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Open Access Publications from the University of California


Himalayan Linguistics is a free peer-reviewed web journal and archive devoted to the study of the languages of the Himalayas. Since 2020 it includes the series Languages and Peoples of the Eastern Himalayan Region as the second issue of every volume.

Special Issue 20.3

Issue cover
Cover Caption:Sunan, Gansu
Guest editors: Keith W. Slater and Robert W. Fried

Introduction to Special Issue 20.3

Introduction: Language Contact in the Amdo Sprachbund

This paper gives a brief introduction to the Himalayan Linguistics special issue Language Contact in the Amdo Sprachbund. It briefly reviews some of the scholarship regarding language contact in the region, and traces the history of recognition that Amdo should be considered a Sprachbund. It suggests that Campbell’s (2017) concept of a “trait-sprawl area” offers a good way to characterize this Sprachbund. The seven papers included in the volume are also briefly summarized.

Articles of Special Issue 20.3

The phonology of Gangou from a comparative perspective

The purpose of this study is to present some aspects of the sound system of Gān’gōu Chinese, a Northwest Mandarin variety of the Amdo Sprachbund, and to compare them with other Northwest Mandarin languages. The grammatical structure of Gān’gōu has been shown to exhibit an Altaic-type orientation (verb-final syntax, case system etcetera), while the phonology of Gān’gōu, which has only recently been examined, is of a Sinitic type. The questions asked are, how has the phonology of Gān’gōu changed as compared to its ancestor Old Mandarin on the one hand and Mandarin languages outside the Amdo Sprachbund on the other? How is it similar to other Northwest Mandarin varieties and where does it possibly differ? It has been found that Gān’gōu shows significant phonological similarities with the other members of the Northwest Mandarin branch. Also, many of the phonological innovations in Gān’gōu seem to be typical of the languages of the Amdo Sprachbund as a whole, further establishing the position of Gān’gōu as a member of the Sprachbund. Eight innovations are discussed, seven related to retentions or losses in the medial or coda part of the syllable, one related to tone reduction. After an overview of the syllable structure and phonemic inventory of Gān’gōu, these innovations are presented in turn.

Differential argument marking and the multifunctional case marker -ha in Wutun: Between the argument structure and information structure

This paper discusses the various functions of the multifunctional case marker -ha in Wutun, a mixed Sinitic language with Northwest Mandarin lexicon and Amdo Tibetan syntax spoken in Tongren County, eastern part of Qinghai Province, Amdo Sprachbund. I will show that the use of -ha is connected to Differential Argument Marking and it is motivated partly by semantic factors and partly by information structure. The case marker -ha often occurs on the Recipient, Patient or Causee argument in clauses with two animate arguments and it can therefore be used to disambiguate arguments. Its use is also connected to affectedness, which can be operationalized in terms of definiteness and saliency. Patient arguments are more likely to be marked with -ha if they are totally affected (e.g. The dog ate the dumplings) than only partially affected (e.g. The dog ate some dumplings). However, the use of -ha cannot be explained solely on the basis of semantic factors and it is often connected to information structure, such as expressing contrastiveness, activating previously mentioned topic or differentiating between topical and focal parts of the sentence. In summary, -ha is used with highly affected non-Agent arguments that often play a special role in information structure.

The grammaticalization of plurality in the languages of Amdo

Among the categories grammaticalised in the noun phrase, the domain of number shows several formal and functional similarities in genetically distinct languages of Amdo. In most languages of the area, it is grammaticalised in a complex way, with several morphemes expressing distinct plural categories. This paper describes the attested categories and their functional characteristics in order to retrace cases of linguistic copying and show the respective contribution of each language group to this domain. Hence, the paper shows that the grammatical domain of plurality in Amdo, both from a functional and a formal point of view, presents characteristics of linguistic convergence based on multiple model-languages.

