Southeast Asian Languages
by Xia Lee
Southeast Asia, a term used since World War II, consists of the regions south of China and east of India which includes Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Kampuchea (Cambodia), Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. Between these countries, their languages differ tremendously even though some scholars have suggested that all the different languages are related to the Indo-Pacific Family. Approximately one thousand unintelligible languages are spoken in Southeast Asia, of which only the major national and regional languages have writing systems and literary traditions. With an exception, there are nine major languages spoken. These languages consists of Sinitic, or Chinese, Tibeto-Burman, Karen, Miao-Yao, Tai, Malayo-Polynesian, Mon-Khmer, Viet-Muong, and Papuan. The first five languages are classified as "Sino-Tibetan". The Sino-Tibetan language family consists of the Sinitic, or Chinese language, all spoken in China and major little cities like Singapore, Bangkok, and Manila. Another language in this category is the Tibeto-Burman. Among the Tibeto-Burman languages are Burmese, the official language of Burma, and the dominant language of Tibet. The majority of the Tibeto-Burman languages are spoken by small hill-dwelling tribal groups, and a larger number of this language is spoken by small communities in Northern Burma and eastern Tibet. Most of the Tibeto-Burman languages are still unwritten, but several have similar alphabets adapted from the Indian tradition. The Tibeto-Burman languages show much more structural diversity than the Chinese languages. In Chinese, the word order of sentences is "subject-verb-object", just as in English, but as for the Tibeto-Burman languages, the order is "subject-object-verb". Many Tibeto-Burman languages are tone languages in which differences in pitch and pitch contour can change the meanings of words. Karen languages, on the other hand, is similar to the Chinese language....
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