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About Kri
  1. Language
  2. Geography
  3. People and Culture
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Kri is a previously undescribed language of mainland Southeast Asia. It is an Austroasiatic language of the Vietic branch of Eastern Mon-Khmer. It is spoken by approximately 250 people living in the upper reaches of the Ñrong river (or Nam Noy in Lao), a tributary of the Nam Theun, and ultimately the Mekong River, in central Laos. The language has a number of typologically noteworthy features, including derivational infixes, a very crowded vowel system (18 long vowel contrasts), and a complex phonological template which combines segmental structure with cross-cutting rime-level distinctions of register and terminance. In many respects, this language differs from the common vision of a 'typical mainland Southeast Asian language' such as Thai or Vietnamese. Kri is unlike those national languages in several respects, for example its lack of lexical tone, its complex phonological template, its derivational morphology, its possession of unusual sounds such as devoiced rhotic finals and retroflex affricates, and its high number of contrasts in syllable-final position. However, in the context of the types of language which are most numerous yet least described in the area, a language like Kri may be more worthy of the title 'typical' in mainland Southeast Asia.

In terms of morphological type, Kri tends toward an isolating and analytic profile (no inflectional morphology such as case-marking or verb-argument agreement). It has a modest inventory of (essentially non-productive) derivational morphology, including infixation (causative, verbalizing, and nominalizing) and reduplication. The phonological system features a large number of vowel distinctions, and has other properties of significant interest for research on the history of Vietic and other Mon-Khmer languages. These include the retention of syllable-level contrasts in register (heavy versus light) and terminance (checked versus voiced versus voiceless) which are understood to presage the kind of tonogenesis hypothesized for Vietic languages such as Vietnamese and Muong, as well as other languages of Southeast Asia such as Kmhmu and Chinese.



Kri is spoken in a small valley area nestled just on the Western side of the Annamite Cordillera ridge, about 300 kilometres due East of Vientiane (the capital city of Laos). This area is contained within a 'National Protected Area' of Laos, one of the sites of highest biodiversity in Indochina.


People and Culture

There is a total number of around 250 speakers of Kri, living in a string of hamlets all within no more than a few hours' walking distance from each other. Kri speakers practice shifting agriculture (rice, maize, tubers) within a narrowly defined home range. They are in intensive contact with other ethnic groups of the same area (e.g., Sek, Brou, Phong, Vietnamese, and Lao). As a result, Kri speakers are highly multilingual, mostly speaking at least 4 languages.



  • Enfield, N. J., & Diffloth, G. (2009). Phonology and sketch grammar of Kri, a Vietic language of Laos. Cahiers de Linguistique - Asie Orientale (CLAO), 38(1), 3-69. more >



Last checked 2017-12-16 by Mark Dingemanse
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Nick Enfield

Nick Enfield

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
PO Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands