A General, Global Comparison of Thai and Chinese Syntax

Peter Zohrab, July 1998 (revised February 2004)

 

Introduction

Despite the existence of research that has seemed to show that the Chinese (Mandarin) and Thai (Standard Thai) languages are not closely related lexically, I intend to show that they are very similar syntactically. This aim arises from my subjective impression that Chinese and Thai are similar syntactically -- and phonologically and morphologically, as well. This similarity may or may not indicate that the two languages are descended, in whole or in part (e.g. through creolisation), from the same linguistic ancestor, but it is not my aim to demonstrate that here.

 

Comparative Linguistics

Thai had indeed traditionally been grouped with Chinese and the other Sino-Tibetan languages for historical/comparative purposes -- until Paul Benedict published, in 1942, a very influential paper which proposed that Thai, and the Kadai family to which it belongs, be grouped with Indonesian and the other Austronesian languages, instead of being grouped with the Sino-Tibetan languages.

On the other hand, it is well-known that Chinese shares many features with neighbouring languages.

 

Table 1 Typological traits in Asian languages 1

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Modern Chinese + + + + + + +
Classical Chinese + ? - + - + +
Thai (Siamese) + + - + + - +
Li + + - + + - +
Vietnamese + + + + + - +
Khmer - - - + + - +
Miao + + - + + - +
Yao + + + + + + +
Written Tibetan + - - - - - -
Yi (Lolo) + + + + + - -
Jingpo - + - + - - -
Malay - - + - - - +
Rukai (Taiwan) - - + - - + -
Mongol - - + - - + -
Manchu - - + - - + -
Uygur - - + - - + -
Korean - - + - - + -
Japanese - - + - - + -

Features plotted on Table 1: (1) morphemes are monosyllabic, (2) the language is tonal, (3) only a single consonant is tolerated at the beginning of a syllable, (4) the language is morphologically and syntactically analytic, (5) the use of measures (classifiers) with numerals is obligaroty, (6) the language has adjective-noun order, (7) the language has SVO sentence order. A plus indicates that the feature in question is present, a minus that it is absent. I have modified the original table by putting those languages with the same combination of features in the same colour.

 

This table is based on arbitrarily chosen, but important, traits. Even so, it shows that Thai is at least as close to Modern Chinese as Classical Chinese is, as far as these traits are concerned. The present essay aims to give a more rounded view of the syntactic closeness of Thai and Chinese, by examining a larger number of traits -- i.e. a larger number of syntactic structures.

We should note here that the "Modern Chinese" in the above table is "Modern Standard Chinese", i.e. Mandarin. It would have been interesting to have seen the other Chinese "dialects" listed in the same table. Cantonese, for example, would have a "-" for column 6, thus making it indistiguishable (as far as I am aware) from Vietnamese, and closer to Vietnamese than to Mandarin, as far as this table is concerned.

I must say at this point that I don't have a high regard for the reasoning abilities of Comparative Linguists! Most of them don't seem to examine their own assumptions with the same healthy scepticism that one expects to find in reputable scientists. Norman (1988), for example, is typical, in that he simply assumes that lexical and morphological similarities between languages can be a sign of a common origin, whereas "mere" phonological and syntactic similarities are purely of classificatory interest.

"For example, Modern Chinese and Trique (a Mexican Indian language) are both typologically tonal languages, but it is highly unlikely that a genetic relationship between them could be demonstrated."2

This is a circular argument, since the only way Norman admits of for establishing a genetic relationship between languages is by comparing their lexicons and morphologies. One might just as well find some lexical items they shared (such as words for objects of third-country origin, such as Coca Cola), and say that it was highly unlikely that a comparison of their syntax and phonology would show them to be genetically related. In other words, I see the traditional one-parent family-tree model of comparative-historical rsearch as over-simplified and naive.3

 

Syntax

Benedict's argument was based on similarities in vocabulary and assumed sound-correspondences. My gut feeling about the similarity between Thai and Chinese, on the other hand, is based largely on syntactic similarities. Without attempting to contradict Benedict in any way, therefore, I will be comparing a wide range of typical Thai and Chinese syntactic structures.

