Open main menu

The Kra languages (Chinese: Gēyāng, 仡央, short for GelaoBuyang) are a branch of the Kra–Dai language family spoken in southern China (Yunnan, Guangxi, Hainan) and in northern Vietnam.

Southern China, Northern Vietnam
Linguistic classificationKra–Dai
  • Kra



The name Kra comes from the word *kra C[2] "human" as reconstructed by Ostapirat (2000), which appears as kra, ka, fa, ha in various Kra languages. 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),[3] 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 have single syllables. The disyllables in Buyang have been used by Sagart (2004)[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] This suggests that the Kra peoples may have developed or borrowed many technological innovations independently of the Tai and Kam-Sui peoples.


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 White Gelao, Blue (Green) Gelao, Red Gelao, and Chinese Gelao.

Ostapirat (2000)Edit

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 t to constitute a branch of its own. However, Edmondson (2011)[7] 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)Edit

Hsiu's (2014)[8] classification of the Kra languages, based on computational phylogenetic analysis as well as Edmondson's (2011)[7] earlier analysis of Kra, is as follows.

  • Northern Kra
    • Lachi
    • Gelao
      • Red Gelao
        • Vandu
        • A'ou
      • Core Gelao
        • Dongkou Gelao
        • White Gelao (Telue)
        • Central Gelao: Hagei, Qau
  • Southern Kra


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][10][11]

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).[12][13]

According to Li Jinfang (1999),[14] 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.[6] 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."[6]

Multilingualism is common among Kra language speakers. For example, many Buyang can also speak Zhuang languages.[15]

  • Western
  • Eastern
    • Buyang 布央 dialect cluster – 2,000
      • Paha 巴哈 (considered a separate language by Ostapirat; spoken in Yangliancun 央连村, Diyu Township, Guangnan County 广南县, Yunnan)
      • Langjia 郎架 (spoken in Langjia, Funing County, Yunnan along the Guangxi border)
      • Ecun 峨村 (spoken in Ecun, Funing County, Yunnan along the Guangxi border)
      • Yalang 雅郎 (Yalhong; spoken in Rongtun 荣屯, Napo County, Guangxi)
    • Qabiao (Pubiao 普标, Pu Péo) – 700
    • En (Nùng Vên; spoken in northern Vietnam) – 250


