Naxi: a brief note
Naxi (endonym: /nɑ˩hi˧-kɯ˧ʈʂɯ˩/, 'Naxi'+'language') is spoken in the northwest of the Chinese province of Yunnan, close to the first loop in the Yangtze river, in and around the city of Lijiang (Naxi: /ʝi˧gv̩˧-dy˩). It is a member of the Naish subgroup of languages within the Sino-Tibetan family, to which Na (Mosuo) and Laze also belong.
Here is the table of contents of this page.
Materials designed for phonetic/phonological research:
Goodies: fieldwork blog and documentary film
A small data set
from the dialect of Ciending
hamlet, Dongba village, Sanba county, Zhongdian
Diqing, Yunnan, China. Date recorded: 2009. Speaker: Mr. XU
中国云南省迪庆州香格里拉县（从先中甸县。纳西语：ɳɖʐɯ˩dy˩）三坝纳西族乡（纳西语：bʋ˧ɖɛ˞˧）东坝行政村（纳西语：kɯ˧˥dy˩）次恩 丁自然村 （纳西语：tsʰɯ˧˥ ɣɯ˧ ʈɯ˧）;
Date recorded: August 2009.
Date recorded: August 2009.
This was the first time that Xu Jirong made a recording and this results in a few disfluencies, especially in the set of three jokes which were the first pieces to be recorded. It appeared interesting to make these data available online nonetheless; the versions made available here are slightly edited, but for documentary precision's sake the originals are also archived and can be consulted (files 1, 2 and 3).
|1st joke||2nd joke||3rd joke|
Recordings of vocabulary by Xu Jirong were also conducted. The first document to be made available online is a reading of part of a vocabulary list drawn up by Xu Jirong in collaboration with A. Michaud.
The dialect of the village of Guifeng (贵峰; Naxi: /ndɑ˧le˩/), close to the city of Lijiang, is readily identifiable by Naxi speakers from neighbouring villages due to tonal inversions, from H+M to M+H. The narratives presented here were told in 2004 by Mr. HE Wenjian 和文建.
More narratives were recorded, and some were transcribed; as with many other data sets, the process of preparation for online archiving is taking a lot of time. It's hard to find all the time required by these important tasks! In case you want to engage in the study of Guifeng Naxi, for an academic thesis (short Master's thesis or full PhD), please contact me: you're very welcome to my full set of recordings. This includes high-fidelity recordings of word lists made in France with a speaker who is currently living there. You would be mildly expected to prepare at least some of the documents for online distribution and archiving, while using them for learning and research purposes!
(version 1) |
Date recorded: 2004.
(version 2) |
Date recorded: 2004.
six stories of /ə˧ʝi˩ɳɖə˞˧/ the Trickster
Date recorded: 2004.
With a view to avoiding large discrepancies between the transcription in International Phonetic Alphabet and the actual pronunciation, the transcription adopted here is not strictly phonemic. In particular:
On the other hand, the apical vowels [ʅ] and [ɿ] are phonemicized as /ɯ/.
The following conventions are used for passages to be added or removed (following Martine Mazaudon's usage for Tamang):
|[ ]||square brackets indicate an addition to be made to the text (as indicated by the speaker when the transcription was done)|
|< >||angled brackets indicate a 'false start' or mistaken use of terms, and hence a passage to be suppressed (again, as indicated by the speaker when the transcription was done)|
comprises notes, inserted in the XML code with the following markup:
<NOTE message="This is a comment."/>
These include comments about verifications that were made about form and meaning, and comments about phonetic implementation. The earliest notations, which were later corrected systematically, are closer to phonetic realizations; surface-phonological transcriptions abstract away from the actual acoustics.
