Lizu: Documentation of a Highly Endangered Language of South-West China
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Summary of the deposit
This deposit is based on 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.
A comprehensive description of Lizu on the basis of the deposit is in preparation.
The Lizu people refer to themselves as /lî-zû/ or /lŷ-zû/ ‘white people’. In Chinese, the group is variously known as Liru 里汝, Lüsu 吕苏, or Lisu 傈苏; in English, as Lizu or Lyuzu.
The total number of Lizu speakers is estimated at ca. 7,000 (Wang 2010: 3). The Lizu people traditionally reside along the Yalong or Nyag Chu River and its tributary in Jiulong County, the Jiulong River, in three counties in Sichuan Province (四川省) in the People’s Republic of China: (i) Muli Tibetan Autonomous County 木里藏族自治县 (Written Tibetan smi li rang skyong rdzong), (ii) Jiulong county (九龙县 Whitten TIbetan brgyad zur), (iii) Mianning county (冕宁县) (Wang 2010: 3). The group has the longest history of residence in Jiulong and Mianning counties, whereas migration to Muli is more recent, dating from the turn of the 20th century.
Lizu is one of three closely related Tibeto-Burman languages spoken in Sichuan Province in the People’s Republic of China: Ersu, Lizu, and Duoxu. The three languages are currently classified as dialects of one Ersu language (ISO-639 code ers). The Ersu language itself is classified as a member of the Qiangic subgroup of the Tibeto-Burman language family (for more details, see Bradley 1997:36-37, Sun 2001, Chirkova 2012).
Lizu has dialectal variations across its area of distribution. All varieties are mutually intelligible and differ mainly in phonology and lexicon.
Lizu is essentially used as the primary language of oral communication in family and community events. It does not have its own writing system.
To date, little descriptive work on Lizu has been done (but see Sun 1983 on Ersu with focus on a variety spoken in Ganluo county (甘洛县); Huang and Renzeng 1991 on Lüsu 吕苏 [lʉ⁵⁵zʉ⁵³], a variety spoken in Muli county).
Lizu is isolating, verb-final, and head-final. Syntax operates predominantly through word order and the use of nominal and verbal particles and auxiliaries. The unmarked word order is S/A – DO – IO – V. The (syntactic) relations of subject and object are not grammaticalised. The clause structure is based on the pragmatic relations of topical material (clause-initial) vs. focal material (clause-final). The verb complex is the only necessary element for an utterance to be considered a clause, and the verb complex may be simply a predicate noun. Lizu has two open word classes: nouns and verbs, which can be defined on the basis of morphological and morphosyntactic criteria. Nouns are those forms that can take (in)definite marking, numeral-classifier phrases, and nominal particles (analytic case markers). There is no agreement with nouns of any kind marked on the verb. Verbs are those forms that can take directional or perfectivising prefixes, the causative marker su, and the interrogative and negative marking. Verbs can be preceded by adverbial expressions, followed by markers expressing aspect, evidentiality, and modality, and be nominalised by one of the nominalisers.
Lizu is interesting, among others, for its rich consonant and vowel systems (including uvular phonemes and a voiceless nasal fricative, /h̃/); a hybrid prosodic tone system combining stress and tone; a typologically unusual combination of various means of denoting definiteness (demonstrative determiners, definite markers, bare classifiers); an intricate system of lexical-derivational aspect, which is similar to Slavic aspect; and complex systems of evidentiality and epistemic marking, combining both northern (Tibetic) and southern (Lolo-Burmese) types.
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 main focus of the collection is on the ‘Eastern dialect’ of Lizu, ʃæ̂tɕho pæ̂ in Lizu, from Written Tibetan shar phyogs ‘east’, as spoken in Kala Tonwship, Muli Tibetan Autonomous County. The deposit also contains data from the first-ever survey of various dialects in Lizu conducted in 2015-2016, including: two Lizu varieties spoken in Kala Township in Muli County (Manao 玛瑙 Lizu and Tianzhen 田镇 Lizu), two varieties spoken in Jiulong county (Ga’er 嘎尔 Lizu and Xieka 斜卡 Lizu), and one variety spoken in Mianning County (Mianning 冕宁 Lizu). The survey made use of custom-made questionnaires including a basic 1,700-word vocabulary list, a set of over 200 grammatical sentences, and a set of non-verbal stimuli. The survey data (currently under analysis) are to contribute to a better understanding of the geographical diversity of Lizu and of the complex relationship of Lizu with its neighbouring languages (Pumi and Chinese in Muli; Tibetan in Jiulong; Nuosu and Namuzi in Mianning).
Audio and video recordings by Katia Chirkova and Wang Dehe (王德和). Annotations by Katia Chirkova.
Parts of the deposit are availabe at the language archive COCOON («COllections de COrpus Oraux Numériques») of the National Research Center of France (CNRS) and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France:
The deposit served as basis for the course “Introduction to Lizu” at the 2018 edition of the Summer School in Languages and Linguistics at Leiden University, The Netherlands:
Acknowledgement and citation
Thank you to the Lizu communities of the Muli, Mianning, and Jiulong countries who participated in the project. 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)
Chirkova, Katia. 2017. Lizu: Documentation of a Highly Endangered Language of South-West China. London: SOAS University of London, Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: http://hdl.handle.net/2196/00-0000-0000-000A-009A-4. Accessed on [insert date here].