To give some sort of yardstick or measure of "similarity", I will be comparing these structures with the nearest English equivalent. The idea here is that comparing Thai and Chinese each with an obviously unrelated language, such as English, will give an idea of how much random similarity can be expected between the syntax of a pair of languages. By contrast, it should emerge clearly whether or not Chinese and Thai are more similar than can be explained by mere chance similarities.

 

Method

I have used "Mandarin Syntactic Structures" by Anne Hashimoto as my guide as to which structures and actual sentences to include in my study. I have retained the headings present in that book, included a large proportion of the sentences they list, and have altered very few of their sentences. As far as Thai is concerned, I have relied on my wife, who is a native speaker of a dialect of Thai and a fluent speaker of Standard Thai, and, to a lesser extent, on the book, "The Structure of the Thai Language" by Gosa Arya.

The "syntactic structures" of a language do not constitute a well-defined set either in Hashimoto's book, in the present essay, or (I believe) anywhere else. The same could be said of the "lexicon" of a language. Moreover, I have omitted some of Hashimoto's examples for non-systematic reasons, such as the fact that I was not confident that I fully understood the meaning of a particular word in the example concerned. So I make no pretence of statistical validity for the results I achieve in this study. Having said that, I think, nevertheless, that the results are so one-sided that they speak for themselves.

As far as the Chinese transcription is concerned, I have kept close to the version of Pinyin used by Hashimoto, but ignoring tone marks. As far as Thai is concerned, I have been more relaxed about the transcription of the words involved, since no part of the argument I develop hangs crucially on a phonological or graphological issue. Sometimes there might be debate about the exact location of a word-boundary -- especially as regards whether a given word is a suffix, prefix, or a separate word, but, again, these issues will not prove crucial in the context of the argument I develop in the present essay .

 

 

The Examples and Analysis

LEGEND

T = Chinese is obviously closer to Thai in this sentence.

E = Chinese is obviously closer to English in this sentence.

0 = Chinese is not obviously closer to either language in this sentence.

 

 

Simple Declarative Sentence

 

Example Number 1
Chinese Sentence (Zhang San) shi xuesheng.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) is student.
Thai Sentence (Sombat) pen nakrien.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) is student.
English Sentence (X) is a student.
Analysis T

Chinese and Thai , unlike English, do not have articles.

 

Example Number 2
Chinese Sentence Zhang San bu shi xuesheng.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence  (Name) not is student
Thai Sentence Sombat mai chai nakrien.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence  (Name) not is student
English Sentence  (X) is not a student.
Analysis   T

 

Example Number 3
Chinese Sentence Gege da didi.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence  Older brother hits younger brother.
Thai Sentence  Phiichaay ti nongchaay.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence  Older brother hits younger brother.
English Sentence  The older brother hits his younger brother.
Analysis  T

Both Chinese and Thai are more succinct than English, leaving out articles and implied possessive pronouns.

Example Number 4
Chinese Sentence Zhang San lai le.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence  (Name) come (aspect)
Thai Sentence Sombat maa leew.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence  (Name) come (aspect)
English Sentence  (X) has come.
Analysis  T

Both Chinese and Thai do without tense, and both have a sentence-final aspect particle. This aspect particle ("le"/"leew") could well be historically the same word, given that the alternate pronunciation of the character for "le" is "liao", which is similar in pronunciation to the Thai "leew".

 

Example Number 5
Chinese Sentence Zhang San shifen pang.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence  (Name) very fat
Thai Sentence  Sombat uen maag.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence  (Name) fat very
English Sentence  (X) is very fat.
Analysis  0

Chinese is like English here, in that the word for "very" precedes the word for "fat", but Chinese is like Thai, in that the word for "to be" is omitted in such sentences. In other words, both Chinese and Thai have "stative verbs".

Example Number 6
Chinese Sentence Zhang San pang le hen duo.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence  (Name) fatter (aspect) much.
Thai Sentence  Sombat uen kuen maag leew.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence  (Name) fat increase much (aspect)
English Sentence  (X) has got much fatter.
Analysis  T

Unlike Chinese, both Thai and English need an extra morpheme here (kuen/-er), to indicate an increase in the quality denoted by the word for "fat". However, Chinese expresses itself very like Thai as regards verb/tense/aspect issues here. In addtion, both Chinese and Thai (unlike English) qualify the words for "fatter" with a following, rather than a preceding modifier. This is interesting, in view of the general tendency of linguists to say that, in Mandarin, the modifier precedes the modified.

