29 February 2012
Venue: Arts 1, DALSL meeting room (206-408)
Applied Language Studies and Linguistics Seminar by Hilário de Sousa, École des hautes études en sciences sociales.
The Sinitic languages (or ‘Chinese dialects’) sit on the fringe of two linguistic areas with ‘opposing’ typological profiles. Languages in Mainland Southeast Asia (e.g. Enfield 2005) to the south are primarily mono- or sesquisyllabic, analytic, often highly tonal, SVO, and left-headed in general; Languages in the Altaic world to the north are primarily polysyllabic, agglutinative, have simpler or no tonal contrasts, SOV and right-headed in general. The typological profile of the Sinitic languages displays an interesting mix of these two typological profiles. One of the most fascinating facets of this is the hybrid typological profile that defines Sintic languages as a whole.
Sinitic languages are SVO, and adpositions are mainly preposing. However, compounds and noun phrases are heavily right headed, most obliques are placed before the verb, and there are postpositions; most of these traits correlate strongly with SOV languages (e.g. Chappell 2001). In particular, based on WALS, the correlation of SVO and Rel–N (Dryer 2011), and the word order Oblique–VO (Dryer & Gensler 2011) are basically unique to Sinitic languages. In the first part of this talk, a general overview of the Sinitic languages will be presented. Particular focus will be paid to the relationship between the Sinitic languages and the Mainland Southeast Asian languages to the south. Historically Chinese had most interactions with the languages to the south; the migration paths of Han Chinese people were predominately southward, and the southward migration of Han Chinese people was a major reason for the southward migration of Tai–Kadai and Hmong–Mien people into Mainland Southeast Asia.
In the second part of this talk, a modern day contact situation on the Sinitic–Tai linguistic border will be presented. The city of Nanning, the capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in Southern China, is home to both Sinitic and Tai speakers: there are the Sinitic languages of Nanning Pinghua, Nanning Cantonese, and Old Nanning Mandarin, and there are also the indigenous Tai languages of Northern Zhuang and Southern Zhuang. Amongst the topics we will discuss is how the longer-established Nanning Pinghua is in some ways less similar to the indigenous Zhuang languages than the recently-established language of Nanning Cantonese.