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Seminar: A Grammar of Mangjing Awa, Wei Han, 16 Aug

Date: 16 August 2019

Seminar: A Grammar of Mangjing Awa

Speaker: Wei Han, Shanghai Normal University and Australian National University

When: 16 Aug 2019, 3.30pm-5pm

Where: Basham Seminar room, Baldessin Building Level 1, ANU


Traditionally, Awa is viewed as a Wa language (Northern Mon-Khmer of Austro-Asiatic family). Awa is spoken in isolated villages of Ximeng County and northern Menglian County in southwestern Yunnan Province of China, with four alleged dialects, namely Masan, Damangnuo, Awalai and Xiyun with estimated 33,000, 30,000, 2,200 and 2,200 speakers respectively, all classified as belonging to the Wa nationality (Zhou et al 2004, Eberhard et al 2019). However, according to recent studies (Sun 2018, forthcoming), Awa is actually not an internally unitary language. Sun (2018, forthcoming) provides phonological evidence to prove that at least Masan and Xiyun are distinct languages, renamed as Lavïa /la-vɨɒʔ/ and Va /vɑ̀ʔ/. He also notes that due to the evidence of the special phonological innovations, Awalai and Damangnuo may also compose a separate language distinct from Lavïa. Furthermore, there are about 30,000 people whose autonym is Awa, but are classified as belonging to the Bulang nationality, speaking a ‘language’ that is viewed by some linguists (Wang 1998, Zhou et al 2004, Sun p.c.) as a Wa language, while viewed by other linguists (Li et al. 2008[1986]) as a Bulang language. Owing to the lack of good linguistic data, it is difficult to decide the nature of this ‘language’ for now.

I use the term ‘Awa languages’ in a broad sense that includes those already identified languages and the undecided ‘languages’. The Awa languages are both the most internally diverse subgroup of Wa-Bulang group and the least understood cluster of languages, being for the most part vastly under-documented. The relationship of the different Awa varieties to one another is still far from settled, partly because of the scarcity of good descriptive data and partly because of the inconsistent descriptive symbols and annotation methods, which pose difficulties for comparison. The main goals of my PhD research are: 1) documenting an Awa variety; 2) producing the first (to the best of my knowledge) in-depth grammar of an Awa variety, with detailed lexicons and lucid annotations, in the theoretical frame of Basic Linguistic Theory for the purpose of further comparative studies.

The variety reported upon here is that of Mangjing Village (22°09’37”N, 100°01’00”E) located on the Jingmai-Mangjing mountain in the southwestern part of Huimin Hani Township of Lancang Lahu Autonomous County. It is spoken by around 2,300 people distributed in five of six hamlets of Mangjing Village. Native speakers report that they have mutual intelligibility with people in Ximeng County Centre, but no mutual intelligibility with any of currently known Wa-Bulang languages. My Thesis Proposal Review will provide a general outline of linguistic research on Wa-Bulang, including descriptive (e.g. Zhou & Yan 2008[1984]) and historical (e.g. Diffloth 1980) studies. According to the current studies, the Wa-Bulang cluster seems to be in a period of transition from phonation-dominant languages to tone-dominant languages, a process of tonogenesis which will be of great significance for the Northern Mon-Khmer branch. Then, I will briefly discuss Mangjing Awa’s basic typology and some assumptions based on the preliminary data collected in Mangjing Village in January 2019.

Finally, some remarks will be made on language contact (e.g. loanwords, multilingualism), language change (e.g. language endangerment) and relevant sociocultural aspects (e.g. ethnic identification and ethnic policies) of the Wa-Bulang speaking region.

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