Linguistic classificationAustroasiatic
Glottologeast2331  (East Palaungic)
west2791  (West Palaungic)

The nearly thirty Palaungic or Palaung–Wa languages form a branch of the Austroasiatic languages.

Phonological developments

Most of the Palaungic languages lost the contrastive voicing of the ancestral Austroasiatic consonants, with the distinction often shifting to the following vowel. In the Wa branch, this is generally realized as breathy voice vowel phonation; in Palaung–Riang, as a two-way register tone system. The Angkuic languages have contour tone — the U language, for example, has four tones, high, low, rising, falling, — but these developed from vowel length and the nature of final consonants, not from the voicing of initial consonants.


Paul Sidwell (2015)[1] suggests that the Palaungic Urheimat (homeland) was in what is now the border region of Laos and Sipsongpanna in Yunnan, China. The Khmuic homeland was adjacent to the Palaungic homeland, resulting in many lexical borrowings among the two branches due to intense contact. Sidwell (2014) suggests that the word for 'water' (Proto-Palaungic *ʔoːm), which Gérard Diffloth had used as one of the defining lexical innovations for his Northern Mon-Khmer branch, was likely borrowed from Palaungic into Khmuic.


Diffloth & Zide (1992)

The Palaungic family includes at least three branches, with the position of some languages as yet unclear. Lamet, for example, is sometimes classified as a separate branch. The following classification follows that of Diffloth & Zide (1992), as quoted in Sidwell (2009:131).

Some researchers include the Mangic languages as well, instead of grouping them with the Pakanic languages.

Sidwell (2010)

The following classification follows the branching given by Sidwell (2010, ms).[3]

Sidwell (2014)[7] proposes an additional branch, consisting of:

Sidwell (2015)

Sidwell (2015:12) provides a revised classification of Palaungic. Bit–Khang is clearly Palaungic, but contains many Khmuic loanwords. Sidwell (2015:12) believes it likely groups within East Palaungic. On the other hand, Sidwell (2015) considers Danaw to be the most divergent Palaungic language.

Lexical innovations

Diagnostic Palaungic lexical innovations as identified by Paul Sidwell (2021) are:[8]

Gloss Proto-Palaungic Proto-Austroasiatic
‘eye’ *ˀŋaːj *mat
‘fire’ *ŋal *ʔɔːs~*ʔuːs
‘laugh’ *kəɲaːs


Main article: Proto-Palaungic language


  1. ^ Sidwell, Paul (2015). The Palaungic Languages: Classification, Reconstruction and Comparative Lexicon. München: Lincom Europa.
  2. ^ Svantesson, Jan-Olof (1991). "Hu – A Language with Unorthodox Tonogenesis" (PDF). In Davidson, J. H. C. S. (ed.). Austroasiatic Languages: Essays in Honour of H. L. Shorto. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. pp. 67–80. ISBN 0-7286-0183-4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-06-16. Retrieved 2012-03-19.
  3. ^ Sidwell, Paul (2010). "Three Austroasiatic Branches and the ASJP" (PDF) (Draft). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-11. (Fig. 23)
  4. ^ Hall, Elizabeth (2010). A Phonology of Muak Sa-aak (PDF) (M.A. thesis). Payap University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-11-26.
  5. ^ a b Myint Myint Phyu (2013). A Sociolinguistic Survey of Selected Meung Yum and Savaiq Varieties (PDF) (M.A. thesis). Payap University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-10-20.
  6. ^ a b Phung Wei Ping (2013). A Phonological Description of Meung Yum and Phonological Comparison of Meung Yum with Three Wa Dialects in China (PDF) (M.A. thesis). Payap University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-01-29.
  7. ^ Sidwell, Paul (2014). "Khmuic Classification and Homeland". Mon-Khmer Studies. 43 (1): 47–56. Archived from the original on 2016-02-03.
  8. ^ Sidwell, Paul (2021). "Classification of MSEA Austroasiatic Languages". In Sidwell, Paul; Jenny, Mathias (eds.). The Languages and Linguistics of Mainland Southeast Asia: A Comprehensive Guide. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 179–206. doi:10.1515/9783110558142-011.

Further reading