Sino-Tibetan language speakers


Sino-Tibetan language speakers
The Sino-Tibetan language family is a high-level grouping of languages, at the same level as Indo-European, with over a billion speakers worldwide. On the basis of historical reconstruction of vocabulary, the nearly 300 languages in this family are believed to be historically (‘genetically’) related. This family is divided into the Sinitic and TibetoBurman groups. Scholars differ as to whether other languages in the region, especially the Tai-Kadai (Zhuang-Dong) languages and the Miao-Yao (Hmong-Mien) languages, should be included within this family. Scholars outside China tend to exclude them, while scholars within China tend to include them. Many languages, such as Bai, have not been fully studied, and their classification is uncertain.
Tibeto-Burman speakers number approximately 60 million, in China and in many bordering nations, especially mainland Southeast Asia and north India. The best-known of these languages within China is Tibetan, with around 4 million speakers and a well-preserved literary collection; the best-known Burmese languages are called Loloish, of which Yi is a prominent example, with nearly 7 million speakers.
In China itself, most people are speakers of SinoTibetan. Virtually all Han Chinese, constituting 92 per cent of the population, are native speakers of Sinitic languages. The remaining 8 per cent of the population considered ethnic minorities speak an assortment of languages, many—but not all—of them Sino-Tibetan. Sixteen or seventeen of China’s fifty-five officially identified ethnic minorities speak Tibeto-Burman languages. Other minorities in China speak languages classified as Altaic (including Turkic, Tungusic and Mongolian), MonKhmer (Austroasiatic), Tai-Kadai, Miao-Yao and Indo-European; Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples speak Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) languages. The linguistic complexity of the region is cross-cut by national boundaries, with many speakers of various languages straddling national borders.
Recent efforts to link Sino-Tibetan to broader linguistic groupings include a proposed SinoCaucasian, a larger grouping called Eurasiatic, similar to the somewhat controversial construct of the macro-family Nostratic, which aims to reconstruct a common ancestor to Indo-European, Altaic, Afro-Asiatic and other language families.
Matisoff, James A. (1991). ‘Sino-Tibetan Linguistics: Present State and Future Prospects’. Annual Review of Anthropology 20:469–504.
Ramsey, S.Robert (1987). The Languages of China. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
SUSAN D.BLUM

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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