Documentation of Zauzou, an endangered language in China

Documentation of Zauzou, an endangered language in China

Language: Zauzou (ISO639-3:zal)
Depositor: Yu Li
Location: China
Deposit Id: 0482
Grant id: IGS0315
Funding body: ELDP
Level: Deposit

Summary of deposit
The major goal of this project is to document the language of Zauzou — a Lolo-Burmese language spoken in Southwestern China. Zauzou is an endangered language (Bradley, 2007) spoken by approximately 2100 members of the Nu nationality. Among those speakers, 1800 live on the banks of Lancang River, Lanping Country,Yunnan province in mainland of China. Most Zauzou speakers are older bilingual adults who also speak Mandarin, Bai, Lisu, etc. There are two major dialects — Guoli and Jiangmo Dialect. About 70 percent of Zauzou speakers speak the second dialect. This project documents a variety of recordings, including conversations, narratives and expository texts.

Group represented

The Zauzou people live in southeastern Yunnan, mainland of China. They are dispersed over the territory spanning latitude 25°97’ ~26°49’N and spanning longitude to 98°82’~99°29’ E. The 1995 census shows that, in this mountainous land, approximately 1800 Zauzou speakers are distributed over 6 villages (Tu’e, Bijilan, Wupijiang, Guoli, Xiaocun, Jiangmo) along the banks of Lancang River, Tu’e Township, Lanping County, Nujiang Prefecture, Yunnan province. A small group of 300 Zauzou speakers resides in three villages in Lushui County in the Nu River region. The variety of Zauzou they speak is mutually intelligible with other Zauzou dialects. Thus, though geographically distant from other Zauzou groups, the Zauzou dialect spoken in Lushui County is regarded as the same language as the Zauzou dialects spoken in Lanping County. The Zauzou people have been classified as a subgroup of the Nu nationality since 1953 by the central government of China.

This project is carried out in the Jiangmo village and focuses on the variety of Zauzou spoken by the Jiongmo people. It is because that this dialect is the major dialect of Zauzou. Speakers of Jiangmo dialect account for about 70% of Zauzou speakers.

In history, the Jiangmo village was once the territory of the Dai ethnic group. During Tang Dynasty (618-907AD), the advent of a group of Zauzou people (perhaps a variety of Han) expelled the Dai group living in Tu’e. The Zauzou people then took the land and settled in the Jiangmo village. Since this variety of Zauzou people are most likely the descendants of Han ethnic group, the local residents of Jiangmo all have the Han-like family names.

Special characteristics

Zauzou is a highly tonal, verb-final language, with little morphology. It is noteworthy that vowels in Zauzou have four phonation types: plain, nasal, tense, and nasal tense. Zauzou employs a robust system of classifiers, a system of post-verbal elements of various types, and extensive serial verb constructions, which are all common among other Loloish languages.

Multilingualism is a notable feature of this linguistic area. The area where Zauzou is spoken is populated by at least three ethnic groups: (1) the Nu group, who use Zauzou as the dominant language; (2) the Bai group, who speak a variety of Central Bai and Lama; (3) the Lisu group, who speak the Loloish language Lisu. In addition to that, a small number of people from the Han community, who speak a southwestern variety of Mandarin Chinese (i.e. Kunming Chinese), sporadically live in the Zauzou community. Zauzou speakers are being assimilated by surrounding ethnic groups and most of them become multi-linguals, who also speak Lisu, Central Bai, Lama and Kunming Mandarin. Code switching among those languages is also very common in the speech of Zauzou people. It is known that a great number of concepts in Zauzou are borrowed from other languages via loan words. Though Zauzou is the dominant language in the Tu’e County, Mandarin is the language of administration, education and media, and Zauzou speakers can freely switch to Lisu or Bai if they encounter people from these two groups (and vise versa).

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Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the corpus, please cite the corpus in this way

Yu, Li. 2017. Documentation of Zauzou, an endangered language in China . London: SOAS, Endangered Languages Archive. URL: Accessed on 25.10.2017.


Collection online
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Yu Li
Affiliation: State University of New York at Buffalo

Deposit Statistics

Data from 2020 August 11 to 2020 August 11
Deposit hits:1
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Showing 1 - 10 of 320 Items

an audio recording of frog story

Recorded on: 2018-08-15

Keywords: Zauzou - Discourse - Yu Li - LiLiMei

Recorded on: 2018-07-30

Keywords: Zauzou - Discourse - Yu Li

the family of LiYingCheng are celebrating the 30-day-birthday of his daughter

Recorded on: 2018-08-22

Keywords: Zauzou - Discourse - Yu Li - OuYuHua

a story about a blower who rides a tiger as a horse and finally terrifies the tiger

Recorded on: 2017-08-24

introduce the typical activities that are performed every day in the Zauzou community

Recorded on: 2017-08-10

A very kind butcher was killed by a poor man, however, his daughter was caught by the police by mistake

Recorded on: 2017-08-14

A story about a stupid husband who killed his children

Recorded on: 2017-08-15

a folktale of a fishman's story

Recorded on: 2017-08-26

A story about a fraud who cheat other people but got punished in the end

Recorded on: 2017-08-14

A story about a man who picked up a hat from a ghost and hide himself to steal food

Recorded on: 2017-08-19