Example Number 7
Chinese Sentence Zhang San hen pa gou.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence  (Name) very fear dog(s)
Thai Sentence  Sombat glua maa maag.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence  (Name) fear dog(s) much.
English Sentence  (X) is very afraid of dogs.
Analysis  0

Here, English and Chinese, unlike Thai, both have the modifier (hen/very) before the modified, but the Subject-Verb-Object structure is used in both Thai and Chinese, unlike English.

Example Number 8
Chinese Sentence Zhe zhi xiao mao jiao A-Hua.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence  This (cl) small cat called (Name)
Thai Sentence  Meew lek tua ni chue A-Hua.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence  Cat small (cl) this called (Name)
English Sentence  This kitten is called A-Hua.
Analysis  T

Both Chinese and Thai have classifiers, unlike English. Also unlike English, they use a non-passive verb for this structure.

Example Number 9
Chinese Sentence Zhang San zai jia-li.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence  (Name) at home in
Thai Sentence Sombat yuu nai baan.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence  (Name) is in home
English Sentence  (X) is at home.
Analysis  0

Chinese, unlike the other two languages here, uses a combination of preposition and postposition -- another counterexample to the notion that Chinese always has the modifier preceding the modified.

 

 

Existential Sentences Proper

Example Number 10
Chinese Sentence Shu-shang you bi.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence Book on there is/are pen(s).
Thai Sentence Bon nangsue mii bakaa.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence On book(s) there is/are pen(s).
English Sentence On the book is/are a pen/pens.
Analysis  T

Here, unlike English, both Chinese and Thai use a word (you/mii) which can mean either "to have" or "there is/are", according to context. Unlike English, Thai and Chinese here also dispense with articles and with the singular/plural distinction. Unlike English and Thai, Chinese uses a postposition.

 

Other existence/appearance/disappearance sentences

Example Number 11
Chinese Sentence Qianmian zuo-zhe yi zhi gou.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence  In front sit (prog.) one (cl) dog.
Thai Sentence Khangnaa mii maa tua nueng nang-yuu.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence In front there is dog (cl) one sit (prog).
English Sentence There is a dog sitting in front.
Analysis  T

Unlike Chinese, both English and Thai use "there is/mii" with this word-order. However, both Chinese and Thai use a classifier, avoid articles, and have a position-word made up of a word for "side" (mian/khang), together with a word for "front" (qian/naa).

 

Sentences expressing natural phenomena

Example Number 12
Chinese Sentence Xia yu le.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence Fall rain (asp).
Thai Sentence Fon tok leew.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence Rain fall (asp) (It is raining.)
English Sentence It has started raining.
Analysis  T

Both Thai and Chinese use an aspect particle here instead of a word for "to start", and both use a subject-plus-simple-intransitive-verb structure. The word-order in Chinese, however, differs from that in both other languages.

 

Example Number 13
Chinese Sentence Yu xia le hao jiu le.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence Rain fall (asp) very long (asp).
Thai Sentence Fon tok naan maag leew.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence Rain fall long very (asp).
English Sentence It has been raining for quite a while.
Analysis  T

Both Chinese and Thai are more concise than English, and their verb/aspect/tense patterns are also much more similar to each other's than they are to the English version.

 

Question-Word Questions

This is really a lexical, rather than a syntactic issue, on the whole. However, there are some syntactic correspondences here between Chinese and Thai,as opposed to English, such as:

  • the use of the low-rising tone on the word for "which?" -- Chinese: na/Thai: nai -- and a different tone on the word for "that" -- Chinese: na/Thai: nan.
  • Questions and statements do not differ in word-order.
  • Both Chinese and Thai form yes/no questions with sentence-final particles, and most of the particles cannot appear in a question-word question.

 

"Ma" Questions

Example Number 14
Chinese Sentence Zhang San bu dong Yingwen ma ?
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence  (Name) not understand English (question)
Thai Sentence Sombat mai khawcai angrit, chay mai ?
English Gloss of Thai Sentence  (Name) not understand English, true (question)
English Sentence Is it true that (Name) does not understand English ?
Analysis  T

Unlike English,both Chinese and Thai use a simple negation-plus-verb structure and a sentence-final question-particle -- and ma/mai could be historical cognates, as well. Unlike both Chinese and English, Thai uses a tag-question (chaay, mai ?) here.

