, but this connection has not been established to the satisfaction of most scholars. Lexical and phonological criteria indicate that Tai languages have a common genetic relation and are best classified into three dialect groups. The Southwestern branch, composed of Thai, Lao, Shan, Khn, L, White Tai, Black Tai, and other languages, extends through Thailand, Laos, northern Vietnam, Myanmar, and Yunnan province in China. This dialect group has expanded in the recent period and encompasses two-thirds of all Tai speakers. It is also geographically the most extensive of the three groups. The Central branch includes the Tho (Tay) dialects of northern Vietnam and Lungchow and various other dialects spoken in the Chuang Autonomous Region of Kwangsi in China. The Northern branch comprises the Chung-chia, or Puyi, dialects in Kweichow province and the Chuang dialects in Kwangsi, as well as certain dialects of Yunnan and Vietnam and the Saek dialect spoken as far south as Laos and Thailand. These three dialect groups share a large percentage of their vocabulary, though there are words shared only between two groups. In phonological development the Northern dialects differ from the rest in not maintaining the distinction between aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stops. Aspiration found in certain of these dialects is the result of later borrowing and secondary developments. The Central dialects differ from the other groups in the treatment of certain Proto-Tai consonant clusters, such as tr and thr. The words of Tai languages are mostly monosyllabic. The many polysyllabic words derive mainly from compounds and loanwords. Syllables are composed of an initial consonant or consonant cluster followed by a vowel or vowel cluster. Syllables can sometimes be closed by a nasal or unreleased stop consonant. Each syllable has a tonei.e., the syllable must be pronounced with a certain pitch level and contour in all contexts. Contact with the many different languages abounding in the same area of Southeast Asia has led to the adoption of many words from different sources. Thai and Lao have borrowed extensively from Khmer and the Indic languages of Sanskrit and Pali, and the Central and Northern dialect groups are much influenced by Chinese loans. The vocabulary of the commonly shared core of Tai languages, presumably stemming from an earlier protolanguage, does not use inflection for morphological alternation. The chief Tai method of forming new words is compounding, but reduplication is quite common. Old processes of derivation involving the alternation of consonants or tone, or both, have ceased to be active. Some Tai languages have developed prefixes by abbreviating forms that were once full words; prefixes and infixes are also common in the Indic and Khmer loans into the more southerly Tai languages. Word order is generally subjectverbobject (SVO), and modifiers such as adjectives and possessive nouns follow the word they modify. The verb plus object (verb phrase) functions as predicate. Words translatable as English adjectives also commonly function as predicate and can be negated, and hence are considered a type of verb. Nouns may also function as predicate in certain contexts. Numbers and demonstratives cannot be used directly with nouns but must be used with a classifier, a word similar in function to English head in fifty head of cattle. Particles, short words that occur mostly at the end of the sentence, indicate meanings such as completion or continuation of action, question or command, emphasis or uncertainty, and degree of politeness or intimacy. Two different types of writing systems have been used for Tai languages. The Central and Northern dialect groups have used Chinese characters, some modified, since the 18th century or maybe much earlier, primarily for the writing of songs. The other type of writing system, which first occurs in the 13th century, derives from the Southern Indic type of scripts. There are many forms of this type of script, and they are used by a number of languages in the Southwestern group as well as by such neighbouring languages as Mon, Khmer, and Burmese. Modern Thai is written in a script with 42 consonant signs, 35 vowel and vowel cluster signs, and 4 tone markers. Similar types of writing systems are used in Lao, L, White Tai, Black Tai, and so on. Some scripts, such as those used by Shan, Ahom, and Na (Te-hung Tai of Yunnan, China), have in their traditional forms insufficient vowel signs and few or no tone markers. The Shan and Na scripts now also exist in reformed and augmented versions that distinguish all vowels and tones. Additional reading Studies of the Tai languages include Mary R. Haas, Thai-English Student's Dictionary (1964), a concise dictionary arranged according to the order of the Thai alphabet with a brief description of the phonological and grammatical system; Mary R. Haas and Heng R. Subhanka, Spoken Thai, 2 vol. (1945, reissued 1978), a textbook; George Bradley McFarland, Thai-English Dictionary (1941, reprinted 1974), with more extensive lexical coverage but with a nonstandard transcription of Thai pronunciation; Fang Kuei Li (Fang-kuei Li), A Handbook of Comparative Tai (1977), which lists more than 1,000 sets of cognate words in three Tai languages and gives reconstructions of the initial consonants, vowels, and tones of the ancestral Proto-Tai language, and The Tai and the Kam-Sui Languages, Lingua, 14:148179 (1965), a discussion of the relationship of these two language groups; Richard B. Noss, Thai Reference Grammar (1964), a detailed descriptive and structural analysis; Paul K. Benedict, Austro-Thai Language and Culture, with a Glossary of Roots (1975), an attempt to show a relationship between the Tai(-Kadai) languages and the Austronesian languages; and Tatsuo Hoshino and Russell Marcus, Lao for Beginners: An Introduction to the Spoken and Written Language of Laos (1981). Lexical resources on other Tai languages such as Yay, Lue, Saek, and regional dialects include the various volumes in the Michigan Papers on South and Southeast Asia series by William J. Gedney, ed. by Thomas John Hudak, each of which contains an extensive glossary and transcriptions of either texts or example sentences. Fang Kuei Li David B. Solnit

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