These materials were elicited in 2004 to study the lexical tones of Naxi. Forty minimal sets such as /lɑ́/ ‘to strike’, /lɑ̄/ ‘tiger’, /lɑ̀/ ‘hand’ were selected (i.e. a total of 120 syllables). As monosyllables only constitute a fraction of the lexicon, it was not possible to be picky in terms of part of speech (N, V and ADJ had to be included) or phonemic composition. The set of initials is /pʰ tʰ kʰ tsʰ ʈʂʰ, p k ts, g, l m n, s ʂ h/ plus the empty-onset filler /ʝ/; vowels are /i y ɯ u e ɤ o ə˞ æ ɑ wɑ v̩/.
The consultant was shown the target items in writing, as part of a randomized list on paper. The imagined context was that people are watching a TV programme about calligraphy. The target words were recorded under two reading conditions: the context for the first reading, referred to as CAREFUL, is that a child asks which character is being written, and the consultant provides the answer. Under the second condition, referred to as IMPATIENT, the child is naughty, asking for the umpteenth time without paying attention to answers; the consultant says the answer again, but in a way that will clarify to the child that (s)he is being rude and should not speak up again. The reason for asking consultants to imagine a TV show, rather than a live performance, is so that they will not feel called upon to whisper the answer in order not to disturb the (fictitious) calligrapher. Minor adjustments to the carrier sentence were made in consultation with the speakers: in particular, use of the topic marker /ʂɤ́/ after the target item is mandatory in some dialects. These adjustments detract somewhat from the symmetry of the data, but they helped consultants feel fully comfortable with the task.
In addition to IPA transcription, orthographic representation in romanized Naxi is provided (except for the first 3 documents by speaker M5). Additional information, such as observations about the speakers' phonemic systems, is provided as notes in the XML document (annotation).
The recordings comprise audio + electroglottographic (EGG) signals. To download the EGG signals, go to the list of documents and click on the EGG icon corresponding to the document.
|speaker||tones||topic marker? yes/no||reading condition||link to consult the document (annotation+audio)|
|F2||H, M, L||yes||'Careful'|
|F2||H, M, L||yes||'Impatient'|
|M9||H, M, L||no||'Careful'|
|M9||H, M, L||no||'Impatient'|
|M7||H, M, L||no||'Careful'|
|M7||H, M, L||no||'Impatient'|
|M5||H, M, L||no||'Careful'||NOT RECORDED|
|M5||H, M, L||no||'Impatient'|
|M5||H, M, L||yes||'Careful'|
|M5||H, M, L||yes||'Impatient'|
|M5||Rising||no||'Impatient' (with a different final particle)|
Many more experimental materials (recorded since 2002) are awaiting preparation for online distribution. A few files have been made available as additional materials accompanying the following publication: Michaud, Alexis & He Xueguang. 2007. Reassociated tones and coalescent syllables in Naxi (Tibeto-Burman). Journal of the International Phonetic Association 37(3). 237–255. (Click here to access the preprint version, with audio and electroglottographic materials.) Ever since data collection began (2002), I have decided to make all the data available, but progress is extremely slow because the preparation of each document requires a great amount of time. To urge myself forward during the preparation of the above set, I kept a 'log book' of each task. I scheduled the processing of this data set in Nov. 2014. The work took up almost all my available time from Dec. 13th, 2014 to January 11th, 2015. The data were deposited online by the Pangloss team on Feb. 2nd, 2015.
He Limin, a connoisseur of Naxi rituals, did some recordings in September 2012: two rituals, Heq Shul and Svq Ggvq; explanations (in Naxi) about the process of learning a ritual and copying a manuscript; about how he learnt the ritual Heq Shul; a more general account of how he learnt Naxi rituals; and two stories: How man and chicken exchanged their lifespan, and a short version of the story of the two separated siblings, explaining the origin of a ritual conducted by a woman's relatives when she passes away. The scanned manuscripts from which Mr. He Limin read these rituals will be made available online as soon as technical issues for archiving images can be solved.
