Kam language

Not to be confused with Kam language (Nigeria).
Native to China
Region Guizhou, Hunan, Guangxi
Ethnicity Kam people
Native speakers
1.5 million (2003)[1]
Kam alphabet (Latin script)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Variously:
doc  Northern Dong
kmc  Southern Dong
cov  Cao Miao
Glottolog kami1255[2]

The Kam language, also known as Gam (autonym: lix Gaeml), or in Chinese, Dong or Tung-Chia, is the language of the Dong people. Ethnologue distinguishes three Kam varieties as separate but closely related languages.[1]


The Kam language can be divided into two major subdivisions, Southern Kam and Northern Kam (Yang & Edmondson 2008).[3] Northern Kam displays more Chinese influence and lacks vowel length contrast, while Southern Kam is more conservative. Language varieties closely related to or part of Kam include Cao Miao and Naxi Yao. A northern Pinghua variety called Bendihua, spoken in Tongdao County, Hunan, has also been significantly influenced by Kam.

Southern Kam
Northern Kam

Long (2012:19-20)[4] classifies the Kam lectal areas (dialects) as follows.

Southern Kam
Northern Kam

In Congjiang County, Dong consists of three dialects: Jiudong 九洞 (similar to Chejiang 车江 Dong), Liudong 六洞 (similar to Liping 黎平 Dong), and another dialect spoken in Xishan 西山, Bingmei 丙梅, and Guandong 贯洞 (similar to Sanjiang 三江 Dong) (Congjiang County Almanac 1999:109).

In Suining County, Hunan, Dong is spoken in Lianfeng 联丰 (including Duolong 多龙村), Huangsangping 黄桑坪, Le'anpu 乐安铺, and other nearby locations.[5] In Chengbu County, Hunan, Dong is spoken in Yanzhai 岩寨, Chang'anying 长安营, and Jiangtousi 江头司.[6]

Kam is also spoken in the single village of Đồng Mộc, Trung Sơn Commune, Yên Sơn District, Tuyên Quang Province, northern Vietnam,[7] where there are about 35 Kam people (Edmondson & Gregerson 2001).[8] The Kam of Đồng Mộc had migrated to Vietnam from China about 150 years ago. The Kam variety spoken in Đồng Mộc is most similar to that of Lípíng Shuǐkǒu (黎平县水口镇) in southeastern Guizhou, China.

In China, a total of six counties designated as Dong Autonomous Counties (侗族自治县).


Further information: Naxi Yao language

According to the Shaoyang Prefecture Gazetteer (1997), language varieties closely related to Southern Kam are spoken in Naxi 那溪, Dongkou County (which had 4,280 ethnic Yao in 1982 (Chen 2013:39)) and Lianmin 联民, Suining County. However, they are officially classified by the Chinese government as ethnic Yao, not Dong. Chen Qiguang (2013:39)[9] reports that the ancestors of Naxihua 那溪话 speakers had migrated to their current location from Tianzhu, Liping, and Yuping counties of southeastern Guizhou during the early 15th century.

Phonology and orthography


Kam has 32 syllable-initial consonants; seven of them (tʃ-, tʃʰ-, ʃ-, ɻ-, f-, ts- and tsʰ-) only occur in recent loanwords from Chinese.

IPA Gaeml IPA Gaeml IPA Gaeml IPA Gaeml IPA Gaeml
p b t d j k g zh
p t tɕʰ q k tʃʰ ch
m m n n ny ŋ ng ʃ sh
w w l l ɕ x h h ɻ r
bi s s j y gu f f
pʲʰ pi li kʷʰ ku ts z
ŋʷ ngu tsʰ c


Kam has 64 syllable finals; 14 of them occur only in Chinese loans and are not listed in the table below.

IPA Gaeml IPA Gaeml IPA Gaeml IPA Gaeml IPA Gaeml IPA Gaeml IPA Gaeml
a a ə e e ee i i o o u u/uu
ai əɪ ei oi ui
ao eeu iu ou
am am ɐm aem əm em em eem im im om om um um
an an ɐn aen ən en en een in in on on un un
ang ɐŋ aeng əŋ eng eeng ing ong ung
ap ab ɐp ab əp eb ep eb ip ib op ob up ub
at ad ɐt ad ət ad et ed it id ot od
ak ag ɐk ag ək eg ek eg ik ig ok og uk ug

The phonetic value of the vowel in the finals spelled -ab, -ad and -ag, is [ɐ] in syllables that have the tones -l, -p and -c (see table below); in syllables with tones -s, -t and -x, it is [a]. The phonetic value of the vowel in the finals spelled -eb, -ed and -eg, is [ə] in syllables that have the tones -l, -p and -c; in syllables with tones -s, -t and -x, it is [e].


Kam is a tonal language. Open syllables can occur in one of nine different tones, checked syllables in six tones (so-called entering tones), so that the traditional approach counts fifteen tones. As with the Hmong alphabet, the orthography marks tones with a consonant at the end of each syllable.

tone contour: high high rising low dipping low rising low falling high falling peaking mid
/˥/ (55) /˧˥/ (35) /˨˩˨/ (212) /˧˨˧/ (323) /˩˧/ (13) /˧˩/ (31) /˥˧/ (53) /˦˥˧/ (453) /˧/ (33)
Orthography: -l -p -c -s -t -x -v -k -h
(open syllable)
bal pap bac bas qat miax bav pak bah
"fish" "grey" "rake" "aunt" "light" "knife" "leaf" "destroy" "chaff"
(checked syllable)
bedl sedp medc bads pads bagx
"duck" "seven" "ant" "can"? "blood" "white"


  1. 1 2 Northern Dong at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
    Southern Dong at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
    Cao Miao at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Kamic". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Yang Tongyin and Jerold A. Edmondson (2008). "Kam." In Diller, Anthony, Jerold A. Edmondson, and Yongxian Luo ed. The Tai–Kadai Languages. Routledge Language Family Series. Psychology Press, 2008.
  4. Long Yaohong [龙耀宏]. 2012. A study of Dong dialectology [侗语方音研究 Dongyu fangyin yanjiu]. Ph.D. dissertation, Shanghai Normal University [上海师范大学]. http://www.taodocs.com/p-5926320.html
  5. Suining County Almanac (1997)
  6. Shaoyang Prefecture Almanac (1997)
  7. http://danviet.vn/que-nha/nguoi-tong-o-dong-moc/112705p1c29.htm
  8. Edmondson, J.A. and Gregerson, K.J. 2001, "Four Languages of the Vietnam-China Borderlands", in Papers from the Sixth Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society, ed. K.L. Adams and T.J. Hudak, Tempe, Arizona, pp. 101-133. Arizona State University, Program for Southeast Asian Studies.
  9. Chen, Qiguang [陈其光] (2013). Miao and Yao language [苗瑶语文]. Beijing: China Minzu University Press.

Further reading

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