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The Angkuic languages: a preliminary survey

Andrew Hsiu


The Angkuic languages are an Austroasiatic subgroup belonging to the Palaungic branch, and consist of U, Hu, Mok (Muak Sa-aak), Man Met (Kemie), Va, Avala, Angku, and various other lects (Svantesson 1991). Angkuic languages are scattered across western Yunnan and eastern Shan State, Burma. The internal classification of Angkuic remains unclear and virtually unresearched. A poorly documented branch, no dictionaries or grammars currently exist for any Angkuic languages. Basic vocabulary word lists for Angkuic language varieties are scattered in various Chinese sources, while recent Western scholarship on Angkuic languages include Svantesson (1988, 1991) and Hall (2010). These are further supplemented by my 2014 field notes of Va and Avala.

In April 2014, I collected audio recordings and word lists from two previously undocumented Angkuic languages that I have named Northern Va and Southern Va. They are respectively spoken in Taihe and Zhenglong administrative villages, Mojiang County, Yunnan Province, China. Southern Va is spoken only by middle-age and elderly people, but not by children. It is the more phonologically conservative of the two and retains many sesquisyllabic prefixes, particularly /s-/, which are not retained in Northern Va. Northern Va, which is vigorously spoken by children as well, may have about 2,000 speakers, and for Southern Va, perhaps just under 1,000. The Va of Mojiang County are geographically isolated from other Austroasiatic-speaking groups, as no other Austroasiatic languages are spoken within perhaps a 100-km radius.

Another previously undocumented Angkuic language is Avala, spoken in Yun County, China. In April 2014, I was able to elicit about 30 lexical items from a single elderly rememberer of the language. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a fully fluent speaker of Avala, and if not moribund it is probably extinct. However, it is possible that a few fluent speakers may still remain in Yun County.

Drawing from geographical information given in various county gazetteers published by the Chinese government, I have mapped out over 70 geographical datapoints where Angkuic languages are (or once were) spoken. The distribution of these datapoints reveal that Angkuic languages are mostly distributed along the Mekong River (Lancang River) and its tributaries. Since Angkuic diversity is highest in Sipsongpanna and surroundings, Angkuic most likely originated in the south, and spread upstream along the Mekong River drainage basin, perhaps as "inertia" from the proto-Austroasiatic riverine dispersal (Sidwell & Blench 2011).

Angkuic data drawn from about a dozen sources will be tabulated and compared. Additionally, preliminary computationally generated phylogenetic trees and networks will also be presented.

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