A linguistic description of Phola

Event details

PhD Seminar

Date & time

Monday 11 February 2019


Seminar room E4.44 Baldessin Precinct Building


Manuel David Gonzalez-Perez


Manuel David Gonzalez-Perez

Phola is a Southeastern Ngwi language (Southeastern Tibeto-Burman) spoken by around 3000-4000 speakers in isolated pockets on the mountains along the deeper reaches of the Red River Valley of Southern Yunnan Province, The People's Republic of China. Historically, isolation from and scarce contact with other villages has led to a significant degree of dialectal diversification, mainly in lexicon and phonology but also in some aspects of grammatical structure.

The Southeastern Ngwi languages are both the most internally diverse subgroup of Ngwi and the least understood cluster of languages being for the most part vastly underdocumented. Their exact genetic affiliation within Ngwi is a matter of debate and new languages keep being discovered year after year (according to SIL accounts, 65% of the currently known Ngwi varieties have been identified in the past twelve years, c.f. Drewry, 2016). The relationship of the different Ngwi subbranches to one another is still far from settled due partly to the lack of good descriptive data. One of the main goals of my PhD research will be to fill in this gap by producing the first (to the best of my knowledge) in-depth lexico-grammatical study of a Southeastern Ngwi variety.

The variety reported upon here is that of Luodie village located just a few kilometres above the Tropic of Cancer (circa 23°34') in the southern part of Wadie Township of Yuanjiang County, immediately above the Red River. It is spoken by around 600-700 people and is generally mutually intelligible with the varieties of immediately surrounding Phola villages which fall within the jurisdiction of the local Luodie village cluster joint government. My TPR will provide a general outline of linguistic research on Ngwi including descriptive (e.g. Matisoff, 1973), historical (e.g. Bradley, 2012) and typological studies (e.g. Drewry, 2016), with a particular focus on Southeastern Ngwi (e.g. Pelkey, 2011) to which Phola belongs. Then, it will briefly discuss Phola's basic typology offering some preliminary and incipient findings based on primary data gathered in Luodie in December 2018-January 2019, including some insights into one or two theoretically interesting features discovered so far such as an absolute system of spatial orientation based on two interwoven anchors (hillside and cardinal directions), the paradigm of extentives i.e. the grammaticalisation of dimensionality; or the tonal realisation of segmentally dropped grammemes, i.e. (quasi-)grammatical tone.

Finally, some remarks will be made on logistic, geodemographic and sociocultural aspects of my fieldsite relevant to the fieldwork component of my research.

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