Xumi: Documentation of a Highly Endangered Language of South-West China
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Summary of the deposit
The Xumi or Shuhi language (a.k.a. Shixing, ISO 639-3 sxg) is a little studied Tibeto-Burman language, comprising two sub-varieties with restricted mutual intelligibility (Upper Xumi and Lower Xumi).
This deposit is based on Xumi data collected by the research team of the project “Ersu and Xumi: Comparative and Cross-Varietal Documentation of Highly Endangered Languages of South-West China” (MDP0257, 2013-2017), funded by the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP) of SOAS, University of London.
The collection comprises audio and video recordings of personal narratives, traditional stories, traditional songs, conversations, elicitations from Mandarin Chinese (using both written and non-written stimuli), and translations from Mandarin Chinese collected in the Lizu-speaking areas in Southwest China. Some recordings are accompanied by annotations including the following layers of analysis:
- phonetic transcription (IPA)
- underlying morpheme sequence
- morpheme-by-morpheme gloss
- free translation in Mandarin Chinese
The Xumi 旭米 language (/ʃʉ⁵⁵hĩ⁵⁵ ke⁵⁵tɕɐ⁵⁵/ ‘the language of the Shu people’) is spoken by approximately 1,800 people who reside along the banks of the Shuiluo River (水洛河) in Shuiluo Township (水洛乡) of Muli Tibetan Autonomous County (木里藏族自治县; smi li rang skyong rdzong in Written Tibetan). This county is located in the South-West of Sichuan Province (四川省) in the People’s Republic of China.
Despite the small geographical area occupied by the group and the small amount of speakers, the language can be divided into two sub-varieties with restricted mutual intelligibility:
- the sub-variety of the upper reaches of the Shuiluo River (or Upper Xumi, spoken in the village of Lanman); and
- the sub-variety of the lower and middle reaches of the Shuiluo River (or Lower Xumi, spoken in the villages of Xinzang, Pingweng, Liangbao, and Mianbang).
The two varieties differ both in their segmental inventories and phonotactic constraints. At the lexical level, the two varieties have loanwords from different donor languages.
Other names: Shixing (史兴), Shiheng (诗亨), Shuheng (书亨)
Xumi is a phonologically monosyllabic language. The syllabic structure is (C)(G)V, where C is a consonant, G is a glide, V is a vowel nucleus, and brackets indicate optional constituents. Xumi is a tone language with a three-way tone contrast, i.e. /H/ (high), /LH/ (rising) and /HL/ (falling). The domain for the contrastive tones in Xumi is the phonological word, consequently, the tone system of Xumi is word-based rather than syllable-based.
Xumi is an isolating (weakly agglutinative) language. Major word-formation processes include affixation, compounding, and reduplication. Xumi is mostly prefixing on verbs and suffixing on nouns. The majority of suffixes are derivational. Affixation processes in Xumi are accompanied in some cases by the phonological processes of vowel harmony and lenition. Xumi inflectional morphological changes, namely vocalic alternation (ablaut) and consonant alternation, are attested primarily in the derivation of irregular stems of some high frequency verbs and the formation of causatives.
The basic word order is SOV. Syntax operates predominantly through word order and the use of nominal markers and verbal auxiliaries.
The collection comprises audio and video recordings of personal narratives, traditional stories, traditional songs, conversations, elicitations from Mandarin Chinese (using both written and non-written stimuli), and translations from Mandarin Chinese.
The collection also includes audio and video data for a sociolinguistic study of Xumi carried out in 2016. That study focused on the ongoing vowel chain shift in the two sub-varieties of Xumi. Recorded materials total over 30 hours of speech data from 93 speakers. In addition to investigating one precise issue of sound variation and change (vowel chain shift in the two varieties of Xumi), it enabled the research team to collect a comparative corpus of narratives elicited from a picture book, “Jackal and Crow” in seven different locations in Shuiluo County. The collected data are now in the process of annotation and will be used for the investigation of various aspects of the Xumi language.
The collection also contains data for an instrumental study of two types of voiceless nasal sounds in Tibeto-Burman languages of Southwest China:
- the unusual type of voiceless nasals, which are almost entirely devoiced, (/m̥/, /n̥/); and
- a voiceless sound produced with an open glottis and associated with nasalization (notated in previous descriptions as /h/).
Data were collected between 2013 and 2017 by Katia Chirkova and Wang Dehe (王德和). Annotations by Katia Chirkova. Data for the instrumental study of voiceless nasals was recorded by Angélique Amelot and annotated and analyzed by Patricia Basset and Katia Chirkova.
See the parallel collections at the archive COCOON of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France:
Sound, video and annotation files for the article “Voiceless nasal sounds in three Tibeto-Burman languages” have been made available in COCOON
Acknowledgement and citation
Thank you to the Xumi communities of the Shuiluo Township in Muli Tibetan Autonomous County, Sichuan Province, who participated in the study.
Thank you to the ELAR team and in particular to Gema Zamora for their help with the upload and curation of the data.
This project is supported by the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP, SOAS, Major Documentation Project 0257)
To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:
Chirkova, Katia. 2017. Xumi: Documentation of a Highly Endangered Language of South-West China. London: SOAS University of London, Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: http://hdl.handle.net/2196/00-0000-0000-0009-64A4-4. Accessed on [insert date here].