The Naxi priest He Xuewen (1922-2007) reads the Great Prayer to the Wind: as full-fledged chanting, then as rhythmic reading. The text was read from the pictographic manuscript reproduced on pp. 151-167 of the following book: Nàxī Dōngbā Gǔjí Yìzhù 纳西东巴古籍译注 (An Annotated Translation of Naxi Dongba Classical Texts), Volume 1, by He Kaixiang, He Shicheng, Wang Shiying, and Li Jingsheng (Kunming: Yunnan Minzu Chubanshe, 1987). Special thanks are due to Pr. Guo Dalie for suggesting to Mr. He Xuewen to perform for this recording, in 2002.
Ge A-Gan, a major figure of Naxi studies, spent many years collecting and studying Naxi traditions. When we met in 2011, Ge A-Gan was aged 75, and in addition to recollecting the many places that he visited and cultural phenomena that he encountered, he was coming to reflect more and more upon his own life course, from his childhood in a Naxi village of the Lijiang plain to a colourful career in the context of the country's turbulent postwar history, and finally to his old days spent, again, in that same house where he grew up.
He readily took up the suggestion to record his life story. Four Naxi scholars (Yang Jiehong 杨杰红, Yang Junlin 杨军林, He Liu 和柳, and He Wenjian 和文戬) attended the performance, providing an appreciative and supportive audience.
The first audio file is over one hour long, containing an outline of Ge A-Gan's entire career. The second recording focuses on Naxi to-mba pictographic books. The third is a commented reading of the first pages of a central ritual in Naxi tradition: the cult of Heaven, /mɯ˧py˩/.
These three recordings are made freely available online, in accordance with the guiding principles of the association "噜噜叭叭 Lulu Baba" founded by Ge A-Gan for the propagation of Naxi culture for future inheritance.
Technically, the recordings are in (huge) stereo sound files. The audio in the left channel was collected through a Sony C535EB microphone, and the audio in the right channel through a Sennheiser head-mounted microphone. These documents have not been transcribed yet.
戈阿干，原名和崇仁，纳西族，1936年生 于云南省丽江市。1957～1962年就读于中央民族学院历史系。 现为中国民间 文艺家协会会员、中国作家协会会员。自中学时代始就对东巴文化产生了浓厚的兴趣，开始搜集整理纳西族传统民歌，并有作品入选《1957年诗选》，此后长期 专注于东巴文化的研究工作。主要作品有：《祭天古歌》、《格拉茨姆》、《纳西东巴骨卜和象形文骨卜书》、《滇川藏纳西东巴文化及源流考察》、《纳西象形文 舞谱的现状及其新生前景》等。（《戈阿干纳西学论集》作者简介，北京：民族出版社，2007年）
China, Yunnan, Lijiang, 2011, Ge A-Gan 戈阿干
experience of to-mba rituals
China, Yunnan, Lijiang, 2011, Ge A-Gan 戈阿干
reads (and discusses) the first pages of a to-mba pictographic book,
that of the Cult of Heaven (in romanized Naxi: mee byq)
China, Yunnan, Lijiang, 2011, Ge A-Gan 戈阿干
Xiao Rulian is
among the Naxi for the beauty of her voice.
The recording of the six songs presented here was generously arranged by the son of Ms. Xiao Rulian, the Naxi singer and artist He Wenguang. Heartfelt thanks are due to Mr. He for his enthusiastic response to my suggestion of making this recording--a token of his lifelong dedication to the preservation of Naxi art. Ms. Xiao was aged 73 at the time of recording.
These songs were sung without instrumental accompaniment, and no digital processing was conducted on the recordings, which remain as transferred from the original Digital Audio Tape.
肖汝莲，是丽江市塔城乡著名纳西族民间歌手。录音时（2002年），肖汝莲女士73岁。肖汝莲女士的儿子，纳西族歌手和 文光先生安排我录她母亲的音，给予了大力帮助，在此万分感谢！希望我的 录音工作对喜爱纳西歌曲、纳西文化、纳西语的人士能尽一点绵薄 之力。 这六首歌没有通过任何处理，是直接从DAT母带转录而来的。
from Tacheng (song 1) by Ms.
from Tacheng (song 2) by Ms.
from Tacheng (song 3) by Ms.
from Tacheng (song 4) by Ms.
from Tacheng (song 5) by Ms.
from Tacheng (song 6) by Ms.
