Northern Tai
Northern Zhuang
Southern China
Linguistic classificationKra–Dai
Distribution of Northern Tai and Central Tai languages (Zhuang, Tay-Nung and Bouyei included)

The Northern Tai languages are an established branch of the Tai languages of Southeast Asia. They include the northern Zhuang languages and Bouyei of China, Tai Mène of Laos and Yoy of Thailand.



Ethnologue distinguishes the following languages:[1]

(See varieties of Zhuang.)

Yoy is elsewhere classified as Southwestern Tai, and E, which is a mixed language Northern Tai-Chinese language.

Longsang Zhuang, a recently described Northern Tai language, is spoken Longsang Township, Debao County, Guangxi, China. Hezhang Buyi is a moribund Northern Tai language of northwestern Guizhou that is notable for having a Kra substratum.

Pittayaporn (2009)

Pittayaporn (2009:300) distinguishes a similar group of Zhuang varieties as group "N", defined by the phonological shifts *ɯj, *ɯw → *aj, *aw.[3] He moves the prestige dialect of Zhuang, the Wuming dialect, from the Northern Tai Yongbei Zhuang to Yongnan Zhuang – purportedly Central Tai – as it lacks these shifts. The various languages and localities Pittayaporn includes in group N, along with their Ethnologue equivalents, are:


Some examples of lexical and phonological differences between Northern Tai and Central-Southwestern Tai:[4]

Gloss p-North Tai p-Central Tai p-Southwest Tai
‘tiger’ *kuːk *sɯə *sɯə
‘thorn’ *ʔon *n̥aːm *n̥aːm
‘crow’ *ʔaː *kaː *kaː
‘steam, vapor’ *soːj *ʔjaːj *ʔaːj
‘to tear’ *siːk *cʰiːk *cʰiːk
‘knife’ *mit *miːt *miːt


  1. ^ "Tai-Kadai, Kam-Tai, Be-Tai, Tai-Sek, Tai". Ethnologue. Archived from the original on 2012-10-18. Retrieved 2011-11-30.
  2. ^ Pittayaporn classified Yoy as Southwestern Tai, but does not provide supporting analysis.
  3. ^ Pittayaporn, Pittayawat (2009). The Phonology of Proto-Tai (Ph.D. thesis). Cornell University. hdl:1813/13855.
  4. ^ Norquest, Peter (2021). "Classification of (Tai-)Kadai/Kra-Dai languages". In Sidwell, Paul; Jenny, Mathias (eds.). The Languages and Linguistics of Mainland Southeast Asia. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 225–246. doi:10.1515/9783110558142-013. ISBN 978-3-11-055814-2.