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Phonological Outline of the Vo Dialect

From: Journal of Burma Studies
Volume 17, Number 1, June 2013
pp. 61-79 | 10.1353/jbs.2013.0002

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Vo (autonym [vɔʔ]) is the name of an ethnic group living in Menglian Dai, Lahu and Wa autonomous county in Yunnan province, China. The Vo are considered to be members of the Wa nationality. According to Zhou et al. (2004), the population of the Vo is estimated at about 30,000. The language of the Vo evidently belongs to the Wa language group of the Mon-Khmer family. Thus it is called the Vo dialect in this article.

The Vo dialect is a less-known language in this language group. In August 2004 and January 2012, we conducted research on the Vo dialect in the Fuyan (“Fu’ai” in the local pronunciation) district of Menglian county. Based on the research, I will present a phonological analysis and a basic vocabulary of the Vo dialect spoken in Fuyan.

1. Introduction

1.1 Wa Language Group

The Wa language group genetically belongs to the Palaungic (or Palaung-Wa) branch of the Mon-Khmer (MK) family. The Palaungic branch is sometimes mentioned as a part of the Northern Mon-Khmer branch (NMK) in terms of its distribution.

Diffloth (1980) and Parkin (1991) have provided general information about this language group. According to Diffloth (1980), whose work on historical phonology is the most comprehensive to date, the Wa language group (or Waic) is distributed between the Salween and Mekong rivers, stretching approximately from 18 degrees north to 24 degrees north. The number of speakers can only be estimated. In a language atlas, Bradley (1994) estimates the total number of Wa-speaking people to be about 820,000, which includes 322,000 speakers in China.


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Figure 1. 

Austro-Asiatic Family Tree.


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Figure 2. 

Palaungic branch.

Undoubtedly, Parauk (sometimes called Paraok or Praok) is the representative dialect among these dialects in Figure 2, because it has a larger population and is distributed widely in the area described above. In China, this dialect is treated as the standard language of the Wa nationality and its phonological system is used for the official transcription of the Wa nationality. More information about this dialect has been provided by Zhou et al. (1984), Watkins (1998), Yamada (2008), and others.

The other dialects, however, are poorly documented and/or endangered under the strong influences of the adjacent dominating political centers such as Chinese, Burmese, and the Tai-Thai people. For this reason, it must be an urgent matter to gather their ethno-linguistic data today.

1.2 Vo

Vo (autonym [vɔʔ]) is the name of an ethnic group living in Menglian Dai, Lahu, and Wa autonomous county in Yunnan province, China. The Vo are considered to be members of the Wa nationality.

The language of the Vo, which is called the Vo dialect in this article, was first mentioned in Yan et al. (1984). Yan et al. (1984) divided the language of the Wa nationality in China into three dialects: Parauk, Ava, and Va (corresponding to “Vo” in Lewis, ed. 2009). The Vo dialect is treated as a part of the Ava dialect. According to Zhou et al. (2004), the population of the Vo is estimated at about 30,000. Linguistic information on this dialect has only been reported by Zhou et al. (2004), but their analysis is very rough and their description lacks consistency.

Historically, the society of the Ava people had been so closed that they were styled as typical “Wild Wa.” According to their narratives, “headhunting,” one of their well-known rituals, had even continued until the 1970s in this area. From a linguistic standpoint, the Ava dialect seems to be more typical in the Wa language than Parauk, which has undergone a phonation contrast in two registers (creaky/breathy). The Ava dialect therefore may be a key to understanding the whole of the Wa language group.

In the following section, the phonemic system will be shown, and a phonetic description will be given for each phoneme. Section 3 is a basic vocabulary of the Vo dialect.

2. Sound System

2.1 Syllable Structure

The syllable structure of the Vo dialect is C1V(C2). C1 represents an initial consonant including a consonant cluster. V indicates a...



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