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Reviewed by:
  • New found minority languages in China series ed. by Hongkai Sun
  • Graham Thurgood and Fengxiang Li
New found minority languages in China series. Ed. by Hongkai Sun. Beijing: Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. c. 40 volumes.

Under the auspices of the Institute of Nationality Studies and the editorship of Hongkai Sun, a new [End Page 843] series has been developed. Entitled the New found minority languages in China series, it includes the grammars of 40 languages, with several more to be added in the future. Of the planned 40, by the middle of 2002, Shanghai Far East had already published 8, and the Central Nationalities University Press, which has published 6, had 2 more in press. By the end of 2002, the Nationalities Press is to have published 6 more, with the remainder of the 40 to be published by the end of 2003. This extremely valuable series of publications focuses on minority languages of China, most of them lacking extensive descriptions and many of them extremely endangered.

This series is an extension of an extremely valuable earlier series begun in 1980 and continued through 1987, entailing 57 short grammatical descriptions (Jianzhi), providing grammatical sketches of 59 of China’s minority languages (the Mien volume also includes a sketch of both Bunu and Lajia). Although short (typically a little over 100 pages), these modest volumes added considerably to our knowledge of these languages, many of which are under intense contact pressures from Chinese and, often, from other languages of China. The fieldwork for those grammars was mostly carried out by well-trained and highly skilled field linguists in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Although disrupted by the Cultural Revolution, the work was augmented with additional fieldwork around the end of the 1970s, before beginning to appear in 1980. This earlier series is now out of print.

The new series is in the same spirit, but the volumes are expanded from the earlier 100 or so pages to around 300 and from the earlier lexicon of c. 1000 words to c. 2000, and have expanded introductions and texts. The new series volumes have a common format but one that serves as a guide, not a straitjacket. Individual authors have seen fit to elaborate extensively on areas of particular interest to them, often thereby providing detailed descriptions of what is in most cases the most interesting features of the language. The expanded introductions typically include better notes on genetic affiliation, number of speakers, patterns of bilingualism, contact history, dialects, and so on. The descriptions are written in Chinese, of course, with abundant examples in IPA.

The linguists who authored these grammars have devoted their lives, their whole careers, to documenting these languages. Much of their data has been used by others, often without acknowledgement. It is time that the languages they have described be brought to the attention of a wider audience.

A limited number of copies of this new series is available through: Institute of Nationality Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing 100081, P. R. China;

Other volumes in the series are:

Graham Thurgood
California State University, Chico
Fengxiang Li
California State University, Chico
Bo, Wenze. 1997. The Yanghuang language. Shanghai: Shanghai Far East Publishers. 242 pp. [Autonym: Then, a Kam-Sui language in the Tai-Kadai family of languages.]
Bo, Wenze. 2002. A study of Mulao. Beijing: The Nationalities Press. [Autonym: Mulam, a Tai-Kadai language in the Kam-Sui subgroup.]
Chen, Guoqing. 2000. A study of Kemu. Beijing: The Nationalities Press. [A Mon-Khmer language.]
Gai, Xingzhi. 2002. A study of Tanglang. Beijing: The Nationalities Press. [A language of the Yipho branch of the Tibeto-Burman group.]
Jiang, Di. 2002. A study of Yidu. Beijing: The Nationalities Press. [A Tibeto-Burman language, said to be closely related to Jingpho.]
Li, Daqin. 2002. A study of Geman. Beijing: The Nationalities Press. [Autonym: Kaman, a Tibeto-Burman language, said to be closely related to Trung.]
Li, Jinfang. 1999. A study of Buyang. Beijing: Central Nationalities University...


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