Example Number 15
Chinese Sentence Zhang San dong Yingwen ma ?
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) understand English (question)
Thai Sentence  Sombat khawcai angrit, mai ?
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) understand English (question)
English Sentence  Does Zhang San understand English ?
Analysis  T

Here the Chinese and Thai versions, unlike the English one, are precisely parallel.

 

 

The "Indirect Object" Construction

 

Example Number 16
Chinese Sentence Zhang San song yi-ben shu gei Li Si.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) give one (cl) book to/give (Name)
Thai Sentence  Sombat aw nangsue lem-neung hai Meechai.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence  (Name) give book (cl) one to/give (Name)
English Sentence  (X) gave a book to (Y).
Analysis  T

Here I used the gloss "to/give" to emphasise the fact that the Chinese and Thai words "gei" and "hai", respectively, can both be translated as either "give" or "to", according to context. The Chinese and Thai sentences above, unlike the English equivalent, use classifiers and a serial verb construction (song...gei/aw...hai).

Example Number 17
Chinese Sentence Zhang San song (gei) Li Si yi-ben shu.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) give (to) (Name) one (cl) book
Thai Sentence Sombat ao nangsue lem-neung hai Meechai.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) give book (cl) one to (Name)
English Sentence (X) gave (Y) a book.
Analysis  T

Unlike Chinese and English, Thai does not have an alternate word-order for such sentences, but , unlike English, Chinese and Thai both use classifiers and a serial-verb construction.

 

 

Comparative

 

Example Number 18
Chinese Sentence Zhang San bi Li Si gao.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) compare (Name) tall.
Thai Sentence  Sombat sung-gwaa Meechai.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) tall -er (Name)
English Sentence (X) is taller than (Y).
Analysis  T

The main difference here is that neither Chinese nor Thai have English's need to include the verb "to be" in such structures.

Example Number 19
Chinese Sentence Zhang San gen Li Si yiyang gao.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) with (Name) equally tall
Thai Sentence Sombat sung tawgan gap Meechai.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) tall equal with (Name)
English Sentence (X) is equally tall as (Y).
Analysis  0

Unlike English, Chinese and Thai here omit the verb "to be", but the modifier-modified word-order is present only in the English and Chinese versions.

Example Number 20
Chinese Sentence Zhang San you Li Si gao.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) has (Name) tallness.
Thai Sentence Sombat sung tawgan gap Meechai.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) tall equally with (Name).
English Sentence (X) is as tall as (Y).
Analysis  0

Here Chinese, unlike the other languages, uses a possession-expression.

 

 

Resultative

 

Example Number 21
Chinese Sentence Zhang San chi-wan fan le.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) eat-finish food (aspect).
Thai Sentence Sombat gin kaaw set leew.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) eat food finish (aspect).
English Sentence (X) has finished eating.
Analysis  T

 

Example Number 22
Chinese Sentence Zhang San chi-bao fan le.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) eat-full food (aspect).
Thai Sentence Sombat gin kaaw im leew.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) eat food full (aspect).
English Sentence (X) has eaten his fill.
Analysis  T

Unlike English, both Thai and Chinese use a serial-verb contruction (chi-wan/gin-set), with an aspect particle, in both the above examples.

 

 

Extent

Example Number 23
Chinese Sentence Zhang San pao-de lei de bu neng zou.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) run (extent) tired (extent) not can walk.
Thai Sentence Sombat wing con nuey con deen may waay.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) run (extent) tired (extent) walk not can.
English Sentence (X) ran so much he is too tired to walk.
Analysis  T

Here, unlike English, Chinese and Thai use exactly parallel structures -- except for a difference in word-order at the end.

 

 

Manner

 

Example Number 24
Chinese Sentence Ma pao-de hen kuai.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence Horse run (extent) (non-comparative) fast
Thai Sentence Maa wing rew.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence Horse run fast.
English Sentence The horse runs fast.
Analysis  T

Here the Chinese version has two features ("-de" and "hen") which don't have equivalents in either Thai or English. But English differs from both Chinese and Thai in having a definite article ("the").

