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Review of  Comparative Kadai: the Tai Branch

Reviewer: Patrick C Ryan
Book Title: Comparative Kadai: the Tai Branch
Book Author: Jerold A. Edmondson David B. Solnit
Publisher: SIL International Publications
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Language Family(ies): Tai
Issue Number: 8.1289

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Edmondson and Solnit (1997) COMPARATIVE KADAI - The Tai Branch,
Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas
at Arlington Publications in Linguistics, Publication 124,

Reviewed by Patrick Ryan <>

The publishers are to be complimented for making this interesting
collection of essays available to comparativists; and it is a welcome
continuation of the efforts begun in 1988 with the publication of
Comparative Kadai: Linguistic studies beyond Tai, by the same editors
(Publication 86).

In the Introduction, the most recent theories regarding the
relationships of Tai and postulated Tai-related languages are discussed,
and a brief history of comparative historical studies of the Tai branch
is presented.

But the Introduction also contains, under the subheadings "Notation of
tones, initials, and finals" and "Reconstructions", an excellent
summary of the theories which explain Tai tone variations as a result of
earlier but presently lost phonemic differences. For example, proto-Tai
Tone B is identified as a result of earlier voiced initials while
proto-Tai Tone C reflects earlier non-voiced initials. This is very
important because it enables reconstructions of very early forms that
are semantically distinguished phonemically rather than tonally, and
provides a firm basis for comparison of Tai with other language

After a comprehensive bibliography (7 pp.), which will be greatly useful
to all those interested in any of the related languages of this family,
we find a series of six maps to facilitate locating the various
languages proposed to be members of the family.

In the first section, "I. Zhuang" (Zhuang is a designation
for Tai-derived languages presently spoken in Guangxi and Yunnan
provinces in China -- surprisingly, 15 million speakers), there are five
articles on important topics: "The Tonal Cylinder in Sanfang Zhuang",
which is a further discussion of the topic of tonal genesis; "The
Interaction between Zhuang and the Yue (Cantonese) Dialects"; "Regional
Variants and Vernaculars in Zhuang"; "Village Names in Guangxi Province
and Northeastern Thailand"; and "Wuming Zhuang Tone Sandhi: A
Phonological, Syntactic, and Lexical Investigation". Section II "Other
Northern Tai", deals primarily deal with phonology: "Front /a/ and
Back /a/ in Biandan Mountain Bouyei"; "The Sound System of the Bouyei
Language and its Special Features"; and an article by the late Paul
K. Benedict: "Linguistic Prediction: The Case of Saek", which was
rather turgid compared to the other articles in this book.
The third section " Central Tai", contains two articles:
"Implications of the Retention of Proto-Voiced Plosives and Fricatives
in the Dai Tho Language of Yunnan Province for a Theory of Tonal
Development and Tai Language Classification", a very interesting essay;
and "The Sound System of the T`y language of Cao B`ng Province,
Vietnam". The final section "Southwestern Tai languages and General
Tai", is an interesting potpourri of topics but they probably belong in
a publication exclusively for Tai specialists: "Preliminary Examination
of Tay Tac"; "'Near' and 'Far' in Tai"; "Tai-Kadai Arthropods: A
Preliminary Biolinguistic Investigation"; "The Emergence of the Length
Distinction in the Mid- front Vowels e-ee in Thai"; and finally
"Comparative Shan".

In addition to these articles there are a number of useful appendices.
Under the heading "Cited Forms", and organized by individual languages,
we have a handy listing of the English equivalents of Tai words
discussed and the page on which they are mentioned. Finally, an index of
"Authors, Languages, and Subjects"is helpfully provided.

The book is attractively bound in a cardboard cover with an apparently
waterproof finish, and, though I cannot verify the accuracy of the forms
cited from many Tai-derived languages, I only caught one obvious typo
where a Tai phrase had been repeated, and then mistranslated the second
time, indicating an accidental omission of the correct Tai phrase.

I believe this book will be a valuable resource for anyone studying any
of the tonal languages of the world; and the developments of phonology
postulated in the book by various authors seem to be methodologically
sound as well as --- in the main --- well presented and easy to follow;
and could serve as virtual blueprints for similar comparative studies.

As someone who has dealt primarily with non-tonal languages, I found
this book intensely interesting as a way to learn a little more about a
subject about which I knew very little.

Patrick C. Ryan
Little Rock, AR, USA

(501) 227-9947; FAX/DATA (501)312-9947
9115 W. 34th St. * Little Rock, AR 72204-4441 * USA
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hvers hann af rotum renn.' * (Havamal 138)


Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1556710054
ISBN-13: 9781556710056
Pages: 392
Prices: U.S. $ 36.50