Languages in Southeast Asia

The word “Linguistics” is spelled out in the major scripts of Southeast Asia: Khmer, Thai, Lao, Burmese, Lanna, Vietnamese, and finally in English.

Languages in Southeast Asia

Five large language families are represented in Southeast Asia.

The Kadai (Kam-Tai) family includes scores of languages from southern China and the Red River Valley in Vietnam through Laos and Myanmar (Burma), into the southern peninsula of Thailand. It includes the national languages of Laos and Thailand.

The Austroasiatic family, including the large Mon-Khmer family, encompasses hundreds of languages from Myanmar, China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia. The national languages of Vietnam and Cambodia belong to this group.

Languages from the Sino-Tibetan family stretch even further. Speakers from these languages live in lands from Pakistan, Nepal, and Tibet across India and Myanmar and into Thailand, Laos, and China. Chinese, Tibetan, and Burmese are Sino-Tibetan languages.

While most Austronesian languages are spoken in insular Southeast Asia, they are also strongly represented in Malaysia and have smaller populations in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Bahasa Malaysia, the national language of Malaysia, is an Austronesian language.

Hmong-Mien (or Miao-Yao) are closely related but distinct language groups spoken in mountainous areas of southern China. Within the last 300–400 years, the Hmong and some Mien people have migrated to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar. Hmong-Mien languages share the basic Mainland Southeast Asian areal features (analytic/isolating, tone/register, SVO, serial verb constructions, numeral classifiers) but have some of the most complex tone systems in the world.