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  Home > Pangloss Home > To Asian languages > Na Corpus > Linguistic fieldwork in the village of Yongning - 丽江市宁蒗县永宁乡纳语(摩梭语)调查实录



Summer 2012: the aftermath of the earthquake

In living memory, no earthquake had taken place in Yongning: occasionally one could feel small shocks, but they had never caused damage. On June 24th, at 4 p.m., the area was struck by an earthquake of a 5.7 magnitude at its epicentre, close to the village of /ɲi˧se˩/ (in Chinese: 小落水).

Fortunately there were few victims. But numerous buildings, including that seen on the photo at the bottom of this page, were seriously damaged and now need to be put down and rebuilt. People provisionally sleep in tents.

Through a stroke of luck, my teacher/consultant and myself were both in the city of Lijiang when the earthquake took place. A trip to Yongning scheduled to begin on Friday 22nd had been postponed.

Numerous Na/Mosuo people have found employment outside the Yongning area; they are now doing their best to come back to comfort their families and take part in the reconstruction. My teacher/consultant remains in Lijiang, taking care of two granddaughters: a high-school student who will take exams in three weeks, and a little girl who is just two years old. [June 26th, 2012]


Linguistic fieldwork in the village of Yongning



In Oct.-Dec. 2006, Oct.-Nov. 2007, and in the Spring of 2008, I conducted fieldwork on the Na dialect spoken in Yongning. At present (2012), I mainly focus on the tone system of this dialect, and on collecting abundant and reliable documentation.

The ethnologue Latami Dashi, a native speaker of this dialect who takes very much to heart his culture and his language, assisted me greatly, inviting me to his own home (my language consultants are members of his family). (Latami Dashi is the Vice-director of the Ninglang research centre on ethnic cultures, the editor of a two-volume collection of essays written in Chinese about the Na people of Yongning and lake Lugu : 摩梭文化研究论文集(1960-2005)",云南大学出版社 2006, and the author of books about the Mosuo.) 

Lake Lugu, not far from Yongning, is now a touristic hot spot, and more and more tourists are also coming to Yongning (a very scenic place indeed). Yongning is changing quickly; there is a considerable generation gap in language proficiency, making the collection of reliable and extensive data an urgent task. Thanks to the joint efforts of researchers from China and abroad (e.g. Liberty Lidz), Na studies are currently making much headway.

Some texts with audio recordings, translation (currently only into Chinese and French), and word-by-word glosses are gradually being posted online in the open archive of Lacito research centre. These resources are freely available for consultation.

On the research front, online resources include

- a paper about the phonemes and tones of this language variety. Full text (preprint version) available online. References: "Phonemic and tonal analysis of Yongning Na", Cahiers de linguistique - Asie Orientale, 37(2), pp. 159-196.

- a paper proposing a reconstruction of the Naish group of languages, which includes Na/Mosuo. References: "Approaching the historical phonology of three highly eroded Sino-Tibetan languages: Naxi, Na and Laze", Diachronica 28, 4 (2011) 468-498.

- a study of the phonetic aspects of the language that are currently most severly endangered

To make a long story short, the Na people who live on both sides of the Yangtse river have had a sharply divergent history since the Ming dynasty (14th c. AD), those on the right bank (ruled by the feudal lords of the city of Lijiang) being subject to an increasingly strong and increasingly direct Chinese influence, whereas those on the left bank, notably in the plain of Yongning and around the neighbouring Lugu lake, received less direct Chinese influence, and appear to have retained some relatively ancient cultural and linguistic traits. The latter also received more influence from Tibet (especially as far as religion is concerned). As far as language is concerned, two dialect areas have been distinguished by the linguists He Jiren and Jiang Zhuyi (on the basis of a survey conducted in the 1950s), by and large corresponding to this cultural and historical divide. (Details are provided in a thorough study of the history of the Na(xi) people--in Chinese--: Guo Dalie; He Zhiwu: 郭大烈; 和志武: 纳西族史, 四川民族出版社, 重庆 1992, second edition 1999.)