 

 

Negative

Example Number 25
Chinese Sentence Zhang San bu yao shu.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) not want book(s)
Thai Sentence Sombat mai ao nangsue.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) not want book(s)
English Sentence (X) does not want books.
Analysis  T

 

Example Number 26
Chinese Sentence Zhang San mei (you) lai.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) not (have) come
Thai Sentence Sombat mai maa.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) not come
English Sentence (X) didn't come.
Analysis  T

Example Number 27
Chinese Sentence Zhang San mei (you) shu.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) not (have) book(s)
Thai Sentence Sombat mai mii nangsue.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) not have book(s)
English Sentence (X) does not have books.
Analysis  T

In the above three sentences, Chinese and Thai have exactly parallel structures, while English differs in having an auxiliary verb ("does").

 

 

Passive

Example Number 28
Chinese Sentence Zhang San bei Li Si xiao.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence  (Name) by (Name) laugh
Thai Sentence Sombat thuuk Meechai huaro.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) by (Name) laugh
English Sentence (X) is laughed at by (Y).
Analysis  T

 

Example Number 29
Chinese Sentence Zhang San bei da le.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) (passive) hit (asp)
Thai Sentence Sombat thuuk ti.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) (passive) hit
English Sentence (X) was hit.
Analysis  0

Example Number 30
Chinese Sentence Zhang San mei (you) bei Li Si xiao.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) not (have) by (Name) laugh
Thai Sentence Sombat mai dai thuuk Meechai huaro.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) not get by (Name) laugh
English Sentence (X) has not been laughed at by (Y).
Analysis  T

In the above three sentences, the Thai and Chinese structures are almost exactly parallel. In the second sentence, the English version appears similar to the other two languages on the surface.

 

 

"Double Subject"

Example Number 31
Chinese Sentence Zhang San tou teng.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) head ache
Thai Sentence Sombat puet hua.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) ache head
English Sentence (X) has a headache.
Analysis  T

Here, unlike Thai and Chinese, English uses a verb indicating "possession", as well as an article. Thai and Chinese order the phrase "head + ache" differently, but are otherwise structurally identical.

Example Number 32
Chinese Sentence Zhang San jintian tou bu teng le.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) today head not ache (asp)
Thai Sentence Sombat wannii may puet hua leew.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) today not ache head (asp)
English Sentence Today (X) does not have a headache any more.
Analysis  T

Here Chinese and Thai both have the negative before the verb and end the sentence with an aspect particle. English differs in having an article, and an auxiliary verb, and in having an adverbial phrase instead of an aspect particle.

Example Number 33
Chinese Sentence Nei-ge xiaohair baba shi yinyuejia.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence That (cl) child father is musician
Thai Sentence Dek khon nan phoo pen nakdontrii.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence Child (cl) that father is musician
English Sentence That child's father is a musician.
Analysis T

Here both Chinese and Thai use a topicalisation structure instead of the possessive one that English uses. Thai and Chinese also both use classifiers.

 

 

Time

Example Number 34
Chinese Sentence Zhang San lai de shihou, Li Si yijing hui jia le.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) come of time, (Name) already return home (asp).
Thai Sentence Weelaa thii Sombat maa, tee Kanitha klap baan leew.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence Time that (Name) come, but (Name) return home (asp).
English Sentence When (X) came, (Y) had already gone home.
Analysis  0

There is no obvious, consistent similarity between the structures in any pair of the three languages in this sentence. However, there is the lexical similarity that both Thai and Chinese use the usual word for "time" to mean "when" in these structures.

 

 

Condition

Example Number 35
Chinese Sentence Yaoshi Zhang San lai, Li Si jiu qu.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence If (Name) come, (Name) then go
Thai Sentence Thaa Sombat maa, Kanitha ca pai.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence If (Name) come, (Name) will go
English Sentence If (X) comes, (then) (Y) will go.
Analysis 0

Here Thai and English, which both explicitly refer to the future, resemble each other more than either resembles Chinese, which compulsorily reinforces the logical link with "jiu" in the second clause.

 

 

Conjoining

Example Number 36
Chinese Sentence Zhang San Li Si fenbie chu-qu le.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) (Name) separately out go (asp)
Thai Sentence Sombat gap Kanitha ook-pai thanghaak leew.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) with (Name) out go separately (asp)
English Sentence (X) and (Y) went out separately.
Analysis T

Here Thai is a bit closer to Chinese than English is, because of the presence of the aspect particle.

