Sal languages

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India, Bangladesh, Burma
Linguistic classification Sino-Tibetan
  • Sal
Glottolog brah1260

The Sal languages are a branch of Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in eastern India, parts of Bangladesh, and Burma.

Alternative names

Ethnologue calls the group "Jingpho–Konyak–Bodo", while Scott DeLancey (2015)[1] refers to it as "Bodo-Konyak-Jinghpaw" (BKJ).

Classification within Sino-Tibetan

Scott DeLancey (2015)[1] considers the Sal languages, which he refers to as Bodo-Konyak-Jinghpaw (BKJ), to be part of a wider Central Tibeto-Burman group.

Internal classification

Benedict (1972:7) noted that the Bodo–Garo, Konyak, and Jingpho (Kachin) languages, as well as the extinct Chairel language, shared distinctive roots for "sun" and "fire".

Burling (1983) proposed a grouping of the Bodo–Garo, Konyak (Northern Naga), and Jingpho languages, characterized by several shared lexical innovations, including:

  • *sal "sun" (STEDT #2753)
  • *war "fire" (STEDT #2152)
  • *s-raŋ "sky" (STEDT #3571)
  • *wa "father" (STEDT #5484)
  • *nu "mother" (STEDT #1621)

Burling (1983) called the proposed group Sal, after the words sal, san and jan for "sun" in various of these languages. Coupe (2012:201–204) argues that some of Burling's proposed innovations are either not attested across the Sal languages, or have cognates in other Sino-Tibetan languages. Nevertheless, Matisoff (2013)[2] accepts Burling's Sal group, and considers *s-raŋ 'sky/rain' and *nu 'mother' to be the most convincing Sal innovations.

Northeastern states of India

The family is generally presented with three branches (Burling 2003:175, Thurgood 2003:11):

Shafer had grouped the first two as his Baric division, and Bradley (1997:20) also combines them as a subbranch.

Bradley (1997) tentatively considers Pyu and Kuki-Chin–Naga to be possibly related to Sal, but is uncertain about this.

Peterson (2009)[3] considers Mru-Hkongso to be a separate Tibeto-Burman branch, but notes that Mru-Hkongso shares similarities with Bodo–Garo that could be due to the early split of Mruic from a Tibeto-Burman branch that included Bodo–Garo.

van Driem (2011)

The Brahmaputran branch of van Driem (2011) has three variants:

The smallest is his most recent, and the one van Driem considers a well-established low-level group of Sino-Tibetan.[6] However, Dhimalish is not accepted as a Sal language by Glottolog.[7] Sotrug (2015)[8] and Gerber, et al. (2016)[9] consider Dhimalish to be particularly closely related to the Kiranti languages rather than to the Sal languages.

Matisoff (2012, 2013)

James Matisoff (2012)[10] makes the following observations about the Sal grouping.

  • Although Bodo–Garo and Northeastern Naga (Konyak) are indeed closely related, Jingpho and Northeastern Naga (Konyak) seem to be even more closely related to each other than Jingpho and Bodo-Garo are to each other.
  • Luish is the Tibeto-Burman branch most closely related to Jingpho, for which further evidence is provided in Matisoff (2013).[2]
  • Similarities between Jingpho and Nungish are due to contact. Thus, Nungish is not particularly closely related to Jingpho, and is not a Sal language. On the other hand, Lolo-Burmese appears to be more closely related to Nungish than to Jingpho.

Matisoff (2012) notes that these Tibeto-Burman branches did not split off neatly in a tree-like fashion, but rather form a linkage. Nevertheless, Matisoff (2013:30)[2] still provides the following Stammbaum for the Sal branch.


The unclassified extinct Taman language of northern Myanmar displays some similarities with Luish languages, Jingpho, and Bodo-Garo, but it is undetermined whether Taman is a Sal language or not.[11]


  1. ^ a b DeLancey, Scott. 2015. "Morphological Evidence for a Central Branch of Trans-Himalayan (Sino-Tibetan)." Cahiers de linguistique - Asie oriental 44(2):122-149. December 2015. doi:10.1163/19606028-00442p02
  2. ^ a b c Matisoff, James A. 2013. Re-examining the genetic position of Jingpho: putting flesh on the bones of the Jingpho/Luish relationship. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 36(2). 1–106.
  3. ^ Peterson, David A. 2009. "Where does Mru fit into Tibeto-Burman?" Paper presented at The 42nd International Conference on Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics (ICSTLL 42), November 2009, Payap University, Chiangmai, Thailand.
  4. ^ van Driem (2014)
  5. ^ a b van Driem (2001:397–398, 403)
  6. ^ van Driem, George L. (2011), "Tibeto-Burman subgroups and historical grammar", Himalayan Linguistics Journal, 10 (1).
  7. ^ Hammarstrom, et al.
  8. ^ Sotrug, Yeshy T. (2015). Linguistic evidence for madeskā kirãntī. The phylogenetic position of Dhimalish. Bern: University of Bern Master’s Thesis, 22 June 2015.
  9. ^ Gerber, Pascal, Tanja Gerber, Selin Grollmann. 2016. Links between Lhokpu and Kiranti: some observations. Kiranti Workshop. CNRS Université Paris Diderot, 1-2 Dec 2016.
  10. ^ Matisoff, James. 2012. Re-examining the genetic position of Jingpho: can the Sal hypothesis be reconciled with the Jingpho/Nungish/Luish grouping?. Paper presented at the Mainland Southeast Asian Languages: The State of the Art in 2012 workshop, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, 29 November - 1 December 2012.
  11. ^ Huziwara, Keisuke. 2016. タマン語の系統再考 / On the genetic position of Taman reconsidered. In Kyoto University Linguistic Research 35, p.1-34. doi:10.14989/219018 (PDF)


  • Benedict, Paul K. (1972), Sino-Tibetan: A Conspectus (PDF), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-08175-7.
  • Bradley, David (1997), "Tibeto-Burman languages and classification" (PDF), in Bradley, David, Tibeto-Burman languages of the Himalayas, Papers in South East Asian linguistics, 14, Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, pp. 1–71, ISBN 978-0-85883-456-9.
  • Burling, Robbins (1983), "The Sal Languages" (PDF), Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area, 7 (2): 1–32.
  • —— (2003), "The Tibeto-Burman languages of northeast India", in Thurgood, Graham; LaPolla, Randy J., Sino-Tibetan Languages, London: Routledge, pp. 169–191, ISBN 978-0-7007-1129-1.
  • Coupe, Alexander R. (2012), "Overcounting numeral systems and their relevance to sub-grouping in the Tibeto-Burman languages of Nagaland" (PDF), Languages and Linguistics, 13 (1): 193–220.
  • van Driem, George (2001), Languages of the Himalayas: An Ethnolinguistic Handbook of the Greater Himalayan Region, BRILL, ISBN 978-90-04-12062-4.
  • —— (2014), "Trans-Himalayan" (PDF), in Owen-Smith, Thomas; Hill, Nathan W., Trans-Himalayan Linguistics: Historical and Descriptive Linguistics of the Himalayan Area, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 11–40, ISBN 978-3-11-031083-2.
  • Thurgood, Graham (2003), "A subgrouping of the Sino-Tibetan languages", in Thurgood, Graham; LaPolla, Randy J., Sino-Tibetan Languages, London: Routledge, pp. 3–21, ISBN 978-0-7007-1129-1.
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