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ELDP Project Highlight: Documentation of Queyu (Choyo) and its Cultural Traditions

Today on the ELAR blog, we are featuring ELDP grantee Xuan Guan’s project ‘Documentation of Queyu (Choyo) and its Cultural Traditions‘. Queyu is an understudied and underdocumented Tibeto-Burman language spoken in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, China. Queyu belongs to the Qiangic branch, with approximately 6,000~7,000 speaker population. Xuan’s ELAR collection ‘Documentation of Queyu (Choyo) and its Cultural Traditions’ can be accessed here.

Pubarong wedding in Yajiang (Photo credit: Xuan Guan)

Impact on community/speakers highlight

Yajiang is located in the West Sichuan Ethnic Corridor (Sun 1990), which is known for ethnic and linguistic diversity. However, few description and documentation of the languages spoken there are available. While many of the languages spoken there are also on the verge of distinction due to various reasons, this project “Documentation of Choyo (Queyu) and its Cultural Traditions” features one of the least studied and documented language, Queyu (Choyo), and aims to provide a documentation of the language as well as the cultural traditions practiced by Queyu speakers.

Yajiang County (Photo credit: Xuan Guan)

Impact on community

Queyu speakers are in a unique situation due to their relocation. Their villages were located along the Yalong River, on which a dam is being constructed near the place where Queyu speakers traditionally resided. As the villages will be flooded after the completion of the dam project, Queyu speakers in Yajiang are now all relocated from their original villages. Most of them are scattered in Yajiang Town and can no longer practice some of the traditions.

As a result, this relocation fastened the loss of Queyu language and culture. Some of the younger generation Queyu speakers are no longer fluent in their mother tongue, and are not familiar with how some rituals are traditionally done, such as weddings, or knowledge of their traditional farming life style.

Pubarong wedding in Yajiang (Photo credit: Xuan Guan)

This project will create a lasting documentation that captures the important linguistic and cultural features of Queyu that are disappearing soon. That includes:

  1. a grammar sketch of Queyu;
  2. a tentative writing system for Queyu;
  3. video and audio recordings of rituals and traditions, such as wedding and funeral;
  4. video and audio recordings of traditional stories told in Queyu.

Speaker highlight

One main consultant that I have been working with is now studying applied linguistics in a master’s program in a prestigious university in China. She has been attending workshops in-person and online on language documentation and linguistic fieldwork. Now she is leading her own pilot project to document traditional songs and activities such as how to brew barley wine. We will be working together on transcribing the materials she has collected.

She is also running a public channel on Wechat to promote the Queyu language and culture.

Yajiang County (Photo credit: Xuan Guan)

Scientific highlight

The investigation of directional prefixes is popular in the field. Sun (1990) and elsewhere established Qiangic branch and identified thirteen languages, including Queyu, as members of this branch. One argument is the presence of directional prefixes shared by these languages. However, other scholars such as Chirkova (2012, 2014) argue that the similarities among those languages are at least as likely due to contact.

Examining Queyu directional prefix system adds important data to the issue of Qiangic branch. Most Qiangic/rGyalrongic languages have six markers, which are based on solar, vertical, and riverine systems. Queyu’s directional prefixes do not include markers relating to a riverine system as found in other Qiangic/rGyalrongic languages. In addition, comparing specific directional prefixes reveals interesting similarities and differences between Queyu and other possible members within the Qiangic branch.

Table 1 summarizes the Queyu directional prefix system, while Table 2, adopted from Thurgood (2017), summarizes the directional prefixes in other Qiangic languages.

Table 1. Queyu directional prefixes

up down left (horizontal) right/outward inward neutral
ī-, ʐɨ̄- nə- lə- i- kə- tə-

Table 2. Directional verb prefixes in Qiangic languages

While tV- or dV- is the shared prefix for ‘up’ in many languages, tə- in Queyu, however, indicates neutral direction, and only has a perfective sense left. The ‘up’ direction marker -ī in Queyu is different from all languages listed in Table 2.  The ‘down’ marker – has the same form with most of the languages in Table 2 except for the Qiang languages. The rest of the directional markers in Queyu do not resemble any languages in the Qiangic branch. There are both similarities and differences between the Queyu directional prefix system and the rest of the Qiangic languages. The differences lie in not only the types of the directions, but also the forms in each direction type. Further examination of Queyu directional prefixes as well as other morphosyntactic properties can provide more data and evidence for the arguments on the Qiangic branch.

Thanks Xuan!

Pubarong wedding in Yajiang (Photo credit: Xuan Guan)


Chirkova, Katia. 2012. The Qiangic subgroup from an areal perspective: a case study of the languages of Muli. Language and Linguistics 13. 133-170.

Chirkova, Katia, 2014. The Duoxu language and the Duoxu-Ersu-Lizu relationship. LTBA 37.1. 133-170.

Sun, Hongkai. 1990. The languages of the ‘ethnic corridor’ in western Sichuan. LTBA 13.1. 1-31.

Thurgood, Graham. Sino-Tibetan: genetic and areal subgroups. The Sino-Tibetan languages, ed. by Graham Thurgood and Randy LaPolla, 3-39. London: Routledge.

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