Article on Associated Motion in Japhug Rgyalrong

The article Jacques (2013) has been recently published. While the HimalCo project has already produced several presentations at various conferences, this is the first published article of the project.

Like all the scholarly productions of our project, it is based on corpus data (on the Japhug language) that will eventually all be made available on the Pangloss website. The article has two aims: first, to describe the associated motion construction in Japhug Rgyalrong and second, to use these data to contribute to the discussion on cross-category harmony (the idea that word order and affix order are correlated in some way). Since the second part might only interest theoretical linguists, I will now offer some reflections on the first part.

Languages with associated motion have a set of verbal affixes that describe a motion event occurring before, during or after the action referred to by the verb. In addition, they also have a competing construction with a motion verb and its complement. Since none of the world’s major languages has associated motion, this category has been relatively neglected, though it does not appear to be particularly rare. In the article, I focus on the semantic differences between the two constructions and show that a syntactic test involving negation works only with the motion-verb construction, not with the associated-motion construction.

For further information on Associated Motion as a cross-linguistic category, I recommend the work of Antoine Guillaume (2006, 2009) who has extensively worked on Tacanan languages. He and I are planning to work together on the typology of Associated Motion.



Guillaume, Antoine (2006). La catégorie du “mouvement associé” en cavineña: apport à une typologie de l’encodage du mouvement et de la trajectoire. Bulletin de la société linguistique de Paris 101 (2): 415–436.

Guillaume, Antoine (2009). Les suffixes verbaux de mouvement associé en cavineña. Faits de Langues : Les Cahiers 1: 181–204.

Jacques, Guillaume 2013. Harmonization and disharmonization of affix ordering and basic word order. Linguistic Typology, 17 (2):187–215

Third Workshop on Sino-Tibetan Languages of Sichuan: a brief report

Last month our team organised the third edition of the Workshop on Sino-Tibetan Languages of Sichuan, which followed a first workshop in Taipei organised by Jackson T.-S. Sun, and a second one in Beijing in 2010. The conference was hosted at the EHESS.

Alexis Michaud set up a lively website for the workshop. A Book of abstracts is available.

Nearly all fields of linguistics were represented during this conference, and the proportion of papers on phonology and phonetics vs. morphosyntax was relatively well balanced.

It may be unappropriate for me, as one of the co-organizers, to praise the success of our workshop. Yet, I think that it was noteworthy in at least one respect. The advantage of small-scale workshops like this one is that people working on closely related research topics can get together and interact with each other in a better way than in huge conferences. In this workshop, we established a record for the number of presentations on Naish (four) and Rgyalrongic (eight). The presentations on these languages also happened, for some of them at least, to be on related topics: all papers on Naish were about tonology, in particular. This allowed detailed and productive discussions both during the question sessions and during breaks, and it was quite a rewarding experience — at least for me.

Among the participants at the conference were three native speakers of the languages under investigation: Wang Shuangcheng (speaker of Amdo Tibetan and dialectologist himself), Skalbzang Phuntshogs (whose name is sinicized as Geiru Pincuo, a speaker of Northern Pumi collaborating with Henriette Daudey on language documentation) and bLobzang Nyima (a speaker of Rtau [rəsɲəske] who lives in Paris and collaborates with our team). Their presence was in my opinion an essential element of the success of this workshop: during discussions, it allowed for immediate reverification of data cited by participants. It is already a tradition, since 2008, for the Sichuan Workshop to include native speaker participants, and I hope that this tradition will continue in further instalments of this conference.

Zev Handel has expressed his interest to organize the next workshop in Seattle, and I look forward to it already.

Welcoming a computing engineer to the HimalCo team: Céline Buret

Technical aspects are central in the HimalCo project. This project allows us to hire a computing engineer for a duration of 2 years. The selection procedure took place from June to early September. We were impressed by the quality of the applications that we received. In spite of the modest financial conditions offered, there were a number of outstanding candidates, each with their own strong points, and all highly motivated.
The project team is proud to announce that Ms. Céline Buret, a highly experimented IT person, will join us on November 18th, for an initial period of 2 years.

December 2013 update: the work on dictionary formats is in full swing already. The HimalCo blog has gone quiet as our attention focused on starting up a GitHub repository which, among many useful functions, helps us keep track of scripts as they are gradually improved before a public release. We plan to make some scripts available in the Spring of 2014.

