Southern China, Northern Vietnam
Linguistic classificationKra–Dai
  • Kra

The Kra languages (/krɑː/; also known as the Geyang or Kadai languages) are a branch of the Kra–Dai language family spoken in southern China (Guizhou, Guangxi, Yunnan) and in northern Vietnam (Hà Giang Province).


The name Kra comes from the word *kraC[1] "human" as reconstructed by Ostapirat (2000), which appears in various Kra languages as kra, ka, fa or ha. Benedict (1942) used the term Kadai for the Kra and Hlai languages grouped together and the term Kra-Dai is proposed by Ostapirat (2000).

The Kra branch was first identified as a unified group of languages by Liang (1990),[2] who called it the Geyang 仡央 languages. Geyang 仡央 is a portmanteau of the first syllable of Ge- in Gelao and the last syllable of -yang in Buyang. The name Kra was proposed by Ostapirat (2000) and is the term usually used by scholars outside China, whereas Geyang is the name currently used in China.


Several Kra languages have regionally unusual consonant clusters and sesquisyllabic or disyllabic words, whereas other Kra–Dai languages tend to have only single syllables. The disyllables in Buyang have been used by Sagart (2004)[3] to support the view that the Kra-Dai languages are a subgroup within the Austronesian family. Unlike the Tai and Kam–Sui languages, most Kra languages, including Gelao and Buyang, have preserved the proto-Kra–Dai numerical systems. The only other Kra–Dai branch that preserves this is Hlai.[4] Most other Kra–Dai languages adopted Chinese numerals over 1000 years ago.

As noted by Jerold A. Edmondson, the Kra languages contain words in metalworking, handicrafts and agriculture that are not attested in any other Kra–Dai language.[5] This suggests that the Kra peoples may have developed or borrowed many technological innovations independently of the Tai and Kam-Sui peoples.


Main article: Proto-Kra language

The Proto-Kra language has been reconstructed by Weera Ostapirat (2000).


Morphological similarities suggest the Kra languages are closest to the Kam–Sui branch of the family. There are about a dozen Kra languages, depending on how languages and dialects are defined. Gelao, with about 8,000 speakers in China out of an ethnic population of approximately 500,000, and consists of at least four mutually unintelligible language varieties, including Telue (White Gelao), Hagei (Blue or Green Gelao), Vandu (Red Gelao), A'ou (Red Gelao), and Qau (Chinese Gelao).

Ostapirat (2000)

The internal classification below is from Weera Ostapirat (2000), who splits the Kra branch into the Eastern and Western branches.


Laha (Vietnam)


Gelao (6 languages, China, Vietnam)

Lachi (China, Vietnam)


Paha (generally subsumed under Buyang)


Buyang (China)

En (Vietnam)

Qabiao (Laqua, Pupeo) (China, Vietnam)

According to Jerold Edmondson (2002), Laha is too conservative to be in Western Kra, considered it to constitute a branch of its own. However, Edmondson (2011)[6] later reversed his position, considering Laha to be more closely related to Paha.

Ethnologue mistakenly includes the Hlai language Cun of Hainan in Kra; this is not supported by either Ostapirat or Edmondson.

Hsiu (2014)

Hsiu's (2014)[7] classification of the Kra languages, based on computational phylogenetic analysis as well as Edmondson's (2011)[6] earlier analysis of Kra, is given below, as cited in Norquest (2021).[8]


Andrew Hsiu (2013, 2017) reports that Hezhang Buyi, a divergent, moribund Northern Tai language spoken by 5 people in Dazhai 大寨, Fuchu Township 辅处乡, Hezhang County 赫章县, Guizhou, China, has a Kra substratum.[9]

Maza, a Lolo–Burmese language spoken in Mengmei 孟梅, Funing County, Yunnan, is also notable for having a Qabiao substratum (Hsiu 2014:68-69).[10]

According to Li Jinfang (1999),[11] the Yang Zhuang people of southwestern Guangxi may have been Kra speakers who had switched to Zhuang.


The Kra languages have a total of about 22,000 speakers.[5] In Vietnam, officially recognized Kra peoples are the Cờ Lao, La Chí, La Ha and Pu Péo. In China, only the Gelao (Cờ Lao) have official status. The other Kra peoples are variously classified as Zhuang, Buyi, Yi, and Han.

Within China, "hotspots" for Kra languages include most of western Guizhou, the prefecture-level city of Baise in western Guangxi, Wenshan Zhuang and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in southeastern Yunnan, as well as Hà Giang Province in northern Vietnam. This distribution runs along a northeast-southwest geographic vector, forming what Jerold A. Edmondson calls a "language corridor."[5]

Multilingualism is common among Kra language speakers. For example, many Buyang can also speak Zhuang.[12]


