aLaze: a brief note


Laze, not to be confused with the Caucasian language Laz, is spoken in a few villages of the Southern part of the prefecture of Muli (Sichuan, China). The total number of speakers is certainly lower than 1,000, and probably under 400. This language belongs to the Naish subgroup of the Sino-Tibetan family, along with Naxi and Na (Mosuo). In Chinese, Laze is called 拉热 or 木里水田话.

a Click here to access a list of all available resources

The resources available at present are: (i) two stories with complete interlinear glosses and translation; (ii) some untranscribed songs; and (iii) a set of untranscribed rituals. A number of vocabulary elicitation sessions will also be made available as soon as I can find the time to prepare the XML documents. (Anyone willing to volunteer time to help with this is most welcome to get in touch!)

Laze stories

a Buried Alive
Muli, Liangshan, Sichuan, 2008, speaker: Tian Xiufang.

This tale is a warning to greedy people who tuck into the family's food stocks when they are alone at home. It tells the story of a woman who stays home to look after the house and cook meals while the others are working in the fields. One day, as she was eating eggs, some people came home unexpectedly. In a panick, she stuffed the eggs into her throat, choked, and fell as if dead. The family, seeing her lifeless, buried her, with rich garments and jewels. At night, robbers came, unearthed her, and took her up by the legs to rip off the jewels and clothes. This made the egg fall out; she recovered consciousness. The robbers ran away in a panick. When she came back home, her family thought she was a ghost coming back to haunt them, and wouldn't let her in. Finally, they made out what had happened, and forgave her.

aCelestial Wife
Muli, Liangshan, Sichuan, 2008, speaker: Tian Xiufang.

This tale is about the origins of mankind: the story of its first ancestors, and the origin of cultivated plants. Seeds were stolen from the celestial world and secretly brought back to earth. The tale explains mankind's harsh conditions of life as resulting from a curse by heavenly powers.

Fragments of Laze songs

Unlike the Naxi songs available as part of the Naxi corpus, which are sung by a professional singer, the Laze songs were elicited from ordinary people; the objective was not to preserve outstanding performances, but to record data that might prove useful in research on the Laze language and culture.

These songs were recorded in March 2009 in Muli County, Sichuan, from three speakers. My Laze teacher/language consultant, whose speaker code is F7, was then aged 57; her elder daughter, F10, was aged 64. Their sister-in-law, F11, was also in her sixties. They were extremely reluctant to record songs, as it is unusual for women of their age to sing songs. According to local habits, singing is an activity for young people, and the voices of singers past forty (fifty at a push) are considered unattractive. However, the younger generations do not get to learn traditional songs anymore, as these are now replaced by songs in Chinese.

My teacher was aware that I was interested in collecting folk songs to improve the record, and tried her best to overcome the two other speakers' reluctance, even jumping in herself and singing aa short song. Thanks to her efforts, a total of six fragments of songs and a nursery rhyme were recorded, but not without long pauses in the middle of songs when the speakers tried to remember what followed, and repeated bursts of giggles caused by this awkward situation: three women well past the age of singing in public, recording songs for publication in an archive which they knew would be accessible from any computer. 

Another song had been sung the year before by aMr. Hu, to the same tune.

These songs could not be transcribed due to severe limitations on the duration of fieldwork, and also due to my teacher's difficulty in explaining texts whose meaning was not thoroughly clear to her. The reason for putting these materials online nonetheless is that they may be useful to people already familiar with other Naish languages, for comparative studies: for instance, the structure and rhythm of the nursery rhyme is strikingly similar with a popular Naxi nursery rhyme.

(Ms. He Jiezhen, a Naxi researcher, informed me that two video collections of Naxi children's songs and word games had been published in Lijiang by the association CGRC: 玉龙县民族文化与社会性别研究会, as the outcome of projects funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development and other funding agencies. The titles of the collections are:  纳西族童谣, and 儿歌陪我们成长. Unfortunately, these remarkable documents have not been actively circulated or made available online.)

speaker type duration
F7 a song 1'50
F10 a song 1'28
F11 a song (1) 0'49
F11 a song (2) 0'32
F11 a song (3) 2'48
F11 a song (4) 2'11
F11 a nursery rhyme 0'47
M20 asong 10'15

Laze rituals

The traditional ritual practitioner among the Laze is akin to the Naxi to-mba and the Na da-pe (Chinese renderings: 东巴 and 达巴, respectively). He is considered as the specialist of oral traditions: unlike Naxi rituals, for which a special script exists, Laze rituals are not consigned in books. When I asked relatives of my main language consultant in the village of Xiangjiao 项脚 whether there would be opportunities for me to record folk tales or stories about traditional Laze life, they naturally directed me to the local priest. He agreed to chant ritual texts. All of these were chosen by himself, and recorded in a row, making short pauses for drinking alcohol.

The place for recordings is the main room (living-room) at my teacher's brother's house in the village of Xiangjiao; the brick walls and bare surfaces create a lot of reverberation. The recordings are made with a head-mounted microphone and a microphone placed on a pile of stools in front of the speaker; the signal provided by the head-mounted microphone (right channel) has a better signal-to-noise ratio, but it has other limitations (occasional puffs, for instance), so both channels were preserved.

It did not prove feasible to transcribe the rituals; villagers interpreted the priest's unwillingness to participate in the transcription as a sign that he mastered the rituals imperfectly and could not explain them with sufficient precision. Other speakers felt entirely unable to understand the contents of the rituals. This difficulty, combined with the short duration of fieldwork and my lack of a good background in local religions, led me to focus on more accessible data such as the narratives told by my main consultant (F4).

The reason for putting these materials online nonetheless is that they may provide some hints in a comparative study of rituals in the Naxi cultural area.

document duration
a Ritual 1 18'33
a Ritual 2 6'17
a Ritual 3 7'24
a Ritual 4. Note: the chanting is preceded by a narrative portion of about one minute. 8'10
a Ritual 5 4'57
a Ritual 6 3'32
a Ritual 7 9'55
a Ritual 8 4'26
a Ritual 9 8'58
a Ritual 10 3'20
a Ritual 11 4'38

That day, Mr. Hu also told stories and sang aa song.

document duration
a Life story 3'14
a Narrative 1 2'44
a Narrative 2 9'33
a Narrative 3 3'46