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Kra languages

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Title: Kra languages  
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Subject: Tai–Kadai languages, Gelao language, Lachi language, Buyang language, En language
Collection: Kra Languages, Tai–kadai Languages
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Kra languages

Southern China, Northern Vietnam
Linguistic classification: Tai–Kadai
  • Northern
    • Kra
Proto-language: Proto-Kra
Glottolog: kada1291[1]

The Kra languages (Chinese: Gēyāng, 仡央, short for KláoBouxyaeŋz) are a branch of the Tai–Kadai family spoken in southern China (Yunnan, Guangxi, Hainan) and in northern Vietnam. Out of the entire Tai–Kadai family, the Kra branch is the least studied. Individual Kra languages have only been recently described in any detail.

The name Kra comes from the word *kra C[2] "human", which appears as kra, ka, fa, ha in various Kra languages. Benedict (1942) used the compound Kra–Dai for the Kra and Hlai languages taken together, and the term Kadai or Kradai is sometimes used for the Tai-Kadai family as a whole.


  • Significance 1
  • Reconstruction 2
  • Classification 3
  • Demographics 4
  • Numerals 5
  • Notes 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Several Kra languages have consonant clusters and disyllabic words, whereas other Tai–Kadai languages only have single consonants. One such language, Buyang, has been used to support a proposed connection with the Austronesian family. (See Austro-Tai.) Unlike the Tai and Kam–Sui languages, most Kra languages, including Gelao and Buyang, have preserved the proto-Tai–Kadai numerical systems. The only other Tai–Kadai branch that preserves this is Hlai.[3] Most other Tai–Kadai languages adopted Chinese numbers over 1,000 years ago.

As noted by linguist Jerold A. Edmondson, the Kra languages contain words in metalworking, handicrafts, and agriculture that are not attested in any other Tai–Kadai language.[4] This suggests that the Kra peoples may have developed or borrowed many technological innovations independently of the Tai and Kam-Sui peoples.



Morphological similarities suggest the Kra languages are closest to the Kam–Sui branch of the family. There are about a dozen Kra languages, depending on how languages and dialects are defined. The best known is perhaps the Gelao (Klao) dialect cluster, with about 8,000 speakers in China out of an ethnic population of approximately 500,000.

The internal classification below is from Ostapirat (2000), who splits the Kra branch into a total of 7 languages.


Laha (Vietnam)


Gelao (6 languages, Vietnam, China)

Lachi (Vietnam, China)


Paha (generally subsumed under Buyang)


Buyang (mainland China)

En (Vietnam)

Qabiao (Laqua, Pupeo) (Vietnam, China)

According to Edmondson (2002), Laha is too conservative to be in Western Kra, and he makes it a branch of its own. Ethnologue mistakenly includes the Hlai language Cun of Hainan in Kra; this is not supported by either Ostapirat or Edmondson.


The Kra languages have a total of about 22,000 speakers.[4] In Vietnam, officially recognized Kra peoples are the Cờ Lao (Gelao), La Chí (Lachi), La Ha (Laha), and Pu Péo (Qabiao). In China, only the Gelao people have official status. The other Kra peoples are variously classified as Zhuang, Buyi, Yi, and Han.

Within China, "hotspots" for Kra languages include most of western Guizhou, the prefecture-level city of Baise in western Guangxi, Wenshan Prefecture (文山壮族苗族自治州) in southeastern Yunnan, as well as Hà Giang Province in northern Vietnam. This distribution runs along a northeast-southwest geographic vector, forming what Jerold A. Edmondson calls a "language corridor."[4]

Multigualism is common among Kra language speakers. For example, many Buyang can also speak the Zhuang language.[5]

  • Western
    • Lachi (拉基, La Chí) – 10,300 (7,863 in Vietnam in 1990; 2,500 in Maguan County, Yunnan, China in 1995)
    • Gelao (仡佬, Cờ Lao) – 7,900 (spoken in Guizhou, Longlin County in Guangxi, and northern Vietnam)
    • Laha (拉哈, La Ha) – 1,400 (officially recognized in Vietnam; most divergent western Kra language)
  • Eastern
    • Buyang 布央 dialect cluster – 2,000
    • Qabiao (Pubiao 普标, Pu Péo) – 700
    • En (Nùng Vên; spoken in northern Vietnam) – 250


