An outline of the prosodic system of Laze (Shuitian): fieldwork data and cross-dialect perspectives

An outline of the prosodic system of Laze (Shuitian): fieldwork data and cross-dialect perspectives

Alexis Michaud, laboratoire Langues et Civilisations à Tradition Orale (LACITO) du CNRS

The Laze language (autonym: /la˧ze˧/) is reported to be close to Naxi/Na dialects by the Naxi scholars Guo Dalie and He Zhiwu, in their groundbreaking work “A History of the Naxi People” (Guo Dalie & He Zhiwu 1994 [2nd ed. 1999]). This language is also referred to in Chinese sources as “Shuitian” (see in particular 黄布凡 2009/in press). The present research about the prosodic system of Laze is based on two field trips to the township of Xiangjiao, Muli county, Sichuan (四川省木里县项脚乡).

The tonal system of Laze is here described as being structured in terms of H(igh), M(id) and L(ow) levels, like that of Western Naxi (as spoken in and around the plain of Lijiang, Yunnan, China) and Na (as spoken in and around the plain of Yongning, Yunnan, China; also known as “Eastern dialect of Naxi” or “Mosuo”). There exist four lexical tones for Laze monosyllabic predicates, and three tones for monosyllabic nouns. In theory, this could yield as many as nine different tone patterns for disyllabic nouns (as is the case in Western Naxi), but only six are observed. The present research aims to bring out the synchronic principles which perpetuate this restriction over lexical tonal patterns: the tonal changes that occur in the creation of disyllabic entities. Special attention is paid to the tonal changes observed in compounds and in object+verb constructions. This research, building on earlier work on Lijiang Naxi and Yongning Na (Michaud & He Xueguang 2007, Michaud 2008) as well as on recent advances in the analysis of Tibeto-Burman prosodic systems (e.g. Hyman & VanBik 2002, Evans 2008), constitutes one step towards understanding the great diversity of tonal systems observed in the languages closely related to Western Naxi.


Evans, J. (2008). ‘African’ tone in the Sinosphere. Language and Linguistics 9. 463-490.

Guo Dalie & He Zhiwu (1994 [2nd ed. 1999]). Naxizu Shi (A History of the Naxi people). Chongqing: Sichuan Minzu Chubanshe.

Hyman, L. M. & K. VanBik (2002). Tone and stem2 formation in Hakha Lai. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 25. 113-121.

Michaud, A. (2008). Phonemic and tonal analysis of Yongning Na. Cahiers de linguistique – Asie Orientale 37.

Michaud, A. & He Xueguang (2007). Reassociated tones and coalescent syllables in Naxi (Tibeto-Burman). Journal of the International Phonetic Association 37. 237-255.

黄布凡 (2009/in press). 木里水田话概况. 汉藏语学报 3.

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