"Na" appears to be a more adequate designation for the language than "Naxi", as the syllable "Na" appears in the autonym of the groups concerned (/nɑ˩/ in and around Lijiang, and likewise /nɑ˩ in Yongning), whereas not all dialects use the second syllable, "xi" (meaning "human being"; Na pronunciation: /hi˧/ in Lijiang, /hi͂˥/ in Fengke and Yongning) in their autonym. So far I had not thought about this issue and referred to the language as "Naxi", following Chinese usage, but now I take the point (already made some time ago by ethnologists) that "Na" is more accurate. So, for instance, I shall refer to the language of Yongning as "the Yongning dialect of the Na language". The other designations of this language are "Eastern dialect of Naxi, Yongning variety" (the formulation put forward by He Jiren and Jiang Zhuyi), and "Yongning variety of the Mosuo language". "Mosuo" (mó suō 摩梭) and "Moxie" (麽些 mō xiē) are exonyms formerly used in the Chinese records, which were officially replaced after 1949 by "Naxi" (nà xī 纳西). (Thus, the dictionary of pictograms originally published by Li Lincan, Zhang Kun and He Cai as Dictionary of Moxie pictograms [Hong Kong, 1953] was reprinted in 2001 on the mainland under the title Dictionary of Naxi pictograms.) "Mosuo" is nonetheless favoured by some Na people of Yongning and lake Lugu; since the 1990, the "Mosuo" are recognised at the provincial level (though not at the national level) as a separate subgroup within the Naxi nationality. Needless to say, the way "ethnic minorities" are defined and subdivided has political implications. Linguistically, it appears clear that the speech of Yongning and that of Lijiang are very closely related. The detailed study of the correspondences, conducted in collaboration with Guillaume Jacques, a specialist of the history of Tibeto-Burman languages, has led to a reconstruction of the history of the Naish group of languages, which includes Na/Mosuo.


My teacher of Yongning Na ("main language consultant") recently came to the city of Lijiang, to take care of a granddaughter. My home institution gave me a fantastic opportunity by allowing me to stay in Lijiang with my family until the end of 2012, so that I can meet my main consultant on a day-to-day basis.


(Photo: 秦晴, 2012)

In her childhood, my teacher Ms. Latami Dashilame was one of the actors in a documentary/fiction film about the Na and their unusual family structure (‘A-zhu’ marriage among the Naxi of Yongning《永宁纳西族的阿注婚》). Later, her son became an anthropologist, specializing in Na (Moso) society, and a number of colleagues came to her home. She witnessed how the Na of Yongning became an object of curiosity and fantasy, and how Na culture became folklorized for the promotion of the tourist industry, with its pleasant sides and its less lovely ones. These experiences shook her belief in some of the traditional beliefs that had been passed on to her by her elders, such as Buddhist beliefs. While she conscientiously goes through all the prescribed rituals on a day-to-day basis, her own belief in Buddhist teachings such as reincarnation was faltering. The narratives that she recorded show how she suspends her belief in the traditional lore of a waning cultural universe which nevertheless remains hers.


(Photo: 秦晴, 2012)

Ms. Latami Dashilame had not participated in linguistic fieldwork before she began to teach me her language. As we became more familiar, she willingly accepted to take part in such unaccustomed tasks as phonological investigations and phonetic studies, using somewhat impressive (but fully innocuous) techniques including electroglottography: a measurement of vocal fold contact during speech.

The traditional Na costume, which she had put on that day for the visit of a journalist who wanted to see us at work, includes an elaborate head-dress which is incompatible with a head-worn microphone. On the other hand, it combines easily with the collar of the electroglottograph.


