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Han-Tibetan, Altaic Languages "Close Relatives"

The Han-Tibetan and Altaic groups of languages, two of the world's nine big language families, have certain things in common which indicate that they might have the same primitive roots, according to a Mongolian linguist.

Mang Mulin, a professor at the Inner Mongolia Normal University in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, began studying the derivation of Mongolian words in the late 1970s.

He noticed that over 3,000 pairs of Chinese and Mongolian words share almost the same pronunciations and meanings. An interesting finding emerged after he compared the rules of linguistic changes between the Tibetan, Manchu and Turkish languages: The languages all follow strict and clear rules of pronunciation equivalence.

Mang discovered that all the equivalent words of these languages can be found as frequently used vocabulary in historical documents, ancient books and records dating prior to the Qin Dynasty (BC221-BC207).

Besides, the word-building rules and grammars of the languages are the same as or similar to those of the Chinese language.

Mang does not think that this can be explained as a coincidence or exceptional cases of assimilation of words from the Chinese language.

According to Mang's study of 121 nuclear words, 94 percent of the Chinese and Mongolian words can be taken as cognates, and 87 percent of the Manchu and Chinese words are cognates. These rates are much higher than that between the Chinese and Tibetan languages, which belong to the same language family. The rate for the latter is 65 percent.

Mang believes that this shows that the Han-Tibetan and Altaic families once shared a common ancestor, that is to say, the two language families were very "close relatives" linguistically.

There are 29 languages used in China belonging to the Han- Tibetan Family. These languages are mainly spoken by ethnic groups such as the Zhuang, Dai, Qiang, Tibetan, Bai and Miao of central- south and southwest China.

There are 17 languages spoken in China belonging to the Altaic family. The speakers of these languages mainly live in northeast and northwest China, including the Uygur, Mongolian, Korean, Gaoshan, Uzbek and Ewenki peoples.

(Xinhua 02/26/2001)

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