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Are There Similarities in the Languages of Southeast Asian Countries?




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Preparatory German language course | uni-assist e.V.
Language Class


There are many languages in the world. These languages vary in the different ways they are spoken or pronounced. This gives rise to dialect. On the other hand, one can come across two languages that are similiar.  The languages of Southeast Asia are not similiar, They can be broadly divided into two general regions: Maritime Southeast Asia (or Island Southeast Asia) and Mainland Southeast Asia.

Maritime Southeast Asian languages are Austronesian. They are not tonal and have multiple syllables. They are related to each other and to the languages of other islander groups (Micronesian, Polynesian, Melanesian, Malagasy, Aboriginal Taiwanese).

Examples: (“What is your name?”)

·         Tagalog (Philippines): Anong pangalan mo?

·         Ifugao (Philippines): Hipay ngadan nu?

·         Cebuano (Philippines): Unsa ngalan nimo?

·         Malay (Malaysia): Apakah nama anda?

·         Iban (Malaysia): Sapa nama dik?

·         Javanese (Indonesia): Asmanipun panjenengan sinten?

·         Balinese (Indonesia): Sira wastane?

·         Manado (Indonesia): Sapa ngana pe nama?

·         Tetum (East Timor): Ita nia naran saida?

Mainland Southeast Asian languages on the other hand are divided into 4 unrelated language families: Austroasiatic, Kra-Dai, Hmong-Mien, and Sino-Tibetan.

Despite being unrelated, all of them sound similar. They are tonal and monosyllabic (every word is one syllable).

Examples: (“What is your name?”)

(note: a lot of them are pronounced very differently from how they are spelled)

 Kra-Dai : Lao (Laos): Jâo seu nyãng?

·         Thai (Thailand): Khun chûue à-rai?

Austroasiatic : Khmer (Cambodia): Nyek chmua ai?

·         Vietnamese (Vietnam): Ten ban la gi?

Sino-Tibetan : Burmese (Myanmar): Nah meh be lou kor d’le?

Hmong-Mien : Hmong (Vietnam/Laos/China/Thailand): Koj lub npe hu li cas?

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Faruq Farquhar : This is actually incorrect:

“Malay (Malaysia): Apakah nama anda?”

The correct form is:

Siapa nama kamu/awak/tuan/puan/encik/cik/anda?

When asking for a person's name, ‘who’ (siapa) is used instead of ‘what’ (apa).

Do note that while anda is correct, it is too formal and is almost never used to ask a stra

… (more)

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Tim Tran : Khmer is not tonal.

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Yili Jin : I can tell “Nah meh” is “若名” in mandarin namely “your name” but not sure about the rest.





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