- Zhōngguó xīn fāxiàn yǔyán yánjiū cóngshū
In the late 1990s, the Institute of Minorities of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences launched a new book series, Zhōngguó xīn fāxiàn yûyán yánjiū cóngshū [New Found Minority Languages in China Series] (hereafter Xīn fāxiàn yǔyán). Under the general editorship of Sūn Hóngkāi, this series documents little studied and often highly endangered languages of the People's Republic of China (PRC), one language per volume. It serves as a sequel to another influential series, Zhōngguó shǎoshù mínzú yǔyán jiǎnzhì [Outlines of Minority Languages of China] (hereafter Yǔyán jiǎnzhì), which was published in the 1980s and which provides concise descriptions of 59 languages. With over 30 volumes published and 10 more in preparation, Xīn fāxiàn yǔyán complements Yǔyán jiǎnzhì in documenting all minority languages of China.1
The new series has received critical acclaim in China and abroad, for it constitutes an important contribution to the fields of language documentation and of descriptive and historical linguistics.2 Although each volume deserves to be reviewed separately, the present review comments on the series as a whole-presenting its history, general build-up and characteristic features. A complete list of published volumes is given in the Appendix.
The Yǔyán jiǎnzhì series outlines languages based on data collected during the large survey in the 1950s that established the current framework of the PRC's 56 recognized nationalities. The Xīn fāxiàn yǔyán series revisits languages for which insufficient data had been collected in the 1950s and also describes languages that were discovered in the 1980s. Research on the newly discovered languages has been carried out mostly in the 1990s and continues to date.
The two series differ in length and scope. Whereas each Yǔyán jiǎnzhì volume contains a brief linguistic description followed by a 1000-word list of basic vocabulary, Xīn fāxiàn yǔyán volumes consist of more detailed outlines of the phonetics/phonology, morphology, and syntax of each language as well as an expanded word list. Moreover, each volume in the new series includes additional chapters that (1) comment on the sociolinguistic situation in which the language is spoken, as well as on the culture of the respective ethnic group; (2) introduce the dialects of the language, if any; (3) discuss its linguistic affiliation; and (4) provide a collection of stories supplied with glosses and an idiomatic Chinese translation. [End Page 312]
Given the variety of languages covered, the new series is marked by great diversity in all aspects. Authors of individual volumes include renowned experts of minority studies, many of whom also contributed to the Yǔyán jiǎnzhì series, such as Dài Qìngxià, Máo Zōngwǔ, and Ōuyáng Juéyà, but also young thriving linguists, such as Huáng Chénglóng, Lǐ Yúnbing, and Mù Shìhuá, who are often themselves native speakers of a minority language. The latter aspect is important, because most languages covered in the series are spoken in a complex sociolinguistic situation and adequate description requires thorough knowledge of neighboring languages and local Chinese dialects. For example, the Bùxing language, spoken by 539 people in Měnglà County, Yúnnán Province, is surrounded by Dǎi, Haní, Kèmù, Miáo, and a local Chinese dialect; hence, good command of at least some of these languages is essential for resolving questions of lexical borrowing and areal influences.
When describing one minority language, Xīn fāxiàn yǔyán authors often provide valuable information of hitherto unknown varieties of languages spoken in its immediate neighborhood. For example, in his grammar of Yìdu, Jiāng...