Numerals in Kra Languages[16]
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 tɕam˦˥ θa˧˨ tu˧˨ pa˧˨ m̥a˧ nam˧˩ ðu˧ mu˧˩ dʱa˧ pʷat˥
Buyang, Ecun pi˥˧ θa˨˦ tu˨˦ pa˨˦ ma˦ nam˨˦ tu˦ ma ðu˦ va˥ put˥
Buyang, Langjia am˧˥ ɕa˥˦ tu˥˦ pa˥˦ ma˧˩˨ nam˥˦ ðu˧˩˨ ma ðu˧˩˨ va˩ put˥
Buyang, Yerong ɔm˥ θau˥˧ taːi˥˧ po˥˧ mo˦˧ naːm˥˧ təu˧˩ ɬəu˦˧ vo˥ pɔt˥
En (Nung Ven) ʔam˧˨ θa˨˦˧ tu˨˦˧ pa˧ ma˨˦˧ nəm˨˦˧ ʔam˧˨ tu˨˦˧ me˧˨ ru˧ wa˥˦ θət˧
Qabiao tɕia˧ ɕe˥˧ tau˥˧ pe˥˧ ma˧ ma˧ nam˧˥ ma˧ tu˥˧ ma˧ ʐɯ˧ ma˧ ɕia˧˩ pət˧˩
Laha, Wet tɕɐm˧˩ sa˧˦˧ tu˧˦˧ pɑ˧˦˧ mɑ˧ dɐm˧˦˧ tʰo˧˦˧ ma˧ hu˧ so˧ wa˨˦ pɤt˨˧
Lachi tɕa˧ su˩ te˩ pu˩ m̩˩ ȵiã˩ te˨˦ ŋuɛ˩ liu˨˦ pɛ˩
Gelao, Bigong sɿ˥ təɯ˧ səɯ˧˩ təɯ˧ tɔ˧˩ pɔ˧˩ mɔ˧˩ nai˧˩ tʰɔ˧˩ ʑɔ˧˩ ʑɔu˧˩ hui˩˧
Gelao, Moji tsɿ˥˧ səu˧˩ ta˧˩ pu˧˩ mlau˧˩ tɕʰau˧˩ xei˧˩ xe˧˩ kəu˧˩ tsʰei˥˧
Gelao, Puding se˥ so˥ tua˥ pu˦˥ mu˥˧ naŋ˥˧ ɕi˧ vra˥˧ su˧ paɯ˧
Gelao, Pudi sɪ˥ səɯ˦˨ tji˦˨ pau˦˨ mau˧˩ mjaŋ˧˩ te˦˨ ɣe˧˩ sau˩˧ ɕye˩˧
Gelao, Red tsə˦ se˧ tua˦ pu˦ maŋ˦ ɬoŋ˦ te˦ wu˧˥ ʂe˧˥ la˥˩ kwe˦
Gelao, White[17] tsɿ˧ sɯn˧˥ tau˥ pu˥ mlən˧˥ tɕʰau˥ hi˥ ɕiau˥ ku˥ tɕʰiu˧
Gelao, Sanchong ʂɿ˦˧ ʂa˦˥ tau˦˥ pu˦˥ mei˨˩ ȵaŋ˨˩ tʂau˦˥ ʑau˨˩ ʂo˦˧ sɿ˦˧ pie˦˧
Mulao[18] tsɿ˥˧ ɬu˨˦ ta˨˦ pʰu˨˦ mu˧˩ ȵe˧˩ sau˧˩ ɣau˧˩ so˨˦ ve˥˧
Gelao (Heijiaoyan)[19] sɿ˦ sɑ˦ tuu˦ pu˦ - - - - - -
Gelao (Jianshan)[19] ʐɤ˦˨ sw˦˨ tuɑ˦˨ pu˦ - - - - - -
Gelao (Banliwan)[19] i˥˧ ɑ˥˧ ɑ˥˧ muŋ˥˧ ɑŋ˦ - - - - - -
Gelao (Zunyi)[19] 失 (shi) 沙 (sha) 刀 (dao) 波 (bo) 媒 (mei) 娘召 (niangshao) 召 (shao) 饶 (rao) 署 (shu) 失不 (shibu)
Gelao (Renhuai)[19] 思 (shi) 沙 (sha) 刀 (dao) 波 (bo) 差 (cha) 良 (liang) - 绕 (rao) 素 (su) 死比 (sibi)


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kadaic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Note: C is a reconstructed tone.
  3. ^ Liang Min 梁敏. 1990 "Geyang yuqun de xishu wenti 仡央语群的系属问题 / On the affiliation of the Ge-Yang group of languages." In Minzu Yuwen 民族语文 1990(6): 1-8.
  4. ^ Sagart, Laurent. 2004. The Higher Phylogeny of Austronesian and the Position of Tai-Kadai.
  5. ^ Norquest, Peter K. 2007. A Phonological Reconstruction of Proto-Hlai. Ph.D. Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona.
  6. ^ a b c Diller, Anthony, Jerold A. Edmondson, and Yongxian Luo ed. The Tai–Kadai Languages. Routledge Language Family Series. Psychology Press, 2008.
  7. ^ a b Edmondson, Jerold. 2011. Notes on the subdivisions in Kra. 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.
  8. ^ Hsiu, Andrew. 2014. Kra-Dai notes.
  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. 2017. Hezhang Buyi (Dazhai) audio word list. Zenodo.
  11. ^ Hsiu, Andrew. 2017. Hezhang Buyi: a highly endangered Northern Tai language with a Kra substratum. doi:10.5281/zenodo.1249176
  12. ^ Hsiu, Andrew. 2014. "Mondzish: a new subgroup of Lolo-Burmese". In Proceedings of the 14th International Symposium on Chinese Languages and Linguistics (IsCLL-14). Taipei: Academia Sinica.
  13. ^ Hsiu, Andrew. 2017. Maza audio word list. Zenodo. doi:10.5281/zenodo.1123369
  14. ^ Li Jinfang (1999). Studies in the Buyang Language. Beijing: Central University for Nationalities Press.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-04-21. Retrieved 2014-05-05.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ Numbers 1-9 are suffixed with du35.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ a b c d e Zunyi Prefecture Ethnic Gazetteer [遵义地区志:民族志] (1999)

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit