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Sino-Tibetan languages form a language family of about 250 languages of East Asia, second only to Indo-European in terms of the number of speakers. Many of the languages are tonal, which however is usually considered to be an areal feature rather than evidence of a genealogical relationship.
James Matisoff's widely accepted classification is as follows:
- Chinese (more or less monosyllabic and analytic)
- Maha-Kiranti (includes Newari, Magar)
- Tibeto-Kinauri (includes Tibetan, Lepcha)
- Kachinic (Jingpho)
Some linguists, especially in China, believe the Tai-Kadai and Hmong-Mien languages belong in Sino-Tibetan as well, though this view has fallen out of favor in the West, with the similarities being credited to borrowings and areal features.
Several recent classifications have demoted Chinese to a sub-branch of Tibeto-Burman, rather as the Semitic component of Hamito-Semitic was demoted to a sub-branch of Afro-Asiatic. The following classification from George van Driem is one:
- Bodo-Koch (includes Tripuri, Garo)
- Kachinic (includes Jingpaw)
- Southern Tibeto-Burman
- Sinitic (Chinese)
- Bodish-Himalayish (includes Tibetan)
- (several isolates)
- A number of other small families and isolates (Newari, Qiang, Nung, Magar, etc.)
The relationships of the "Kuki-Naga" languages (Kuki, Mizo, Manipuri, etc.), both amongst each other and to the other Tibeto-Burman languages, is unclear, so this classification does not support Matisoff's Kamarupan hypothesis (above).
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