This book studies the Tangwang language, and offers a comprehensive grammar of this Chinese variety, with detailed analysis of the phonology, morphology, and syntax. This filled a gap in the literature, as previously only a few articles on this language were available.
The book takes an interdisciplinary approach, looking at historical patterns, genetic data on population migration, as well as linguistic studies that focus on the influence of the Dongxiang (Santa) language as a consequence of langage contact on the Silk Road.
The book argues that Tangwang is not yet a mixed language, and syntactic borrowing has a stronger impact than lexical borrowing on languages.
Chapter 1 presents the situation in the Gansu-Qinghai area, with a concrete corpus, indicating the existence of a linguistic area. The molecular anthropological approach will be presented to explain why this discipline is beneficial to linguistic research and how people can take advantage of it in this region. Recent genetic studies have been used in the target region. As Tangwang is influenced by Dongxiang (Santa), a member of the Western branch of Mongolic languages, four languages in this branch and genetic data relative to these four languages have been compared to study the (mis)match between languages and genes. It argues based on interdisciplinary perspectives that language replacement and admixture have occurred in this region. Two models of language replacement have been studied: the Elite Dominance Model (Renfrew 1987, Cavalli-Sforza 1997 among others) and the Cultural Dominance Model (Xu and Wen to appear in 2017). In the first model, populations are forced by a dominating group to change their language. This model tends to favor language replacement, speeding up the process of change. In the second model, a small governing group as well as a larger ethnic population accepts a neighboring language on a voluntary basis due to cultural, religious and other social and political factors. A bilingual situation facilitates code-switching and admixture, and it can end with language replacement.
Chapter 2 describes the geographic, historic and religious context in which the Tangwang people live. This background is crucial to understanding the unique evolution of their language. Historical documents including those found in the Qing Dynasty archives (dating to the 18th century) have been exploited, as well as legends, family genealogies (oral and written), and other sources. The work has adopted an approach of proving an event not only with written documents but also with concrete material such as engraved steles, surviving temples, and ancestral remains. The chapter has taken biological research results to identify population migrations in the past. By comparing statistics from 1988, 1996 and 2010, it is shown that more and more people have begun to self-identify as Dongxiang. However, they were actually Hui (Muslims). Moreover, these Muslims were in fact Han (Chinese) people who converted to Islam at different periods. It is shown, through several case studies of vocabulary, that the Tangwang people’s ancestors mainly came from Northern China. Several words have followed a cyclic path: they were first loaned from Ancient Chinese into Dongxiang, and have now been introduced into Tangwang with a non-Han language phonetic form. In addition to historical and material evidence, results from genetic investigations have been included in this study. The Tangwang people have multiple origins, but their core came from Han (Chinese) people.
Chapter 3 gives an extensive description and analysis of the Tangwang language’s phonological system. Tangwang has 23 consonants and 8 vowels. The system is purely Chinese, and it displays regular patterns of sound change just as in other Northwestern Chinese varieties, even though the Tangwang language has begun to lose its tones in monosyllable words among young Hui (Muslim). It is interesting to observe that Hui (Muslims) speakers first began to lose tones due to the influence of the Dongxiang people, while those who are not converts have preserved the tones but are in the process of losing them, and the degree of loss varies from Han (Chinese) people to Hui people (converted from Han). Languages which are losing tones are all concentrated in the Gansu-Qinghai border regions. We must ask why. The Han people are surrounded by Mongolic and Turkic people, and sometimes by Amdo people. These toneless languages have profoundly impacted the Sinitic languages in this region and distinctive tones have started to become ambiguous or even non-functional. This fact provides a strong counterexample to the traditional point of view that distinctive tones are obligatory in a language like Chinese.
Chapter 4 treats the morphology of Tangwang, analyzing word formation, case marking, and some suffixes borrowed from Mongolic languages. The Tangwang language borrowed its case system from the Dongxiang language, while Chinese is a morphologically poor language. The most frequently used accusative/dative marker [xa] phonetically has nothing to see with the Dongxing language, nor with other Mongolic languages. The case system is from Mongolic languages but the phonetic form came from Chinese (see Xu 2015). One amazing phenomenon is that Hui people in Tangwang have borrowed some suffixes typically belonging to common Mongolic languages, whereas people who have not converted to Islam have not yet adopted these foreign elements. These borrowed suffixes from Dongxiang have been simplified in Tangwang. Some borrowed Arabic, Persian and Turkic words have entered the Tangwang language through the Dongxiang language.
Syntax has been studied in Chapter 5 with a focus on word order. This is a core part of any language. In Tangwang, the word order is predominantly SOV (subject-object-verb), an order which is also found in Altaic and Tibetan languages, while SVO is also accepted in some cases (recall that the word order in Chinese is SVO). Actually the language of the Tangwang’s forefathers might have had SVO order. Traces of VO can be found mainly in VO compound words. This suggests that language change is still in progress. Under lateral pressure from Dongxiang and Chinese, some hybrid structures have started to appear which use grammatical constructions from two languages. This phenomenon is also attested in other locations in the Gansu-Qinghai area. The aspect system indeed came from Chinese but was colored by the Dongxiang language so that an existing aspect particle in Chinese shares syntactic properties with Dongxiang.
The last chapter deals with some theoretical issues such as the degree of contact between languages and advantages versus limits of quantification. The degree of admixture will be discussed. Though tentative, this is an experiment towards quantified data comparison in language contact studies. It is confirmed that the Tangwang language is not yet a mixed language as several linguists have proposed. Statistics are drawn over two distinct types of borrowing, one on the lexical level and one on the syntactic level. It will be shown that lexical borrowing does not have the same impact on language admixture as syntactic borrowing does. Six language samples are chosen to be studied. Then these languages are compared with other languages on the phonological, morphological and syntactic levels. Twenty-two languages belonging to the Altaic language family and the Sino-Tibetan family are tested for ninety-six features. The conclusion is unequivocal: the result over three levels (phonological, morphological and syntactic) is similar to syntactic borrowing tests in classifying these languages. It argues that syntactic borrowing triggers language admixture, but not lexical borrowing, even if it is heavy.