Borrowing bound and free synonyms: How Mangghuer speakers enrich their speech and their lexicon by creating synonymy via Chinese borrowings

Natural Mangghuer texts exhibit a high rate of borrowing of lexical resources from Chinese. In this paper, I examine borrowings which are synonymous (or nearly so) with existing Mangghuer content words. I identify two different structural types of borrowings. Bound synonyms appear only as elements of compounds or fixed expressions, often in onomastic expressions or nouns that have a hyponymic relationship to an existing noun. Free synonyms are borrowed as independent words. Evidence from three disparate types of Mangghuer language data shows that any bound or free synonym may appear in nonce borrowings, idiosyncratic borrowings, or community-wide borrowings, a typology drawn from Poplack (2018). The data suggests that although nonce borrowing is probably common (resulting in nonce synonymy), many Chinese borrowings have become established to varying degrees in the speech community, with the result that Mangghuer has a greatly enriched vocabulary. In compiling an eventual lexicon of Mangghuer, speakers will have to make some difficult decisions about the formal documentation of borrowed synonyms whose use varies widely across the speech community.

Revisiting the Amdo Sprachbund: Genes, languages, and beyond

This paper attempts to discuss the convergence phenomena in the Amdo Sprachbund in the light of genetic and cultural/religious factors. As an ethnolinguistically diverse region, the Amdo Sprachbund constitutes a natural laboratory for the study of language contact and human interaction at large. Unsurprisingly, populations within the Amdo Sprachbund show considerable signs of genetic admixture which sometimes result in disagreement between genetic structure and linguistic affiliation. More remarkably, their languages appear to show varying degrees of structural convergence towards Amdo Tibetan depending on their religious practice. To wit, syllable-initial consonant clusters and a three-term evidential system, two features which are clearly attributable to Tibetic influence, are only found in languages whose speakers practise(d) Tibetan Buddhism. These observations suggest that genetic and various sociohistorical factors should be taken into account in the study of areal linguistics.

Intertwined model of syntactic borrowing in the Gansu-Qinghai linguistic area

This paper studies two grammatical cases in the Gansu-Qinghai linguistic area. Accusative-dative, a syncretic case largely attested in Sinitic languages, is also found in Bao’an and Tu, even if in a very limited use. The Sinitic languages have acquired this syncretic case marking through pattern reduplication due to language contact, while Bao’an and Tu have this innovation owing to the internal mechanisms of their language. The second phenomenon concerns possessor constructions in which the subject-possessor must be marked by a dative case. This marking is seen in all non-Sinitic languages in the Gansu-Qinghai linguistic area and has begun to appear in Sinitic languages. Multiple paths for borrowing between and inside languages in this area present an intertwined model of language borrowing. Linxia City and its closest counties should be the spreading center of these new syntactic devices, and Muslim populations speaking different languages may form a spreading net.

The locutor-referential pronoun in Zhoutun

This paper explores a special pronoun, the locutor-referential pronoun tha in Zhoutun, a Tibetanized Chinese variant spoken in the Amdo Sprachbund. Two rules of the use of tha are found in this paper. Rule 1: If tha occurs in a complement clause of a speech verb, it refers to the internal locutor. Rule 2: If tha occurs in an environment other than a complement clause of a speech verb, it refers to the narrative locutor. If only rule 1 is followed, then tha can be considered a logophoric pronoun; however, the speciality of tha lies in the fact that it can also be used in the context to which rule 2 applies, a usage that does not fit the definition of a logophoric pronoun. The use of tha is not obligatory. An inherited form from Mandarin Chinese, the formation of the locutor-referential tha has to do with the contact with Amdo Tibetan and its probable evolving pathway is “third-person pronoun> logophoric pronoun> locutor-referential pronoun”.


‘A long foot crossing mountains’: Forty-three annotated Pumi riddles

In this paper, we present forty-three interlinearized and annotated Pumi riddles. Riddles are a subgenre of poetry, characterized by their syntactic parallelism and use of metaphor. We look at the structural characteristics of riddles and explore their use of metaphor. Riddles appear in a parallel question-answer pair and may be divided into four different sets based on their structure and content: oppositional riddles, locational riddles, person(ified) riddles and action riddles. Metaphors draw from likeness in shape or movement, and to a minor extent from likeness in colour, texture, sound or function. Riddling is a highly endangered art form and this paper aims to document their beauty for posterity.