Where Do We Need to Go From Here?

LANGUAGE DOCUMENTATION

ARCHIVING CONFERENCE

Publication of the First-Ever Textbook of Duoxu

Katia Chirkova and Han Zhengkang, two ELDP grantees, have written the first-ever textbook of Duoxu, accompanied by sound files on a CD. The textbook was funded by ELDP (MDP 0257) and the Sichuan Research Institute for the Nationalities (四川省民族研究所).

Front cover of the Duoxu Grammar: Katia Chirkova 齐卡佳 and Han Zhengkang 韩正康. 2016. Shiyong Duoxuyu Yufa 实用多续语语法 [A Practical Grammar of Duoxu]. Beijing 北京: Minzu Chubanshe 民族出版社.
Duoxu (/do³³-ɕu³³-na³¹/, Duōxù 多续 or Duōxū 多须 in Mandarin Chinese) is a little-known and virtually undescribed Tibeto-Burman language, spoken in Mianning county (冕宁县), which is located in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture (凉山彝族自治州) in Sichuan province (四川省) in the People’s Republic of China. Together with Lizu and Ersu, two closely related languages, Duoxu is currently classified as a member of the Qiangic subgroup of the Tibeto-Burman language family.

Participants of the Duoxu survey, April 2013, Mianning County: standing, left to right: Wu Rongfu (伍荣富), Han Zhengyong (韩正勇), Katia Chirkova, Han Zhengkang (韩正康), Jin Wanxiang (金万祥); sitting, left to right: Wu Denglian (吴登莲), Wu Dehui (伍德会), Wu Decai (吴德才), Ma Wenming (马文明), Ma Wenxiu (马文秀); photo by Wang Dehe (王德和)

Duoxu is critically endangered. It is spoken by no more than a few members of the oldest generation, who do not use the language on a regular basis and who, for that reason, have a relatively limited knowledge of it. In order to document as much as possible of this language, it formed part of the “Comparative and Cross-Varietal Documentation of Highly Endangered Languages of South-West China” (MDP 0257) project, which was funded by the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP) and lasted from 2013 to 2017.

Participants of the Duoxu grammar presentation, November 2017, Mianning County: standing, left to right: Jin Wanxiang (金万祥), Wang Dehe (王德和), Katia Chirkova, Wu Zhengkang (吴正康) sitting, left to right: Wu Decai (吴德才), Wu Rongfu (伍荣富), Xie Shaosi (谢绍丝), Wu Zhengmei (伍正美)

Early on in the project, in April 2013, the four investigators Katia Chirkova (p.i.), Yuan Xiaowen, Han Zhengkang, and Wang Dehe conducted a survey of all remaining Duoxu speakers. The survey identified nine last speakers, all in their 70s and 80s. All nine speakers are bilingual in the local variety of Southwest Mandarin, which is their dominant daily language, and none of them has regular conversation partners in Duoxu. These circumstances qualify the remaining nine Duoxu speakers as ‘semi-speakers.’

During our contact with the Duoxu speakers, they expressed interest in a textbook, so as to pass their knowledge of the language on to future generations, with a faint hope of reviving their moribund language. That is how we came up with the idea of writing a practical grammar, based on data collected by the research team of the documentation project. The resulting textbook is the first-ever comprehensive description of Duoxu. It presents the language data in the form of an introductory Duoxu course; outlining step-by-step the phonological system, which is a pinyin-based Romanization system for Duoxu, as well as the basic vocabulary, morphology, and syntactic patterns. All examples in the text are accompanied by sound files, provided on an accompanying CD. The aim of the book is to present the collected data in a form that would allow self-study of the language by members of the Duoxu Tibetan community, and others who are interested in learning this language.

Katia Chirkova and her main Duoxu language consultant Wu Rongfu (伍荣富)

Katia Chirkova started working on the textbook in 2015, assisted by Han Zhengkang in the writing process. Yuan Xiaowen contributed the textbook’s preface, and it was then published by Minzu Chubanshe 民族出版社 (Minorities Press) in Beijing in late 2016. In November 2017, after attending a conference in China, Katia Chirkova traveled to Mianning County, where she presented complementary copies of the textbook to the participants of the 2013 Duoxu language survey. The ceremony was organized by Wang Dehe, who also took pictures at the memorable occasion.

Blog post by Katia Chirkova

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