(Photo: 秦晴, 2012)

To study less-documented languages where they are spoken, know-how of various kinds is required, including the essentials of sound recording (along with some knowledge of botany and medicine, if possible). From a technical point of view, if one is going to spend weeks and months transcribing and studying a recording that will remain as one of the only traces of a language, it is well worth taking a few precautions to achieve good audio quality. Being temporarily based in Lijiang, I was able to pad up my workplace with quits, to avoid having too much reverberation. The result is acoustically OK, though visually unattractive! The cardboard boxes piled up in the room contribute to covering up the hard, smooth surfaces (cement walls and floorboards).


我 于2006年10-12月,2007年10-11 月调 查了云南丽江市宁蒗县永宁乡的土语。一个重要的研究方向是分析这个语言的声调系统。


丽 江市宁蒗县 民族文化研究所副所长拉他咪达石招待我 在他家住,发音人是他的家人,拉他咪达石本人也参加 了调查工作。拉他咪达石是人类学家,纳族(摩梭人)文化专家。


在 历史上,简单来说,金沙江(长江) 两岸的纳族自元朝以来有了不同的发展方向,靠近丽江的纳族地区受到汉族影响越来越深,越来越直接,而永宁等地区受中央政府影响不太直接,在文化,语 言等方面保留着一些比较古老的特点,也受西藏文化的影响多一些。(见: 郭大烈; 和志武: 纳西族史, 四川民族出版社, 重庆,1992年,1999年第二版。)


语 言方面,按照和即仁先生和姜竹仪女士两位 学者的说法,永宁的语言属于纳西语东部方言。“纳”比“纳西"是更合适的称 呼,因为所有的“纳西”方言自称中都包含"纳"这个成份(发音基本上一正,比如在丽江是/nɑ˩/, 在永宁也是 /nɑ˩/), 而有的却不含第二个音节,“西”(意思为"人";在丽江 坝说的是/hi˧/,在永宁,奉科等等说的是/hi͂˥/)。杨福泉教授提出,«‘纳西学& rsquo;的内容,实际上已经不仅仅包括丽江自称‘纳西’ 的纳西族(…)按照标准的说法, 实际上应该是‘纳学’ 研究,‘纳学’是这门学科更为标准的定义»(摩梭社会文化研究论文集(1960- 2005)序二,云南大学出版社,主编:拉他咪达石,2006年,4-5页)。


因 为对纳语的方言调查资料目前还不算很完全, “东部方言”和“西部方言”的区分至今只是一个假设,没有经过充份的 科学证 明,所以我暂且先把永宁纳族的语言简单称为“纳语的永宁方言”,但有必要说明一下,它还有别的称呼,比如"纳西 语东部方言永宁 土语”和“摩梭语永宁土语”。“摩梭”是它称, 是1960年代中华人民共和国定义少数民族之前,外界对于整个纳族的称呼。目前有人把永宁,泸沽湖等地方的纳族人称作"摩 梭人”,而这个称呼好象比较受当地老百姓的欢迎。1990年代以来,云南省接受了 “摩梭”这个称呼,现在永宁纳族人算 是 属于“纳西族的摩梭人”,等于说“摩梭”是纳西族里面有特点的人口。 每个称呼的选择,自然有其在政治等方面的考虑,这方面的情况比较复杂,在此就不多加赘言。(关 于族称问题,以上提到的《摩梭社会文化研究论文集》的序言二有详细的描述。)从语言学的观点来看,无论官方名称如何变化,通过研究我 们可以 证明,永宁纳族的语言与丽江坝纳族的语言有非常接近的 亲属关系。我收集的资料和我写的论文,可以从这里查看、下载。(lien vers Paris III)




(Photograph: Latami Dashi)


目 前,宁蒗纳族地区的变化很快,泸沽湖是旅游热点,来永宁的游客也越来越 多。这当然影响着当地的传统社会,在语言方面,老一代和年轻一代的差异非常明显,有的孩 子都不讲当地的语言了,只讲普通话和西南官话。总的说来,跟过去相比,今天,永 宁的生活条件有了较大改善。但是对语言学家来说,调查这一语言的任务也越来越迫切。


Unless otherwise indicated, photographs are by A. Michaud.
Latest update: June 2012

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