Linguistics Colloquium 11/16/12 – Stevan Harrell

Stevan HarrellNuosu Yi in Sichuan: A (Mostly) Failed Effort to Create a Modern Standard Language
Stevan Harrell
University of Washington

Friday, November 16, 2012
3:30 – 5:00 p.m.
Johnson 102

Nuosu, sometimes called Liangshan Yi or Northern Yi, is a variety of Yi, a sub group of Tibeto-Burman. Nuosu has about 2 million speakers, mostly in Southern Sichuan. For language typologists, it is tonal, with a single syllable type CV, and normal SOV word order.  There is little inflection (some of it tone-based), but a highly developed aspect system.  It has a native syllabic writing system, formerly used mostly but not exclusively by priests in rituals.  In accordance with the constitutional and legal provisions on minority languages in the PRC, Nuosu-speaking intellectuals in the mid-1970s began a massive effort to standardize the writing system on the basis of a variety called Shynra, and to use this system in a variety of printed materials, including school textbooks, newspapers and magazines, official and commercial signs, and others.  This effort seemed to be succeeding in the 1990s, but has since been overwhelmed by forces of media, national integration, labor migration, and in part globalization, so that although the spoken language survives in robust form, both the written ritual language and the standardized modern language may rapidly become endangered.

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