Sak language

For the Kadu languages of east Africa, see Kadu languages.
Native to Myanmar, Bangladesh, China
Region Northwestern Rakhine State
Ethnicity Kadu
Native speakers
40,000 (2007)[1]
  • Sak
  • Kadu
  • Andro†
  • Sengmai†
  • Chak
  • Pyu?
Language codes
ISO 639-3 kdvinclusive code
Individual codes:
zkd  Kadu
zkn  Kanan
ckh  Chak
lba  Lui (old generic name)
Glottolog sakk1239[2]

Sak, also known as Gadu, Gamaan, Kado, Kantu, Kadu-Ganaan, Kato, Kudo, Maw, Mawteik, Puteik, Asak, Thet, Andro, Sengmai, Chakpa, Phayeng, Katu, Gado, Woni, That, and Kadu[3] is a Sino-Tibetan language of the Sal branch spoken in Myanmar and China. The various varieties are generally considered separate Sak or Luish languages: Kado (Settaw, Mawkhwin, and Mawteik [extinct] dialects; 30,000 speakers), and Kanan (Nanza; 9,000 speakers). Andro and Sengmai are extinct and known only from a glossary recorded in 1859, their speakers having switched to Meithei.[4][5] The Kado/Kanan speak Burmese and Chakma Bengali. There are also various unattested varieties of Lui or Loi mentioned in nineteenth-century accounts that appear to have been the same language.

The ancient Pyu language may belong here.[2]

Geographical distribution

Statistics for Kadu-speaking villages are as follows (Ethnologue).

There is low mutual intelligibility among the Kadu dialects.


Kadu has twenty consonants: /p, t, k, ʔ, pʰ, tʰ, kʰ, tɕ, tɕʰ, sʰ, s, ɕ, h, m, n, ɲ, ŋ, l, y, w/. The final consonants need to be nasals /m, n, ŋ/ or voiceless stops /p, t, k, ʔ/.

Kadu vowels consist of eight monophthongs /a, e, i, o, u, ɔ, ɛ, ɘ[7]/ and a diphthong /ai/.

Kadu is a tonal language, which means it make use of pitch in one form or another to distinguish between words that would otherwise be homophonous. In this language, there are three tones; high, mid, and low.

Syllabic Structure[7]


C: Consonant

V: Vowel

C1: necessary, this can be any Kadu consonant except unvoiced nasals.

C2: optional, this can be only /l, w, y/.

V1: necessary, this can be any Kadu vowel, however, /ɘ/ appears only in the form of CɘC.

V2: optional.

C3: optional, this can be only /p, t, m, n, ʔ, ŋ/.

Writing System[6]

The Kadu have never had a writing system of their own.


Kadu is an SOV language.[7]


Abstract nouns such as freedom, love, experience, and anger are not attested in the Kadu noun class. They are usually expressed by verbs or adjectival verbs.

The language has two categories of nouns:

1, So called "simple nouns" are treated as monomorphemic by the native speakers.

2, Nouns known as "complex nouns" are polymorphemic, and most of the complex nouns come from the process of compounding.


Adjectives that expresses dimensions and qualities such as "tong" (=big) and "lom" (=warm) function as verbs, and are categorized as verbs.

The verbs are structurally categorized as:

1, Simple verbs, which are treated as monomorphemic words by the native speakers.


2, Polymorphemic complex verbs.

Kadu verbs may be reduplicated using the same morpheme or may take attendant words to express the repeated or frequent actions.

V-V constructions function as resultative, directional, evaluative, explanatory, or manner.


The adverbs are also "simple" or "complex" like nouns and verbs.

One thing to point up is that the complex adverbs are derived from verbs or nominals by the processes of reduplication or semi-reduplication.


Most of the native numerals in Kadu are lost.

Numerals are always attached to classifiers, although classifiers do not occur with multiples of ten.

As for ordinal numbers, Burmese ordinal numbers are used because the original ordinal numbers are already lost.


singular plural
1st person /nga/ /maleq/
2nd person /nang/ /haning/
3rd person /hing/ /antak/, /matak/


Quantifiers follow the head noun they quantify.


There are nominal relational markers, verbal particles, clausal particles, utterance final particles, and speaker attitude particles.


Yes/no interrogatives

Yes/no questions are formed by simply adding either of the two interrogative particles "la" and "ka" at the end of the phrase.

Alternative qustions

Yes/no questions can also be expressed by an alternative interrogative expression like "is it A or not A", which can be found in Mandarin Chinese as well.

Tag questions

Interrogative sentences can be made by adding "chi" (=true) at the end of sentences, like "right?" in English language.

Wh- questions

Wh- questions are formed by attaching the Wh-word forming morphemes, "ma" or "ha", to specific nomials or nominal postpositions.

Wh- question words also may function as indefinite pronouns such as "whatever", "anyone" and so on.


Verbs can be negated by negative proclitics, "a-" and "in-".


English Kadu
iron /shen/
sweet /ti=ma/
tie /hop=ma/
child/son /sha/
salt /sum/
earth /ka/
seven /set/
eat /youʔ=ma/
give /ʔi=ma/
star /ʔuluɕi/


  1. Sak at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Kadu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Kanan at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Chak at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Lui (old generic name) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. 1 2 Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Sak". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. "Did you know Kadu is vulnerable?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2016-05-02.
  4. Burling, Robbins (2003). "The Tibeto-Burman languages of northeast India". In Thurgood, Graham; LaPolla, Randy J. Sino-Tibetan Languages. London: Routledge. pp. 169–191. ISBN 978-0-7007-1129-1.
  5. McCulloch, W. (1859). Account of the Valley of Munnipore and of the Hill tribes with a comparative vocabulary of the Munnipore and other languages. Calcutta: Bengal Printing Company.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Sangdong, David (2012). "A grammar of the Kadu (Asak) language" (PDF). Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Huziwara, Keisuke (2013). "カドゥー語音韻論" (PDF). 東南アジア研究. Retrieved 1 May 2016.

Further reading

Benedict, P. K. (1939). Semantic differentiation in Indo-Chinese. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 4(3/4), 213-229. Retrieved February 12, 2016 JSTOR 2717775

Brown, R. G. (1920). Kadus of Burma. Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, 1(3), 1-28. Retrieved February 12, 2016 JSTOR 607587

Driem, G. V. (1993). The proto-Tibeto-Burman verbal agreement system. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 56(2), 292-334. Retrieved February 12, 2016 JSTOR 619904 Glottolog 2.7 - Sak. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2016

Grierson, G. (1921). Kadu and its relatives. Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, 2(1), 39-41. Retrieved February 12, 2016 JSTOR 607735

Huziwara, K. (2008). Cak numerals. The Dhaka University Journal of Linguistics, 1(2), 1-10. Retrieved February 12, 2016,

Shafer, R. (1940). The vocalism of Sino-Tibetan. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 60(3), 302-337. Retrieved February 12, 2016, JSTOR 594419 Thurgood, G., & LaPolla, R. J. (2003). The Sino-Tibetan languages.

Voegelin, C. F., & Voegelin, F. M. (1965). Languages of the world: Sino-Tibetan fascicle five. Anthropological Linguistics, 7(6), 1-58. Retrieved February 12, 2016 JSTOR 30022507

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