Indications about the two dialects of Tai Hang Tong (=Tai Muong)


Indications about the two dialects of Tai Hang Tong (=Tai Muong)

Alexis Michaud, Thu, 2014-12-04 21:11
ISO 639-3: 

Dear Ethnologue editors, This is to provide dialect information about Tai Hang Tong (=Tai Muong). In the classification by Michel Ferlus

(Ferlus, Michel. 2008. The Tai dialects of Nghệ An, Vietnam (Tay Daeng, Tay Yo, Tay Muong). In Anthony Diller, Jerold A. Edmondson & Luo Yongxian (eds.), The Tai-Kadai languages, 298–316. London & New York: Routledge.)

two dialects (=sub-varieties) are distinguished:

- Tai Pao and

- Tai Yo.

Tai Pao is a name which follows Vietnamese orthographic conventions: "ao" = International Phonetic Alphabet /aw/. A minor variant is Tai Paw. Since the entry for thc follows Vietnamese convention for "...Hang Tong", it would seem consistent to call the dialect "Tai Pao", but "Tai Paw" would be fully intelligible too. Tai Yo is also called "Tai Mene": Tai Mene is the name given in Laos to Tai Yo. The dialect is essentially the same. This is discussed in Chamberlain 1991. (Chamberlain, James R. 1991. Mène: A Tai Dialect Originally Spoken in Nghê An (Nghê Tinh), Viêtnam -- Preliminary Linguistic Observations and Historical Implications. Journal of the Siam Society 79. 103-123.) Historically, the scenario seems clear: when speakers of Tai Daeng (tyr) moved into the Tai Hang Tong (thc) area, they split an earlier dialect continuum into 2 areas, which evolved into present-day Tai Yo and Tai Pao. Telltale differences between these two varieties include a palatal ([-ic]) realization of final *-k after high front vowels in Tai Yo. Tai Pao retains velar realization. PS The reason why we are looking into this is because we are currently digitizing data on Tai Pao and Tai Yo (collected by Michel Ferlus and collaborators). The Lai Pao writing system, a Tai script unique to Vietnam, was re-discovered in the Tai Pao area in the 1990s; an electronic edition of the (only) original manuscript preserved to this day is in preparation and should be available online through the Pangloss Collection ( by 2016 if not before.

Currently Tai Pao is present in Ethnologue, under the code tpo. It is presented as "a language of Laos" so in effect 2 different entries exist for the same language: Tai Pao as spoken in Laos has its distinct entry; Tai Pao in Vietnam (=identical dialect) is part of Tai Hang Tong.

Currently, "tpo" is classified directly under "Tai", and "thc" under Southwestern Tai. This veils the fact that Tai Pao (=Tai Paw) is a sub-dialect of "Tai Hang Tong" = "Tai Muong".

It would be great to

(i) add a code for Tai Yo, the other sub-dialect of "Tai Hang Tong", and

(ii) place these two (Tai Yo and Tai Pao) under a "Tai Hang Tong" lower-level node.

Currently we are tagging Tai Pao data from Vietnam; should we use the code "tpo"? It does not seem quite right to use the code "tpo" because this is described as "a language of Laos" and its referencing in Ethnologue is under-specific (it should appear within Southwestern Tai). On the other hand, "thc" is slightly under-specific. If the above changes were made, we would be able to use a more informative label.


Ethnologue Editor, Thu, 2015-01-08 09:29

Dear Alexis, We are currently considering your proposals for these Tai varieties in Vietnam (and Laos). We will be in contact with you with more specific questions and comments.

Thanks. Charles Fennig, Managing Editor

Ethnologue Editor, Fri, 2015-01-09 14:05

Dear Alexis,

I have had some time to think about this and discuss it with others. Here is my proposal:
1) Since Tai Pao [tpo] is recognized as a separate language (in Laos), we can add [tpo] as a language in Vietnam, with Tai Paw as an alternate name
2) Since Tai Mène [tmp] is also recognized as a separate language in Laos and is identical to Tai Yo, we can add [tmp] to Vietnam with the name Tai Yo.
3) This would mean, however, according to ISO 639-3 standards, that you (or someone who knows this language situation well) would need to submit a Change Request to the ISO 639-3 Registrar, deprecating the Tai Hang Tong [thc] language, which would no longer exist as its own language. As you suggest, Tai Hang Tong could become a "node" in the classification scheme for these two languages. We could discuss that detail more...

If, however, you believe that Tai Yo and Tai Pao are actually dialects of a single language in Vietnam whereas they are different enough to be separate languages in Laos, then we could accommodate this situation by inserting an explanation in the Tai Hang Tong language entry that they are more closely related to each other in Vietnam and considered different languages in Laos.

I also realize that the government of Vietnam has different policies when it comes to language identification than Laos may have: the tendency - more like China - to group languages together. I don't know if this is a factor in this whole situation.

Please let me know what you think about this way of representing these varieties in the Ethnologue. I will also send this message to you via email.

Best regards,

Charles Fennig, Managing Editor, Ethnologue