The Sino-Tibetan languages are spoken in the People's Republic of China, in the North of Nepal, in Bhutan, in north-eastern India, in Myanmar, in northern and western parts of Thailand, in north-western Laos and in northern Vietnam.
The Sino-Tibetan languages are divided into three major branches: Sinitic (Chinese), Tibeto-Burmese and Karen.
The Sinitic languages originally were spoken within the boundaries of the People's Republic of China and Taiwan, but now have spread throughout Southeast Asia.
There is a major split in the distribution of the the Sinitic languages between the Mandarin varieties in the north, the west and the center of China - and the rest of the Sinitic languages in the southeast: Wu, Min, Gan, Hakka and Xian Chinese.
The Tibeto-Burman languages are spoken in a vast area that ranges from the northwest of Pakistan, the Indian province Jammu and Kashmir, Tibet and areas further east in the Peoples Republic of China, northern Nepal, Bhutan, the north-eastern provinces of India, Burma, northern Thailand, north-western Laos, and northern Vietnam.
The subdivision of Tibeto-Burman is still matter of dispute. Genetical distribution is still obscured by the fact that little is known of many languages. A rough classification of the Tibeto-Burman language follows: 1) Baric with the sub-groups Deng, Kachinic, Konyak-Bodo-Garo, Kuki-Naga, Luish, Mirish; 2) Bodic with the subgroups Bodish and East Himalayan, Bodish is subdivided into Gurung, Himalayish, Tibetan, Tshangla and East Himalayan is sudivided into Eastern Kiranti and Western Kiranti; 3) Burmese-Lolo, which is subdivided into Burmese and Lolo; 4) Nungish; and 5) Tangut-Qiang, which is subdivided into Qiangic and Rgyarong.
The Karen languages are spoken in western Thailand.
Karen is subdivided into Pa'o Karen, Pwo Karen and the Sgaw-Bghai subgroup.
In former times the Tai-Kadai and the Hmong-Mien languages have been regarded as members of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Nowadays, however, the majority of the scholars consider them two independent language families.
All Sinitic languages and many Tibeto-Burman languages are are tonal languages (
Karen has five tones.
Chinese on the one hand and Tibeto-Burman and Karen on the other hand show significant typological differences. The Sinitic languages are predominantly monosyllabic, they belong to the isolating type of languages, viz. words in this type of language usually consist of a single morpheme. Chinese is coined by the Southeast Asian language area, Vietnamese, Tai-Kadai and Hmong Mien also display these typological features. The Tibeto-Burman languages are predominantly agglutinative, i.e. words are composed of a chain of separete morphemes and each grammatical meaning is conveyed by its own morpheme. The unmarked order of constituents in simple transitive sentences is SOV. The Karen languages are also agglutinative, but display SVO constituent order (under the influence of the adjacent Tai-Kadai and Mon-Khmer languages.
In older historical stages of Chinese case alternation in a pronominal paradigm occurs
In a few Tibeto-Burman languages pronouns are inflected for case.
Several Tibeto-Burman languages exhibit verb-agreement systems of varying complexity.
Several Tibeto-Burman languages have a split-ergativity pattern (Gyarong, Kham), Central Tibetan displays active/stative marking, Newari features an aspectual ergative split. Lolo-Burmese, Jingpho and maybe others are characterised by topic-marking patterns (which hardly fit into the ergative/accusative dichotomy). Gurung has a consistent ergative pattern.
Some of the more archaic Tibeto-Burman languages feature in their pronominal systems and their verb-agreement systems a dual number and an inclusive-exclusive distinction: Inclusive first person deixis includes the the addressee, whereas exclusive first person deixis excludes the adressee.
Jiarong, Chepang, Nocte Naga and maybe other modern Tibeto-Burman languages the verb exhibit the direct/inverse category (like in Algonquian or Chukot). In a direct/inverse system 1st and 2nd person arguments rank higher than 3rd person arguments. If a direct object of a transitive verb is 1st or 2nd person but the subject is third person, this constellation is called inverse and entails a special marking at the verb. However, if the subject is 1st or 2nd person and the direct object 3rd person, this constellation is called direct and there is no special marking at the verb. (For example in Nocte Naga verb agreement is always prefers 1rst person or 2nd person arguments to third person arguments regardless of syntactical roles. Inverse category is marked by the affix -h-, direct category is unmarked).
Composition is a productive process in the Sino-Tibetan languages.