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Documentation of Zauzou, an endangered language in China

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Language Zauzou
Depositor Yu Li
Affiliation University at Buffalo, SUNY
Location China
Collection ID 0482
Grant ID IGS0315
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle

Blog post

Two Project Highlights on Community Collaboration 

Summary of the collection

The major goal of this project is to document the language of Zauzou — a Lolo-Burmese language spoken in Southwestern China. This general documentation project investigates the phonology, lexicon, and grammar of Zauzou. This collection includes audio and video recordings of naturalistic Zauzou speech that takes place in the village of Jiangmo, a variety of annotated texts, and pictures. Analytical outcomes are also deposited. Those includes a reference grammar of Zauzou and a Zauzou word list. The Zauzou speech data covers both conversations and monologue. Various genres are documented, ranging from legends, ballads, oral history, ritual texts, to expository texts, among others.


Group represented

This collection focuses on the Jiangmo dialect of Zauzou, which is spoken by the Zauzou community in the Jiangmo village, Tu’e township. Nearly all of Zauzou speakers are ethnically Nu since 1950s, among the 55 minority ethnic groups in China. Zauzou people have the common ancestor (i.e. Diqiang 氐羌) with three genetically related ethnic groups Nusu 怒苏, Anong 阿侬 and Anu 阿怒 in 400 BC. Diqiang split into different sub-branches, including the Wuman 乌蛮 group in Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), which is the common origin of Nusu and Zauzou. Zauzou community members have a strong sense of identity, as marked by the Zauzou language they speak. Though many Zauzou speakers use the term Nuhua “Nu language” to refer to the language they are using, they do not perceive them as the same group of other Nu subgroups. Rather, people usually refer to themselves as Zauzou people and Zauzou ethnic group, instead of Nu people and Nu ethnic group. Zauzou speakers in the Tu’e area have been in contact with the adjacent Lisu, Bai, and Lama communities for a long history. Exogamous marriage is widely practiced between different ethnic groups. Due to the long contact history with other speech communities, the majority of Zauzou community members are multilingual speakers who also speak a number of local Tibeto-Burman languages and different varieties of Mandarin Chinese. Recently,due to social and political pressures, many young Zauzou community members have given up the traditional way of life, find new sources of income, and move to cities. This causes many Zauzou speakers to cease speaking their mother tongue, and to turn to more dominant languages, such as Mandarin Chinese. Consequently, Zauzou is declining within the Zauzou community and documenting this language is an urgent practice.


Language information

Zauzou [zɔ55zo33] (ISO 639-3 code zal) is an endangered Lolo-Burmese language spoken by approximately 2100 members of the Nu nationality, among 55 minority nationalities in China. Among the 2100 speakers, 1800 live on the banks of Lancang River, Lanping County, Nujiang Lisu autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan province in mainland of China. Most Zauzou speakers are older multilingual adults who also speak Mandarin, Bai, Lama, and Lisu, among others. There are two major dialects of Zauzou — Guoli and Jiangmo Dialect. About 70 percent of Zauzou speakers speak the second dialect.


Special characteristics

Due to the dominance of multilingualism in the Zauzou community, a substantial number of conversations involve code-alternations between Zauzou and other local languages, e.g. Lisu, Bai, Mandarin.

There are a bunch of video recordings that are independently recorded by the Zauzou community members. All conversations and activities in the event of building tomb is recorded by one experienced Zauzou consultant. Some examples can be found in:

Cooking for the party to celebrate the completion of a new tomb (
Concrete (

There are also a bunch of recordings that are converted from previous recordings of the Celebration for the National Day of China in 2015 that were created by the Tu’e government. The original recordings are stored in a disk, including a bunch of Zauzou songs and dances.

Zauzou performance in the township (


Collection contents

The bundles in this collection includes audio-video recordings, EAF files of media files with transcriptions, time-aligned glosses and translations, PDF files of annotated texts, and pictures.

There are 33 hours of audio recordings and 26 hours of video recordings. 23 hours of recordings are transcribed and annotated. Recordings can be broken down by genres:


  • 11 hours of Naturalistic conversations
  • 12 hours of narratives about history and family affairs
  • 13 hours of Legends and folktales
  • 1.5 hours of Expository texts
  • 18 hours of narratives about Customs and traditional activities
  • 6.5 hours of Performances, Ballads and Riddles
  • 3 hours of Ritual texts
  • 40 hours of Structured elicitations

In addition to that, there are about 2 hours of recordings of consent processes and audio recordings of vowels, consonants, and tonal minimal pairs in Zauzou. One audio recording of the Frog Story is also deposited.

40 hours of recordings have been annotated on two levels. 35.5 hours of recordings are heavily annotated, which are annotated with phonetic and orthographic transcriptions, interlinear glosses, and translations in English and Mandarin. Among these heavily annotated recordings, 13 hours of media files are naturalistic recordings, and the remaining 22.5 hours of annotations are elicitation recordings. In addition to that, 4.5 hours of naturalistic recordings are lightly annotated, which only have English and Mandarin translations. Annotations are presented in both EAF and PDF formats.


Collection history

The data for this collection is collected between August 2017 and May 2019 during the PhD program of Li Yu, the principal investigator.

Four field trips are carried out in the Tu’e township to collect and analyze data. The first batch of data was collected and analyzed in August-Oct 2017 in the field site. The second field trip took place in Jan, 2018, during the Spring Festival in China. This trip gave the PI opportunities to record a wide range of speakers and a large number of cultural practices that are related to the festival. The third batch of data was collected in the third field trip during the summer of 2018. Most ballads, riddles, and ritual texts are recorded and analyzed in this trip. The last trip was carried out in May 2019 to collect supplementary recordings for the current documentary corpus. This last batch of data has paid special attention to the multilingualism practices in the Zauzou community.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Li, Yu. 2017. Documentation of Zauzou, an endangered language in China. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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