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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Ongoing fieldwork on Yongning Na — Lijiang, China

A new fieldtrip to Yunnan has begun. Despite a declining health, my teacher/consultant gives me some time every day to continue research on Yongning Na (Mosuo). The main objective is to make headway in the description of the language’s tonal grammar. Work sessions mostly consist in transcribing narratives; verifying earlier data; and eliciting phonological materials.

My consultant is currently staying, not in the village of Yongning, but at her son’s home in the town of Lijiang. Working here has the big drawback that it’s not “immersion fieldwork”: this is not a Na-speaking environment. On a positive note, power cuts are few, and there is Internet. Also, my consultant misses Yongning; now living in an apartment in a recent concrete building, she sees Na/Mosuo life from a distance, and this makes the task of teaching me folk tales and traditions more interesting to her than when I interviewed her in Yongning, from 2006 to 2009.

Here are some photos of the beautiful Dongba Culture Research Centre in Lijiang, where I have a chance to meet Naxi-speaking colleagues. In Lijiang these days, there are also visiting scholars from various countries: Roselle Dobbs, from New Zealand, who studies another dialect of Yongning Na; and Mike Opper, an American student who is currently reflecting on a topic for his PhD in phonology/phonetics.

This time a Canadian student with Yunnanese roots, Meng Yang, has come along to get a feel for fieldwork in Yunnan. (She also participates in current research activities of her Master’s thesis supervisor, Marc Brunelle, on languages of Vietnam.) During 3 weeks, she will grapple with the complexities of Yongning Na tone by focusing on one specific morphosyntactic phenomenon: tonal change in phrases made up of a noun followed by a demonstrative-plus-classifier expression, e.g. ‘this piece of carpentry’, ‘this flock of sheep’, or ‘this bowl of tea’. The tasks proposed to her include (i) preparing data for elicitation, on the basis of a glossary that indicates the most commonly used classifiers for each noun, (ii) participating in the transcription of the consultant’s answers, (iii) annotating recordings of these phrases, and (iv) looking for examples in narratives, to comparing them with the elicited data. Three weeks may seem a long time for investigating a single construction; but this is by no means a trivial task, in view of the high number of tonal categories in the language. (See a book chapter in press about numeral-plus-classifier phrases in Yongning Na.) The aim is to get to the heart of the issue and produce as fine-grained and definitive a description as possible. Given the state of endangerment of the language, the description must be accompanied by sufficient documentation to arrive at a high degree of certainty, so that even the most fastidious phonetician/phonologist will have a sufficient empirical basis for verification.

The next step will then consist in relating the findings on this construction (noun plus demonstrative-plus-classifier) with facts about other parts of the system that have already been investigated, finding out to what extent the tone patterns are similar to those of other constructions. This is a rewarding stage of the work, when the evidence converges, and the bigger picture emerges. Also, after years of exploration, it is a satisfaction to obtain stronger and stronger confirmation for the earlier analyses.

Mike and Meng have organized a ‘Phonetic notation and field methods’ course for colleagues at the Dongba Culture Research Institute who are going to set out to work on heretofore undescribed language varieties: dialects of Na/Mosuo and Naxi. For this 15-hours course, extending over a week and a half, Meng and Mike produced a Chinese translation of the International Phonetic Alphabet: a really useful tool in my view. Two teaching documents are available: ‘Basic IPA training’ (in Chinese: ), and ‘Phonemic systems’.

Among recent publications, I have just posted

  • the full text of an invited talk on tone systems in Naish at the International Conference on Phonetics of the Languages in China (ICPLC-2013), and
  • a review of Thomas Pinson’s recent dictionary of Naxi. One point that is relevant to the HimalCo project is that the 2 dictionaries of Naxi that appeared in quick succession at the end of last year (2012) are both paper-only, and not actively circulated by the publishing-house, making it difficult for interested readers to access the information. This appears as further confirmation that electronic format is the way forward for dictionaries.

Finally, some new multimedia documents have also been made available in the Naxi and Na sections of the Pangloss Collection. Transcribing and annotating is time-consuming: transcribing 1 minute of recording takes about an hour for an experimented specialist of the language, not to mention the time verifying the annotation and translation, adding time-alignment with the recording, and preparing the metadata (description of the resource for indexing). There now exist methods for the rapid collection of new documents, but “there is ultimately no way to avoid this pernicious transcription bottleneck” (see Steven Bird’s riveting fieldwork report). So each new completed document can be considered as a significant victory.

We will start our trip back to neighbouring Vietnam on October 30st. When I get back to the International Research Institute MICA, I will resume my work to contribute to the development of the Institute’s online collection of linguistic data, the AuCo Collection.


Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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