Example Number 37
Chinese Sentence Zhang San you gao, you pang, you hei.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence  (Name) also tall, also fat, also black
Thai Sentence Sombat thang sung, thang uen, thang dam.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) also tall, also fat, also black
English Sentence (X) is tall, fat, and dark.
Analysis T

Here Thai and Chinese exhibit exactly the same pattern, which is different from the English pattern.

 

 

Correlative

Example Number 38
Chinese Sentence Zhang San kai men chu-qu le.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) open door out go (asp)
Thai Sentence Sombat peet pratuu ook-pai leew.
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) open door out go (asp)
English Sentence (X) opened the door and went out.
Analysis  T

Here Chinese, like Thai, but unlike English, has no article, has no conjunction, has the word for "out" preceding the word for "go", and has an aspect particle at the end.

 

 

"Others"

Example Number 39
Chinese Sentence Zhang San qing Li Si (dao jia-li) jin-qu.
English Gloss of Chinese Sentence (Name) ask (Name) (to house in) enter go
Thai Sentence  Sombat cheen Kanitha khaw-pai (nai baan).
English Gloss of Thai Sentence (Name) ask (Name) enter go (in house)
English Sentence (X) asked (Y) to enter (into the house).
Analysis 0

The Thai and English word-orders are more similar to each other in this sentence than they are to the Chinese word-order.

 

 

Summary and Conclusion

 

TOTALS:

T = 30

0 = 9

E = 0

TOTAL = 39

 

I think these results speak for themselves. Assuming that chance alone would have resulted in 0 = 39, what we have here is a picture of Thai syntax that looks much more similar to Chinese syntax than chance would have caused. I will leave it to others to work out whether the sample is large enough and the result statistically significant. Bear in mind, however, that we are counting structures, rather than individual sentences, and the number of structures in a language is necessarily rather limited.

It may be possible to find fault with my analysis of particular examples, which would alter the above results to some extent, but it is hard for me to imagine that enough would be altered to significantly affect the picture presented above.

So where to from here ? As I have already said, I am not making any claim in the present essay that these results demonstrate a "genetic" relationship between Thai and Chinese. However, I invite interested scholars to look more closely at the possibility that Thai and Chinese do in fact have a family relationship -- perhaps via a creolisation process involving one Austronesian "parent" and one Sino-Tibetan one.

 

 

Notes

 

1. Norman (1988) p.11.

2. Norman (1988) p. 8.

3. See Mayerthaler, E. & W. (1990).

 

 

Bibliography

 

Arya, G. 1975?.

The Structure of the Thai Language. Nara, Japan:Vanity Press.

 

Edmondson, J.A., C. Feagin & P. Muehlhaeusler (eds) (1990):

Development and Diversity -- Linguistic Variation across Time and Space.

 

Edmonson, J.A. and D.B. Solnit 1988 (eds). Comparative Kadai: Linguistic Studies Beyond Tai. Arlington, Texas: Summer Institute of Linguistics and University of Texas.

 

Edmonson, J.A. and D.B. Solnit 1988.

Introduction. in Edmonson, J.A. and D.B. Solnit 1988 (eds).

 

Harris, R. (1990):

The Dialect Myth. In Edmondson, J.A., C. Feagin & P. Muehlhaeusler (eds) (1990).

 

Hashimoto, A.Y. 1971. Mandarin Syntactic Structures. UNICORN (Chi-Lin) No. 8 (July 1971). Princeton, New Jersey:Princeton University.

 

Li, Charles, and Sandra Thompson 1989.

Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar. Berkeley:University of California Press.

 

Lin, Helen T. 1989.

Essential Grammar for Modern Chinese. Boston:Cheng & Tsui Company.

 

Mayerthaler, E. & W. 1990.

Aspects of Bavarian Syntax or EEvery Language Has At Least Two Parents', in Edmondson, J.A., C. Feagin & P. Muehlhaeusler (eds) (1990)

 

Norman, Jerry. 1988

Chinese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Cambridge Language Surveys series.

 

Syrokomla-Stefanowska, A.D. & Mabel Lee 1986.

Basic Chinese Grammar and Sentence Patterns. Australia:Wild Peony.

 

Last Updated: 27 February 2004