2nd Workshop on Linguistic and Cultural Diversity

in the Northeast India - Myanmar - Southwest China region

(via ZOOM)

Karen HIll

Date & Time (JST: Japanese Standard Time):

28 DEC 2021 (TUE) 10:30-16:30
29 DEC 2021 (WED) 10:30-17:00


Day1: 28 DEC 2021 (TUE)

10:30-10:40 Opening
10:45-11:35 Kosei OTSUKA (Osaka University, Japan):
Lexical borrowing in Asho Chin
11:45-12:35 Keita KURABE (ILCAA, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Japan):
Is Jinghpaw conservative or innovative? The lexical borrowing rate in Jinghpaw
12:35-13:40 Lunch break
13:40-14:30 Randy LaPOLLA (Beijing Normal University, China):
Manifestations of Jinghpaw influence among Rawang speakers
14:40-15:30 Carmen Eva MARSEILLE  (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore):
Variation within Tai Leng in Northern Myanmar
15:40-16:30 Muhammad ZAKARIA (JSPS Research Fellow, Osaka University, Japan):
Lexical and grammatical borrowings and replications in Hyow, a language of the Bangladesh-Myanmar border area

Day 2: 29 DEC 2021 (WED)

10:30-10:35 Business announcement
Atsuhiko KATO (Keio University, Japan):
On the homeland of Karenic languages: from the perspective of plant names
Hiroyuki SUZUKI (Fudan University, China):
Geolinguistic approach to the migration history in the south-eastern edge of the Tibetosphere: Methodological remarks
Lunch break
Hideo SAWADA (ILCAA, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Japan):
Attempts to plot the source languages of village names on a map of Kachin State, Myanmar
Bishakha DAS :
TAI KHAMTI: Some areas of Semantic Specialisation & Cultural Lexicon
Alexander COUPE (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore):
Accounting for language contact and linguistic diversity in Nagaland
16:55-17:00 Closing

Organized by:

The JSPS-NTU/NUS Joint Research Project "Ethnolinguistic contact across the Indo-Myanmar-Southwestern China mountains: migration routes, intercultural interactions, and linguistic outcomes" (Japanese Principal Researcher: Hideo Sawada, Singapore Principal Researcher: Alexander Coupe)


Kosei OTSUKA: Lexical borrowing in Asho Chin

Asho Chin (ISO 639-3: csh), or Plains Chin, is a Tibeto–Burman language of the Kuki Chin subgroup. Asho Chin is spoken in communities scattered across southwest Myanmar, including the lower part of the Irrawaddy River Basin, where Burmese is the dominant language. In 1962, Theodore Stern mentioned that Plains Chin speakers have long needed to learn Burmese, a language beyond the limits of mutual intelligibility for such speakers. Stern’s pioneering research suggests that Burmese influences on Asho Chin are evident in both grammatical and lexical aspects. Having dealt with the grammatical influence of Burmese on Asho in a previous workshop, this presentation focuses more on the lexical aspects of that influence.

Nearly half a century after Stern’s report, the social environment surrounding Asho speakers has transformed remarkably. Since 2011, Myanmar has experienced an unprecedented trend of introducing primary education in various Chin languages in public schools. The Asho Chin community has also published three textbooks for children in Grades 1, 2, and 3, respectively, as well as various readers with support from the Myanmar government and international organizations in the last decade.

This presentation examines (1) the borrowing process and (2) the scale of the borrowing, based on the data from recent language-teaching materials and an interview with an editor of the primers. [BACK]

Keita KURABE: Is Jinghpaw conservative or innovative? The lexical borrowing rate in Jinghpaw

Jinghpaw is a Tibeto-Burman language spoken in northern Burma and adjacent areas of China and India. The language has played an important role in reconstruction of Proto-Tibeto-Burman. In his influential comparative study in 1972, Paul Benedict focused on five key, phonologically conservative Tibeto-Burman languages including Jinghpaw to reconstruct the proto-language. On the other hand, Jinghpaw is also known to have experienced intensive language contact with the neighboring Shan language. In his influential work in 1954, Edmund Leach pointed out the ethnic fluidity in northern Burma, to the extent that some Jinghpaw people “became Shan”. He also pointed out that Jinghpaw communities in the first half of the twentieth century were “oscillating” between an egalitarian system and a Shan feudal system. Some studies have focused on the conservative nature of Jinghpaw, while others have focused on its innovative nature. In light of this duality of the language, one question that arises is: Is Jinghpaw conservative enough to withstand the reconstruction of the proto-language, or is it an innovative language that underwent a grand scale lexical replacement? This presentation aims to address this question by measuring the lexical borrowing rate in Jinghpaw, asking where the language falls on the scale of borrowability (Haspelmath and Tadmor 2009). [BACK]

