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New endangered Tibeto-Burman languages of southwestern China: Mondzish, Longjia, Pherbu, and others

Andrew Hsiu


This talk will cover several little-known and recently discovered Tibeto-Burman languages in China’s southeastern Yunnan and western Guizhou provinces from a historical-comparative perspective. The languages’ locations, demographics, and possible classifications will be discussed, as well as results from my own field research conducted from March to May of 2013. These languages belong to the recently identified Mondzish subgroup of the Lolo-Burmese branch (Lama 2012), and another group which might constitute a separate Tibeto-Burman branch that I will tentatively call “Longjia-Caijia.”

The Longjia 龙家 (autnoym: “Songlibao 松立保”), Caijia 蔡家 (autnoym: men³¹ni³³), and Luren 卢人 languages are spoken across various counties of western Guizhou province. These languages are difficult to classify due to extensive Chinese loanwords and idiosyncratic vocabulary, and either all constitute a separate branch of Tibeto-Burman, or are coordinate with Bai of west-central Yunnan. Like the neighboring Gelao people, the Longjia are widely considered to be autochthonous to western Guizhou.

The Mondzish languages were recently identified by Ziwo Lama (2012) as the most divergent branch of Lolo-Burmese, and are spoken primarily in Wenshan Prefecture, southeastern Yunnan province. These include (1) Monphe (autonym: moŋ⁵⁵pʰɛ³¹), an endangered Mondzish language with about 500 speakers that I had discovered in Heizhiguo Township 黑支果乡, Guangnan County 广南县, in August 2012; intriguingly, as some Monphe vocabulary forms have parallels only with Written Burmese, Monphe could turn out to be crucial for reconstruction purposes. (2) Kathu, which preserves archaic consonant clusters containing laterals (kl-, ml-), and is crucial for Proto-Lolo-Burmese reconstruction as well (Bradley 1994). (3) Mondzish varieties spoken by “White Yi 白彝” groups of Malipo County 麻栗坡县, Funing County 富宁县, and Napo County 那坡县.

I will also briefly discuss other non-Mondzish languages belonging to Lolo-Burmese such as Boren 僰人 and Qixingmin 七姓民, who may be the descendants of the “Boren僰人” of southern Sichuan reported in Chinese historical documents.

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