Numerals in the Kra Languages[13]
Language One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Ten
(Proto-Austronesian) *isa *duSa *telu *Sepat *lima *enem *pitu *walu *Siwa *sa-puluq
Proto-Kra *tʂəm C *sa A *tu A *pə A *r-ma A *x-nəm A *t-ru A *m-ru A *s-ɣwa B *pwlot D
Buyang, Baha tɕam45 θa322 tu322 pa322 m̥a33 nam31 ðu33 mu31 dʱa33 pʷat55
Buyang, Ecun pi53 θa24 tu24 pa24 ma44 nam24 tu44 ma0 ðu44 va55 put55
Buyang, Langjia am35 ɕa54 tu54 pa54 ma312 nam54 ðu312 ma0 ðu312 va11 put55
Buyang, Yerong ɔm55 θau53 taːi53 po53 mo43 naːm53 təu31 ɬəu43 vo55 pɔt55
En (Nung Ven) ʔam332 θa243 tu243 pa33 ma243 nəm243 ʔam332 tu243 me332 ru33 wa54 θət33
Qabiao tɕia33 ɕe53 tau53 pe53 ma33 ma33 nam35 ma33 tu53 ma33 ʐɯ33 ma33 ɕia31 pət31
Laha, Wet tɕɐm31 sa343 tu343 pɑ343 mɑ33 dɐm343 tʰo343 ma33 hu33 so33 wa24 pɤt23
Laha, Dry cạm6 śa5 tợw3 pa3 ha6 hôk4 cêt4 pet4 kạw6 śêp4
Lachi tɕa33 su11 te11 pu11 m̩11 ȵiã11 te24 ŋuɛ11 liu24 pɛ11
Gelao, Bigong sɿ55 təɯ33 səɯ31 təɯ33 tɔ31 pɔ31 mɔ31 nai31 tʰɔ31 ʑɔ31 ʑɔu31 hui13
Gelao, Moji tsɿ53 səu31 ta31 pu31 mlau31 tɕʰau31 xei31 xe31 kəu31 tsʰei53
Gelao, Puding se55 so55 tua55 pu45 mu53 naŋ53 ɕi33 vra53 su33 paɯ33
Gelao, Pudi sɪ55 səɯ42 tji42 pau42 mau31 mjaŋ31 te42 ɣe31 sau13 ɕye13
Gelao, Red tsə44 se33 tua44 pu44 maŋ44 ɬoŋ44 te44 wu35 ʂe35 la51 kwe44
Gelao, White[14] tsɿ33 sɯn35 tau55 pu55 mlən35 tɕʰau55 hi55 ɕiau55 ku55 tɕʰiu33
Gelao, Sanchong ʂɿ43 ʂa45 tau45 pu45 mei21 ȵaŋ21 tʂau45 ʑau21 ʂo43 sɿ43 pie43
Gelao, Wanzi si33 su33 ta33 pu33 mpu44 nan33 ɕi24 vla44 səɯ24 pe24
Mulao[15] tsɿ53 ɬu24 ta24 pʰu24 mu31 ȵe31 sau31 ɣau31 so24 ve53
Gelao, Heijiaoyan[16] sɿ44 sɑ44 tuu44 pu44 - - - - - -
Gelao, Jianshan[16] ʐɤ42 sw42 tuɑ42 pu44 - - - - - -
Gelao, Banliwan[16] i53 ɑ53 ɑ53 muŋ53 ɑŋ44 - - - - - -
Gelao, Zunyi[16] 失 (shi) 沙 (sha) 刀 (dao) 波 (bo) 媒 (mei) 娘召 (niangshao) 召 (shao) 饶 (rao) 署 (shu) 失不 (shibu)
Gelao, Renhuai[16] 思 (shi) 沙 (sha) 刀 (dao) 波 (bo) 差 (cha) 良 (liang) - 绕 (rao) 素 (su) 死比 (sibi)


  1. ^ Note: The superscript C is a reconstructed tone, typically considered to be historically derived from a glottal stop (*-ʔ).
  2. ^ Liang Min 梁敏. 1990 "Geyang yuqun de xishu wenti 仡央语群的系属问题[permanent dead link] / On the affiliation of the Ge-Yang group of languages." In Minzu Yuwen 民族语文 1990(6): 1-8.
  3. ^ Sagart, Laurent. 2004. The Higher Phylogeny of Austronesian and the Position of Tai-Kadai.
  4. ^ Norquest, Peter Kristian (2007). A Phonological Reconstruction of Proto-Hlai (PhD thesis). University of Arizona. hdl:10150/194203.
  5. ^ a b c Diller, Anthony, Jerold A. Edmondson, and Yongxian Luo ed. The Tai–Kadai Languages. Routledge Language Family Series. Psychology Press, 2008.
  6. ^ a b Edmondson, Jerold. 2011. Notes on the subdivisions in Kra Archived 2015-10-02 at the Wayback Machine. Published as Geyang yuyan fenlei buyi 仡央语言分类补议 in Journal of Guangxi University for Nationalities. 广西民族大学学报. 33.2.8-14.
  7. ^ Hsiu, Andrew. 2014. Kra-Dai notes.
  8. ^ Norquest, Peter (2021). "Classification of (Tai-)Kadai/Kra-Dai languages". The Languages and Linguistics of Mainland Southeast Asia. De Gruyter. pp. 225–246. doi:10.1515/9783110558142-013. ISBN 9783110558142. S2CID 238672319.
  9. ^ Hsiu, Andrew. 2013. “Shui” varieties of western Guizhou and Yunnan. Presented at the 46th International Conference on Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics (ICSTLL 46), Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, United States, August 7–10, 2013 (Session: Tai-Kadai Workshop).
  10. ^ Hsiu, Andrew. 2014. "Mondzish: a new subgroup of Lolo-Burmese Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine". In Proceedings of the 14th International Symposium on Chinese Languages and Linguistics (IsCLL-14). Taipei: Academia Sinica.
  11. ^ Li Jinfang (1999). Studies in the Buyang Language. Beijing: Central University for Nationalities Press.
  12. ^ 李锦芳/Li, Jinfang and 周国炎/Guoyan Zhou. 仡央语言探索/Geyang yu yan tan suo. Beijing, China: 中央民族大学出版社/Zhong yang min zu da xue chu ban she, 1999.
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-04-21. Retrieved 2011-10-23.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ Numbers 1-9 are suffixed with du35.
  15. ^ Note: Mulao here is a Red Gelao language variety spoken in Guizhou, and is not the same as Mulam, a Kam-Sui language of Guangxi.
  16. ^ a b c d e 遵义地区志:民族志 (1999)

Further reading