Kam is a Tai-Kadai language spoken by about 1.5 million
people in Guizhou, Hunan and Guangxi provinces of China.
It is a member of the Kam-Sui branch of the Tai-Kadai language
family, and is also known as Gam, or 侗语 (dòngyǔ)
There are two mutually unintelligible dialects of Kam which
are classified as separate languages by some linguists. The
northern dialect includes more loanwords from Chinese and
many speakers are bilingual in Kam and Chinese. The southern
dialect has more speakers and more of them are monolingual.
The Kam spelling system was devised by Chinese government
researchers in 1958. It is used mainly by those researchers and by
a few hundred Kam speakers.
Kam alphabet and pronunciation
Kam has nine tones: open syllables (those ending in a vowel) can have
nine different tones, and closed syllables (those ending in a consonant)
can have six different tones. Tones are indicated by final consonants,
for example bal (fish) and bedl (duck) have a high tone,
while bas (aunt) and bads (can) have a dipping tone.
The last three tones are only used with open syllables.