Campus: CSU Chico -- August 28, 2002

Linguists Receive Grant to Research Endangered Chinese

Endangered Chinese is the focus of a National Science Foundation grant received by Frank (Fengxiang) Li and Graham Thurgood, linguists in the Department of English, California State University, Chico.

The $188,340 grant will support research on three endangered languages spoken in China: Tsat, an Austronesian language of Hainan Province; Anong, a Tibeto-Burman language of Yunnan Province; and Oroqen, a Tungusic language of Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang Province in northeast China. These are geographically and genetically distinct languages that are undergoing rapid change because of their close contact with Chinese.

The project will give Li and Thurgood the opportunity to study how very different languages change under intense contact with a second language. They will work with Chinese language specialists, whose detailed but unpublished records predate the most intense contact and continue to the modern era.

They will translate the existing Chinese descriptions, incorporating new material to fill gaps and updating analyses based on data to be collected in summer fieldwork trips.

A reference grammar for each language will be produced at the end of the project period.

The Oroqen part of the project is a continuation and expansion of Li’s work done over the past seven years on three Tungusic languages spoken in northeast China, Inner Mongolia and Siberia. Li collaborated with Lindsay Whaley and Lenore Grenoble of Dartmouth College on this study. This project, which ended in 2000, was also supported by an NSF grant to Li, Whaley and Grenable in the amount of $189,000.

Thurgood, new to this project, is a specialist in Tibeto-Burman and Southeast Asian languages and linguistics. He has two previous NSF grants supporting research on Southeast Asian languages.

“This work is very important: the last fluent speakers of these languages are getting old, as are the Chinese linguists who worked with them during the early years. Within the next few decades, these languages will cease to be spoken and this knowledge will be lost forever,” said Li. “Through the collaboration of American and Chinese linguists, the hope is to save as much of this part of our mutual heritage as is possible.”

CONTACT: Kathleen McPartland, 530-898-4263
Frank Li, English,530-898-5240

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