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Asian language families

On further thought, what really strikes me about that list is how many major Asian languages are in different families, on the level not of Latin and German but of Latin and Chinese.

* Mongolian: probable Altaic
* Chinese: Sino-Tibetan
* Korean and Japanese: likely isolates, possibly relatives of each other, or in Altaic
* Ainu: isolate
* Indonesia, Malay, Tagalog/Filipino, and Formosan languages: Austronesian
* Vietnamese and Cambodian: Austro-Asiatic
* Thai and Lao: Tai-Kadai
* Burma: Sino-Tibetan
* Hindi and Bengali: Indo-European
* Tamil: Dravidian
* and if you can find Asian Muslims who actually know Arabic: Afro-Asiatic

8 language families, not counting Ainu and Arabic, and with a maximal Altaic group; 10 with a smaller one. And of course this isn't counting all the minor families and isolates.

Even when there's an ostensible or even real genetic relationship, moving from one country to the next is likely to seem completely different; Thai and Lao are close, as are Indonesian and Malay, but those aren't close to Formosan or Tagalog; Vietnamese and Khmer aren't close; no one can agree if Korean and Japanese are related to anything.

Contrast with Europe, where it's Indo-European almost everywhere you go, with older branches like Celtic seeming indigenous to later ones like Latin/Romance and Germanic, having completely overwhelmed whatever came before Celtic, with only a few survivors like Uralic (Finnish, Hungarian) and the Basque isolate. Two families, plus one isolate. Three families if you push out to Georgia and Caucasian, though at that point you might as well add Turkish:Altaic as well.

Of course, once again, we're talking about a much smaller population; Europe is basically half the population of north India. Then again, population size and language diversity don't have much to do with each other. Geography's probably more relevant, but obviously hasn't done that much in Europe. For whatever reason, Indo-Europeans were really good at invading Europe, in multiple waves, even.


Damien Sullivan

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