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date: 20 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The Chinese (or Sinitic) languages constitute a recognized family of closely related languages sharing a common ancestor, although the wider genetic affiliations of Chinese remain a matter of dispute. The hypothesis that Chinese is related to the Tibeto-Burman family is widely accepted by scholars, but whether the Tai-Kadai family (which includes Thai) and the Hmong-Mien family (also known as Miao-Yao) are also related to Chinese as part of a larger Sino-Tibetan superfamily remains a matter of contention. In addition, a number of interesting proposals have been made linking Chinese to the Austroasiatic and Austronesian families. This chapter summarizes the most important proposals and controversies concerning the classification of Chinese among the language families of East and Southeast Asia and explores the reasons that China’s broader genetic affiliations are so difficult to establish. It also describes some of the exciting new approaches that are currently being developed through cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Keywords: Sinitic languages, genetic affiliation, Tai-Kadai, Hmong-Mien (Miao-Yao), Austroasiatic, Tibeto-Burman, Austronesian

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