These seven vocal
performances were recorded at
suggestion of Naxi scholar Guo Dalie, who arranged for me to meet the
singer Li Xiuxiang, from the village of Lashi (born in 1945). At the
time Ms. Li had been performing in Lijiang for several years, but no
recordings were available. Heartfelt thanks are due to Ms. Li for
generously accepting to do this recording, intended for the
preservation of her voice and its transmission to a large audience; to
Guo Dalie and the Museum of Dongba Culture, for making the recording
possible; and to the Naxi priest He Xuewen for kindly inviting us to do
the recording at his residence within the Museum of Dongba Culture.
2002年，郭大烈老师为了保存纳西口传文化遗产，建议我录制著名艺人李秀香女士的歌曲。李秀香是丽江拉市海北南尧村人，擅长演唱多种不同风格的纳西歌 曲。 在此非常感谢郭大烈老师与丽江东巴文化博物馆领导们的建议与大力支持，也感谢已故的和学文先生出借了他在东巴文化博物馆内的房间进行录音。 这些资料没有通过任何处理，是直接从DAT母带转录而来。
Xuq Jjil (ɕy˩ ndʑi˥: Blessings; popular Naxi songs) is sung in the wɤ˧-mə˧-ndɑ˩ style. The Great Prayer to the Wind, the ballad about hunting, /kʰɯ˧kʰɯ˥/ (Romanized Naxi: "Kee Keel"), and the ritual Lv Bber Lv Ssaq are in "Guqi" style (骨气调). Ms. Li Xiuxiang also recorded a song in the post-1949 style A-li-li, a melody played with the Jew's harp, and a brief outline of her life story.
See each document's metadata (available via the 'Info' icon in the List of resources) for more information, including indications on available transcriptions.Back to table of contents
These short performances were recorded in 2002. The recording session was arranged at the instigation of Pr. He Xueguang. Mr. He Xuemin 和学敏 (M17) was hosted full-time at the Naxi Culture Education Centre that Pr. He Xueguang had founded at his own home: a small-scale training centre plus museum. This 纳西文化传习中心 later became an Association: 纳西文化传习协会. At the Education Centre, Mr. He Xuemin took part in training sessions; he also composed texts in Romanized Naxi, read and annotated books in Romanized Naxi published in the 1980s, and read publications in Chinese about Naxi culture. Mr. He Xuemin, a connoisseur of Naxi arts, readily accepted to record some songs, with two friends of his. The recording took place at the home of one of his friends, in a room that had little reverberation thanks to an abundance of rugs and bedding linen. The transcription of M17's documents is less reliable than that of M3 and M4's, because both the investigator and the language consultant were novice. Mr. He Xuemin's native dialect, Longshan, is close to that of A-Ser (the mother tongue of M3 and M4), but not fully identical. As most of my work in 2002 concerned the A-Ser dialect, I was not able to undertake a study of the Longshan dialect; I have not recorded other data from this dialect since.
The set of recordings consist of six documents. Three of these are transcribed: (i) "The Parrot And The Myna Birds": A song improvised in the "Guqi" style; (ii) the same song in the A-li-li style; and an explanation about this song. The other three are (i) a love song by Mr. He Xuemin; (ii) a love song by the speaker M32 (anonymous); and (iii) an explanation about this song, again by M32.Back to table of contents
The village of Baidi 白地 is located close to a spectacular geological site where deposits of calcium carbonate have created terraces of white pools. This place, 白水台 (White Water Terraces), is considered as sacred in the Naxi religion (to˧mbɑ˩), whose historical centre is in this small village.