Randy LaPOLLA: Manifestations of Jinghpaw influence among Rawang speakers

Rawang and Jinghpaw, while both considered part of the larger Kachin ethnic group, are not seen to be closely related, though both retain proto-Tibeto-Burman forms relatively well. But as essentially all Rawang speakers speak Jinghpaw, there are a lot of loan words from Jinghpaw in Rawang, and there is also some commonality in the structures. This paper looks at certain grammatical structures that seem to be either direct loans from Jinghpaw into Rawang, or could be calques on Jinghpaw structures. One such pattern is an adverbial phrase with a reduplicated adverb plus a light verb. There are also two nominalisation constructions that are relatively transparent loans from Jinghpaw. [BACK]

Carmen Eva MARSEILLE: Variation within Tai Leng in Northern Myanmar

Tai Leng (or: Shan-Ni) is a Tai-Kadai language spoken in Kachin state and Sagaing region in Northern Myanmar. Its speakers have for centuries been in contact with speakers of Tibeto-Burman and Austroasiatic languages of the region, with the national language Burmese being the most influential at the moment. This presentation will address several features of Tai Leng that could be attributed to language contact, presumably to Burmese language contact. This includes the “clustering” of phrases within a sentence, marked by pauses, intonation and adpositions. Though this can be found across the region, the way that this affects tone and grammaticalization into adpositions and their usage, varies from one location to the other. I will give an overview of these differences, and show how this affects the tools speakers have to express themselves in their language. This also sets the base to understand the relations between varieties; Indawgyi and Upper Chindwin appear to be most closely related, whereas Waimaw and Bhamo seem to be syntactically more distinct (perhaps conservative). Banmauk and Pinlebu appear to be most receptive towards innovation, having adopted syntactic features from all other varieties, and phonological features that aren’t found anywhere else, such as the (partial) sound change from nasals to voiced stops (/m/ → /b/, /n/ → /d/, /ŋ/ → /g/). [BACK]

Muhammad ZAKARIA: Lexical and grammatical borrowings and replications in Hyow, a language of the Bangladesh-Myanmar border area

Language can change in two ways - due to natural processes of language use within one community and due to contacts with other linguistic communities. The latter can take place in two different ways and deserve to be treated separately, namely borrowing and replication (see Heine and Kuteva 2005, Matras 2009). Using an item X from a language M (model language) and employing the item X in language R (replica language) is not a simple process of copying. It involves a complex process of using the native grammar to accommodate the concept represented by the item X or the form X itself. As a demonstration, the verb lá/láʔ ‘get’ functioning as an independent verb and obligative modality marker in Southeastern South Central Tibeto-Burman (SCTB), also known as Kuki-Chin, languages is a borrowing, while the use of interrogative pronouns as relatives in the Indo-Aryan (IA) type relative- correlative construction in Hyow, a Southeastern SCTB language spoken in the Bangladesh- Myanmar border area, is a replica grammaticalization. However, not all similarities of forms and functions can be accounted for language contact. The sheer coincidence of similarities of a form and its function may take place due to the universal principle of grammaticalization (Heine and Kuteva 2006). For example, the verb la ‘come’ in Burmese forms a compound verb and thus marks the motion of an action towards a thing. Similarly, Loktu, a Southeastern SCTB language of Myanmar, uses the verb lú ‘come’ to mark the motion of an action towards a thing. Unlike Loktu, Hyow does not use the verb lò ‘come’ to mark such a function. From this observation, one can claim that the use of the verb ‘come’ to mark the motion of an action towards a thing in Loktu is caused by Burmese. However, grammaticalizing the verb ‘come’ to mark the motion of an action towards a thing is cross- linguistically common (Heine and Kuteva 2002: 70). I do not deal with the latter phenomenon, namely grammaticalization following universal principles in this talk, rather I deal with borrowings and replications to present two different types of contact-induced changes in Hyow.


Heine, B., & Kuteva, T. (2005). Language Contact and Grammatical Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Heine, B., & Kuteva, T. (2006). The changing languages of Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Matras, Y. (2009). Language Contact. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [BACK]

Atsuhiko KATO: On the homeland of Karenic languages: from the perspective of plant names

Among the plant names in Karenic languages, the words for the bamboo, banyan, rattan, banana, mango, and tamarind can be traced back to Proto-Karen. Therefore, it is likely that these plants existed in the area where Proto-Karen was spoken. However, the words for the coconut and palmyra palm are borrowings from Mon, Shan, or Burmese. Therefore, it can be assumed that the coconut and palmyra palm, which are typical tropical plants, did not exist in the area where Proto-Karen was spoken. From this, it can be inferred that the area where Proto-Karen was spoken belonged to the subtropical zone, not tropical.

Today, all Karenic languages except Pwo Karen are spoken around the borders of Karen State, Kayah State, and Shan State. In general, the region that shows the highest linguistic diversity is considered to be the homeland of a linguistic family. From this point of view, this area is likely to be the homeland of the Karenic languages. Furthermore, a large part of this area belongs to the subtropical zone. Therefore, it can be one of the candidates for the homeland of the Karenic languages. [BACK]

Hiroyuki SUZUKI: Geolinguistic approach to the migration history in the south-eastern edge of the Tibetosphere: Methodological remarks

Geolinguistics is regarded as a domain of historical linguistics studying language changes by drawing linguistic maps. In the course of a geolinguistic analysis, we often refer to extralinguistic factors such as written historical documents of a given region or society. However, we rarely find reliable written materials regarding languages and inhabitants living in the south-eastern edge of the Tibetosphere---in the southernmost Khams region---where several Tibeto-Burman languages are spoken. I will discuss several topics on potential contributions of the geolinguistic methodology to examine the relationship among different languages and dialects, focusing on Tibetic languages in the region.

First, phonological features in Tibetic varieties can be analysed with geolinguistics. Geolinguistics generally does not focus on phonological aspects because the sound change is considered autonomous. However, we should not neglect information on them since wide knowledge about the typology of sound changes as shared innovations and their distribution is indispensable for understandings on migration history and expansion as well as the source of loanwords. Of phonological features, typology of systematic sound change patterns should receive more attention.

Second, mapping phonological diversities can help us understand the migration history without written historical records. Combining linguistic data with oral histories, we can assess a more detailed migration history of a given language group. I will present a case study on a Tibetic language spoken in Kachin State, Myanmar, and examine the speakers’ migration history.

Third, loanwords in non-Tibetic languages in the target regions will be analysed by using the geolinguistic method referring to Tibetic languages. A word-by-word analysis is a core method of the traditional geolinguistics. I will present some cases in non-Tibetic languages spoken in Chamdo, TAR, and examine how we can analyse the source of loans.

Fourth, it is feasible to examine grammatical features with the geolinguistic approach. We have found in various areas of the target region striking borrowing patterns of morpho-syntactic features. I will present a case of the evidential system’s borrowing pattern between Tibetic and non-Tibetic languages.

Lastly, I point out the necessity and difficulties of this research. There are a limited number of linguistic varieties collected for a geolinguistic study, even though more than two hundred research points are now available. We need hamlet-by-hamlet varieties’ data to enhance the accuracy of interpretations of linguistic features. A newly-described variety of Khams Tibetan has the potential to change the migration history of Khams Tibetan-speaking people in Yunnan Province.

It is concluded that the potentials of a geolinguistic analysis should be assessed more accurately even under circumstances with a limited access to extralinguistic information. [BACK]

Hideo SAWADA: Attempts to plot the source languages of village names on a map of Kachin State, Myanmar

Identifying the source language of a village name and plotting it on a map provides an important clue to the present and past distribution of the speakers of the language. In this talk, I will outline methods for identifying the source languages of village names in Kachin State, Myanmar, and present the results at the current stage.

To plot a place name on a map, we need its coordinate. Myanmar Information Management Unit (MIMU) presents lists of the names of administrative units and their coordinates for each state and region called "Myanmar Pcodes". Pcodes Release 9.2 (Jun2020) of Kachin State provides coordinates for 1590 administrative villages (50.4% of total). We will use this data as a starting point.

It has been impossible to conduct a comprehensive field survey in Kachin State to determine the source language of each village name. Therefore, the evidence for determining the source language must be somewhat indirect, and the results of the determinations are prone to error. Such information as those gathered from interviews, descriptions on maps by speakers of the language, and names of clans/lineages that have been pointed out to be related to place names can be counted as evidences.

The source languages to be dealt with in my talk are Jinghpaw, Lhaovo, Lacid, Burmese and Tai languages. [BACK]

Bishakha DAS: TAI KHAMTI: Some areas of Semantic Specialisation & Cultural Lexicon

Tai Kadai which inhabits parts of Northeast India, are scattered in parts of Changlang and Tirap districts of Arunachal Pradesh, and Lakhimpur, (Naharkatiya) Dibrugarh, (Margherita sub-division) Tinsukia, Sibsagar, Charaideo, Jorhat, Golaghat and Karbi Anglong districts of Assam. Tai speakers are in minority in Assam and are mostly bilingual in Tai and Assamese. However, ninety per cent of Tai Khamti speakers concentrated in the Namsai district of Arunachal Pradesh, have retained the Tai language. The present discussion delves into some areas of semantic specialization and cultural lexicon depicting art, culture and society of the Khamti community. The study also provides an understanding of the morphological and semantic structure of an isolating language. Morphologically, Tai-Khamti is an Isolating language. The semantic structure of monosyllabic words may be categorized into Generic and Specific words. The language provides a wide range of cultural specific objects and terms. The following sections attempts to uncover certain lexical areas of semantic specialization.

The north-eastern part of India is a natural habitat for varieties of bamboo and bamboo relating objects. In Khamti, wood is synonymous to bamboo i.e., mǝi3; and ton2-mǝi3 ‘tree’ is a derived word.

Khamti lexicon provides an inventory of names of fishes - the generic word is pa2 ‘fish’ (pa2tin4, pa2mǝu4, pa2kun5, etc). There are also specific words for fishing equipments. Rice and rice-based items constitute a bulk of disyllabic and polysyllabic specific words; medicinal plants takes the generic word of its source, as for instance, grass, fruit, flower and provides a very native descriptive idea. The language specifies the different temporal situations in a day: dawn, morning, noon, forenoon, dusk, evening, night.

A couple of lexical units are derived from metaphorical extensions. The verb ‘to marry’ is derived from ‘to build/ make a house’, ‘to escort a girl’ and ‘to bring wife’. A good number of adjectives find its origin in cǝü2 ‘mind’, and also haŋ2 ‘body’ and nu2 ‘face’: referring to the mental abilities, emotions, attitude and physical characteristics of a person.

Couple of verbs show varying degrees of synonymy; as for instance, müŋ3 is used in the sense ‘to nurse or to take physical care’ and pɔŋ2 ‘to take care’; the compound word müŋ3- pɔŋ2 means ‘to take care’.

An inventory of specific basic ordinals are found in expressing the number of male and female offspring in serial order according to their time of birth, as for instance, ‘First Daughter’ is referred as ye4 and ‘First son’ is ai4, etc. The study brings forth the richness of Khamti lexicon and presents a sketch of the social and cultural life of the community.


Das, Bishakha. 2008. The Lesser known Tai language of Lohit district: A Socio-Historical Investigation. M.Phil dissertation, Department of Linguistics,University of Delhi.

Das, Bishakha. 2014. A Descriptive Grammar of Tai-Khamti. Ph.D dissertation, Centre for Linguistics, Jawaharlal Nehru University  [BACK]

Alexander COUPE: Accounting for language contact and linguistic diversity in Nagaland

This paper discusses reasons for the considerable linguistic diversity found in the mountain villages of Nagaland, Northeast India, taking into account the historical and cultural influences that have contributed to an extremely high number of languages being spoken in this small northeastern state. On the one hand, pre-colonial contact situations resulting from annexations of territory, the kidnapping of women, and migrations of entire clans to the villages of other speech communities because of disease, famine or intra-village conflicts have resulted in different types of linguistic convergence and multilingualism; on the other hand, earlier cultural practices such as head-hunting and a state of constant warfare inhibited contact between different linguistic communities, even those speaking the same language. We can therefore identify factors that both motivated linguistic homogenisation as well as those that contributed to maintaining a high degree of linguistic diversity. In addition to upland-upland contact between different Tibeto-Burman languages, there has also been some borrowing of syntactic structure as a result of lowland-upland contact between the Indo-Aryan lingua franca Nagamese and the Tibeto-Burman languages of the mountainous interior, and some of this exchange has been bidirectional. Historical and cultural factors responsible for observed linguistic outcomes will be discussed and illustrated with examples from a range of languages. [BACK]

©Hideo SAWADA, 2021.