There are people in Khammouane Province in Laos who speak a language known as Saek (Sek). In the twentieth century, Western scholars struggled to identify what language family this language belongs to. The earliest scholars claimed that it was Mon-Khmer, but eventually French linguist André-Georges Haudricourt made a convincing case that it was a Tai language, and more specifically, a Northern Tai language.
Linguists believe that Tai languages emerged in the area of what is today Guangxi Province in China. Out of some proto-Tai language that existed some 2,000 years ago emerged Central Tai, Northern Tai and Southwestern Tai. Of these three, Southwestern Tai is the one that emerged the latest. Linguists now say that it emerged around the eighth or ninth centuries CE, and that its speakers started to migrate away from the “Tai homeland” at that time as well.
As the map below indicates, these three branches can be identified with different areas, and the place where the Saek language is spoken is in an area where one would expect to find Southwestern Tai speakers, not Northern Tai speakers.
Continue reading “2. Going Backwards: Tai and Vietics”