In late August 2012, Mrs. He Jiezhen 和洁珍 and Mrs. He Hong 和虹, colleagues who have been collecting songs and information about the to˧mbɑ˩ for years, invited me to come along and see a singing festival organized by local elderly people (the Elderly Persons' Association of Sanba: 三坝乡老龄协会). These people gather to perform on several occasions every year, for their own enjoyment, continuing a long-standing tradition.
Here is the programme of that day's performance, as written down by the husband of Mrs. Yang Guikai 杨桂开.
The first document is an instrumental piece played on the cucurbit flute, 葫芦丝. While the performer played, he walked in circles together with the rest of the dancers. The left audio channel in the recording was picked up by a hand-held microphone which I kept pointed in the performer's direction. The right channel is from a cardioid microphone that remained in the same position; it gives a sense of the musician's movement.
The second and third documents are two parts of a song sung while the participants were dancing in a circle. The recorder was operating on battery, so I could be in the middle of the circle. But the battery was soon too low for operation; at that point I went out of the circle and resumed recording from one of the sides of the courtyard, where there was an electric plug. (A colleague had brought a voltage stabilizer to avoid risks of electric shock to the recorder from the unstable power grid.) The unrecorded part lasted about half a minute.
Photo: He Hong 和虹
While elderly people are performing, a young onlooker smiles from her window in the background. In thirty or forty years' time, could she become a leading figure within the Third-Age Association?
The fourth document is a song also sung outside while dancing in a round, this time to the Lijiang Naxi tune of "A-Li-Li", which as I understand is a post-1949 creation in the style of Naxi music, initially used as a means of promotion of the newly-founded PRC's social norms and mottos.
After this song, everyone went upstairs and took seats for the second part of the festival. Since a couple of years ago, the room (the meeting room of the former local government; a new government building is under construction) is equipped with microphones and loudspeakers, that are now used for occasions like this one. Personally, I would have preferred to collect voices without intervening electronic devices, but as this was my first encounter with the people there, I simply sat where I was instructed to and recorded what was taking place, as it was taking place, without trying to change the settings chosen by the organizers.
The loudspeakers are rather obtrusive in the 5th recording, giving a rather tinny sound to this song sung by two young women.
The 13th piece is a song by a young woman. After a minute's singing, she finds herself at a loss, unable to remember what follows; at this point, Mrs. Yang Guikai cues the forgotten line with great vigour, and accompanies the singer by clapping her hands until the song is completed. This example illustrates her sense of responsibility in passing on the tradition to the young, and her role in helping other participants surpass themselves, creating and maintaining a lively atmosphere throughout the day.
The festival started at about 10 a.m. and continued until about 2 p.m. Tea, highland barley wine, cake and fruit were served to the participants.
I was told that at an earlier date these songs were sung while working, during the time-consuming task of preparing hemp for weaving. People would gather into different age groups, at different places, and work and sing and drink well until the middle of night, sometimes as late as three or four in the morning. In this style of singing, anyone can chip in and sing a simple sentence, which is then taken up by the entire group
The singing is thus improvised every time. Recurrent themes in singing include the beauty of nature: mountains, rivers, sun and moon, clouds, flowers, birds and horses, as well as the pleasure of being together and the charm of voices from near and afar.
In times when occasions to meet were few in these hemmed-in locations, these festivals were momentous social occasions. The radiant smile on the face of some older singers makes me think that that day's festival revived fond memories.
(The third person from the right is Mrs Yang Guikai 杨桂开, whose vigorous and clear voice stands out in the recordings.)
Speeches were delivered after the 5th musical piece. Quite predictably, the young were scolded in absentia for their lack of interest in learning these styles of singing. Some of the speeches were provocative indeed, so much so that we finally decided to omit all speeches from the two CDs that I prepared from the recordings, and that Mrs. He Jiezhen and Mrs. He Hong reproduced and later distributed to all the participants, with some photos of the event.
Mrs. He Jiezhen and Mrs. He Hong, clothed in local Naxi garments that had been lent to them, took notes and pictures.
