For the Indian cooking utensil, see Kadai.
Not to be confused with Kadai language.
Kadai, Daic, Kradai
Southern China, Hainan,
Indochina, Northeast India
Linguistic classification: Perhaps Austro-Tai
Ethnologue code: 5: tai

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

Main article: Austro-Tai languages

The Tai–Kadai languages were formerly considered to be part of the Sino-Tibetan family, but outside 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.[3]

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.

The Austric proposal suggests a link between Austronesian and the Austroasiatic languages. Echoing part of Benedict's conception of Austric, who added Tai–Kadai and Hmong–Mien to the proposal, Kosaka (2002) argued specifically for a Miao–Dai family.[4]

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.

Internal classification

Tai–Kadai consists of five well established branches, Hlai, Kra, Kam–Sui, Tai, and the Ong Be (Bê) language:

  • Ong Be (Hainan; Lin'gao (临高) in Chinese)
  • Kra (called Kadai in Ethnologue and Gēyāng (仡央) in Chinese)
  • Kam–Sui (mainland China; Dong–Shui (侗水) in Chinese)
  • Hlai (Hainan; Li (黎) in Chinese)
  • Tai (southern China and Southeast Asia)

Based on the large amount of vocabulary they share, the Kam–Sui, Be, and Tai branches are often classified together. (See Kam–Tai.) However, Weera Ostapirat believes this is negative evidence, possibly due to lexical replacement in the other branches. He also claims that morphological similarities suggest instead that Kra and Kam–Sui be grouped together as Northern Kadai on the one hand, and Hlai with Tai as Southern Kadai on the other.[3] The position of Ong Be in Ostapirat's proposal is undetermined.







Norquest (2007) accepts this distinction, and adds the difficult Lakkja and Ong Be in his classification of Kra-Dai:[5]









Ong Be


An earlier but influential classification, with the traditional Kam–Tai clade, was Edmondson and Solnit's 1988 Kadai:[6][7]


Kra (Geyang)





Ong Be


This classification is used by Ethnologue, though by 2009 Lakkja was made a third branch of Kam–Tai and Biao was moved into Kam–Sui.


  • Edmondson, J.A. and D.B. Solnit eds. 1997. Comparative Kadai: the Tai branch. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas at Arlington. ISBN 0-88312-066-6
  • Paper for the Symposium "Human migrations in continental East Asia and Taiwan: genetic, linguistic and archaeological evidence". Geneva June 10–13, 2004. Université de Genève.
  • Oceanic Linguistics 43. 411–440.

Further reading

  • Diller, A., J. Edmondson, & Yongxian Luo, ed., (2005). The Tai–Kadai languages. London [etc.]: Routledge. ISBN 0-7007-1457-X
  • Edmondson, J. A. (1986). Kam tone splits and the variation of breathiness.
  • Edmondson, J. A., & Solnit, D. B. (1988). Comparative Kadai: linguistic studies beyond Tai. Summer Institute of Linguistics publications in linguistics, no. 86. [Arlington, Tex.]: Summer Institute of Linguistics. ISBN 0-88312-066-6
  • Ostapirat, W. (2000). Proto-Kra. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area, 23 (1), 1–251.
  • Somsonge Burusphat, & Sinnott, M. (1998). Kam–Tai oral literatures: collaborative research project between. Salaya Nakhon Pathom, Thailand: Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development, Mahidol University. ISBN 974-661-450-9
  • Tai–Kadai Languages. (2007). Curzon Pr. ISBN 978-0-7007-1457-5

External links

Template:Tai-Kadai languages

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and USA.gov, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for USA.gov and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.