Numerals in Kra Languages[6]
Language One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Ten
(Proto-Austronesian) *isa *duSa *telu *Sepat *lima *enem *pitu *walu *Siwa *sa-puluq
Proto-Kra *tʂəm C *sa A *tu A *pə A *r-ma A *x-nəm A *t-ru A *m-ru A *s-ɣwa B *pwlot D
Buyang, Baha tɕam˦˥ θa˧˨ tu˧˨ pa˧˨ m̥a˧ nam˧˩ ðu˧ mu˧˩ dʱa˧ pʷat˥
Buyang, Ecun pi˥˧ θa˨˦ tu˨˦ pa˨˦ ma˦ nam˨˦ tu˦ ma ðu˦ va˥ put˥
Buyang, Langjia am˧˥ ɕa˥˦ tu˥˦ pa˥˦ ma˧˩˨ nam˥˦ ðu˧˩˨ ma ðu˧˩˨ va˩ put˥
Buyang, Yerong ɔm˥ θau˥˧ taːi˥˧ po˥˧ mo˦˧ naːm˥˧ təu˧˩ ɬəu˦˧ vo˥ pɔt˥
En (Nung Ven) ʔam˧˨ θa˨˦˧ tu˨˦˧ pa˧ ma˨˦˧ nəm˨˦˧ ʔam˧˨ tu˨˦˧ me˧˨ ru˧ wa˥˦ θət˧
Qabiao tɕia˧ ɕe˥˧ tau˥˧ pe˥˧ ma˧ ma˧ nam˧˥ ma˧ tu˥˧ ma˧ ʐɯ˧ ma˧ ɕia˧˩ pət˧˩
Laha, Wet tɕɐm˧˩ sa˧˦˧ tu˧˦˧ pɑ˧˦˧ mɑ˧ dɐm˧˦˧ tʰo˧˦˧ ma˧ hu˧ so˧ wa˨˦ pɤt˨˧
Lachi tɕa˧ su˩ te˩ pu˩ m̩˩ ȵiã˩ te˨˦ ŋuɛ˩ liu˨˦ pɛ˩
Gelao, Bigong sɿ˥ təɯ˧ səɯ˧˩ təɯ˧ tɔ˧˩ pɔ˧˩ mɔ˧˩ nai˧˩ tʰɔ˧˩ ʑɔ˧˩ ʑɔu˧˩ hui˩˧
Gelao, Moji tsɿ˥˧ səu˧˩ ta˧˩ pu˧˩ mlau˧˩ tɕʰau˧˩ xei˧˩ xe˧˩ kəu˧˩ tsʰei˥˧
Gelao, Puding se˥ so˥ tua˥ pu˦˥ mu˥˧ naŋ˥˧ ɕi˧ vra˥˧ su˧ paɯ˧
Gelao, Pudi sɪ˥ səɯ˦˨ tji˦˨ pau˦˨ mau˧˩ mjaŋ˧˩ te˦˨ ɣe˧˩ sau˩˧ ɕye˩˧
Gelao, Red tsə˦ se˧ tua˦ pu˦ maŋ˦ ɬoŋ˦ te˦ wu˧˥ ʂe˧˥ la˥˩ kwe˦
Gelao, White[7] tsɿ˧ sɯn˧˥ tau˥ pu˥ mlən˧˥ tɕʰau˥ hi˥ ɕiau˥ ku˥ tɕʰiu˧
Gelao, Sanchong ʂɿ˦˧ ʂa˦˥ tau˦˥ pu˦˥ mei˨˩ ȵaŋ˨˩ tʂau˦˥ ʑau˨˩ ʂo˦˧ sɿ˦˧ pie˦˧
Mulao tsɿ˥˧ ɬu˨˦ ta˨˦ pʰu˨˦ mu˧˩ ȵe˧˩ sau˧˩ ɣau˧˩ so˨˦ ve˥˧
Gelao (Heijiaoyan)[8] sɿ˦ sɑ˦ tuu˦ pu˦ - - - - - -
Gelao (Jianshan)[8] ʐɤ˦˨ sw˦˨ tuɑ˦˨ pu˦ - - - - - -
Gelao (Banliwan)[8] i˥˧ ɑ˥˧ ɑ˥˧ muŋ˥˧ ɑŋ˦ - - - - - -
Gelao (Zunyi)[8] 失 (shi) 沙 (sha) 刀 (dao) 波 (bo) 媒 (mei) 娘召 (niangshao) 召 (shao) 饶 (rao) 署 (shu) 失不 (shibu)
Gelao (Renhuai)[8] 思 (shi) 沙 (sha) 刀 (dao) 波 (bo) 差 (cha) 良 (liang) - 绕 (rao) 素 (su) 死比 (sibi)


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Kadai". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Note: C is a reconstructed tone.
  3. ^ Norquest, Peter K. 2007. A Phonological Reconstruction of Proto-Hlai. Ph.D. Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona.
  4. ^ a b c Diller, Anthony, Jerold A. Edmondson, and Yongxian Luo ed. The Tai–Kadai Languages. Routledge Language Family Series. Psychology Press, 2008.
  5. ^ 李锦芳/Li, Jinfang and 周国炎/Guoyan Zhou. 仡央语言探索/Geyang yu yan tan suo. Beijing, China: 中央民族大学出版社/Zhong yang min zu da xue chu ban she, 1999.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Numbers 1-9 are suffixed with du35.
  8. ^ a b c d e Zunyi Prefecture Ethnic Gazetteer [遵义地区志:民族志] (1999)

Further reading

  • Ostapirat, Weera (2000). "Proto-Kra". Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 23 (1): 1-251
  • Edmondson, Jerold A. (2002). The Laha language and its position in Proto-Kra[1]

External links

  • Proto-Kra reconstructions from the Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database
  • Database of basic words in various Kra languages
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