From a technical point of view, the recording has some obvious shortcomings. This was my first outdoor recording, and for want of appropriate wind shields for the microphones, one can occasionally hear wind noises. Upstairs, I simply placed both microphones (certainly much too close to each other) in the same stand, on a sofa, as there were strong vibrations in the wooden floor as people shuffled their feet on the floor and walked to and fro. Had I had more time I could have hung the microphones from the ceiling, but again as this was my first contact it was perhaps just as well that my microphones and recorder were visually unobtrusive.
Needless to say, traditions are changing. For instance, the organizers had required participants to indicate in advance what they would like to sing; their lines were taken down in writing, in Chinese translation. During the festival, Mrs. Yang Guikai's husband announced the performers according to the list.
This allows a fair time slot to each, and incidentally facilitates the work of researchers documenting the festival and transcribing the songs; but it detracts slightly from the spontaneousness of the event.
This festival was not staged for the tourist industry; indeed, no single tourist was present at the performance. This is a strong contrast from the old town of Lijiang, now mercilessly deprecated as a "tourist zoo" by visitors disappointed by the endless row of shops, mostly manned by newly arrived merchants, that occupy the old-style buildings of the Naxi capital.
A sizeable team from Tianjin TV had come to the village for this occasion, as part of a documentary they were preparing about local culture; they took video recordings of the outdoor dances.
Upstairs, there were only village people, plus the three visitors from Lijiang: Mrs. He Jiezhen, Mrs. He Hong and myself.
It is uncertain what the event will look like in future years. I hope it will still be there in another generation. Great change is likely to take place when a better road is built, connecting the village with Lijiang; when we went there, the trip lasted 9 hours by bus, going through Zhongdian 中甸, a city recently renamed "Shangri-La", after the name of a fictitious city in an early-20th century novel by English writer James Hilton. It is certainly a great challenge for the group who shared that day's great performance with us to manage the impending tourist boom.
As we took a walk to the White Water Terraces, two Naxi schoolboys offered to sing Naxi songs to us, for a fee. This sounded like a neat coincidence, and a good opportunity to see what kind of songs they knew. They first asked, "How much do you pay?" We told them we'd rather they sang first and we'd then give what we thought it was worth. One, two, three, and they started singing... a song in Chinese. It turned out they did not know a single Naxi song or nursery rhyme.
(Photo: He Hong 和虹)
From a linguistic point of view, the Naxi dialect of Baidi looks well worth exploring in great depth. Ms. He Jiezhen has some familiarity with this dialect from being in touch with people from this area, and she can understand most of what is being said. The tool that she uses for transcription, however, is the romanization ('Naxi Pinyin', 纳西语拼音) created for 'Standard Naxi': in other words, she has to translate the texts into her own dialect as she transcribes, somewhat as if someone transcribed "I ain't got no children" as "I have no children".
This is enough to preserve the meaning of the songs, and part of their flavour. But a linguist would of course want to have a description of this language variety on its own terms. Such a description requires about six months' work on the part of a trained linguist; as I am currently doing my best to produce this type of in-depth work for Yongning Na, I can't afford to start working on it myself. The dialect sounds pretty different from that of another village in the same township: Ciending (三坝乡东坝村次恩丁自然村), which I came to study through collaboration with a Naxi student at Yunnan University: Xu Jirong (a fully transcribed and annotated recording of the Ciending dialect is available here, and a phonemic analysis, with a word list, is available here). I hope that someone will be able to produce an in-depth analysis of the Baidi dialect; as elsewhere, schooling and the media expose the children to more Chinese than Naxi.
After the festival was over, Mrs. He Jiezhen and Mrs. He Hong went to interview two to˧mbɑ˩ priests. One of them, Mr. He Zhiben 和志本, aged 85, confided his feeling that there was no way the cultural heritage of the Naxi rituals and the pictographic books could be passed on any further, since such dramatic changes had taken place. He cheerfully added that he was glad some of it could be recorded, "because it is really quite something".