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a group of languages distinguished by some scholars within the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. Tibeto-Burman languages are spoken mainly in the People’s Republic of China (Tibetan Autonomous Region and the southwestern part of China), Burma, Bangladesh, Nepal, northern India (including Sikkim), and Bhutan. The number of speakers is approximately 35 million (1970, estimate).
According to the American scholar P. Benedict, the Tibeto-Burman languages may be divided into seven basic groups: (1) Tibetan-Kanauri, including Tibetan, Gurung, Murmi, and Kanauri; (2) Kiranti, including Vayu, Bahing, and Chepang; (3) Miri, including Miri, Abor, and Dafla; (4) Kachin; (5) Burmese-Lolo, including Burmese, Lisu, Lahu, Nakhi, and Tangut (Hsi-Hsia); (6) Barish, including Garo and Bobo; and (7) Kuki-Naga, including Lushei, Thado, Ao, Sema, and Empeo. However, certain scholars find insufficient linguistic foundation for distinguishing a Tibeto-Burmese branch of the Sino-Tibetan family.
Although the Tibet-Burman languages share certain common features, including syllabic structure and word order, they differ significantly among themselves. They include languages with developed morphologies, including Kachin and Newari (the latter’s place in the classification has not been determined), and isolating languages, including many of the Burmese-Lolo languages. Tones have developed in some of the languages. The written languages use alphabets of Indian origin, for example, Tibetan, Burmese, and Newari, or native hieroglyphic systems, for example, Tangut and Moso; most, however, lack writing systems. Burmese, Tibetan, Tangut, and Newari also have their own literatures.
REFERENCESShafer, R. Introduction to Sino-Tibetan, vols. 1–5. Wiesbaden, 1966–74.
Shafer, R. Bibliography of Sino-Tibetan Languages, vols. 1–2. Wiesbaden, 1957–63.
Benedict, P. K. Sino-Tibetan: A Conspectus. Cambridge, 1972.