The Phula languages in synchronic and diachronic perspective

Ph.D., , La Trobe University (Bundoora, Victoria, Australia)
xxv, 439 pages
The Phula languages belong to the Ngwi branch of Burmic in the Tibeto-Burman family and are spoken by a scattered array of ethnic groups living in remote mountainous regions of southeastern Yunnan Provice, China, and adjacent pockets of northwestern Vietnam. The title "Phula" is a historical ethnonym that can apparently be traced back to the 10th Century, but affiliated populations, which now total some 367,000, have remained unresearched in terms of language identification, genetic relationships, degrees of separation, historical contact, status of endangerment, general demographics, geographic distribution and dialect diversity -- all of which this work seeks to define. My guiding research current is an attempt to disprove and refine the following hypothesis: all sychronic languages traditionally affiliated with the Phula ethnonym also belong to a single exclusive genetic clade linguistically. In order to make the propositions of this prediction falsifiable, two key sets of knowledge are in need of definition: 1) the number of distinct, synchronic languages affiliated with the Phula ethnonym and 2) the nature of the genetic relationships they share. The first question involves synchronic dialectology, and the second question involves historical dialectology. Both questions are interdependent, and required on-site fieldwork in 41 Phula villages gathering lexical, textual, ethnohistorical, and perceptual data in cooperation with numerous research and adminstrative units of Yunnan. Data analysis is approached from multiple perspectives including qualitative and quantitative diagnostics, blending insights from history, geography, ethnology, sociolinguistics, descriptive linguistics and comparative linguistics into an organic whole. The results of the research provide grounds for defining 24 synchronic Phula languages belonging to four distinct macro-clades genetically. 22 of these languages are demonstrated to belong to two exclusive clades of the southeastern Ngwi sub-branch. The process of subgrouping based on the newly available Phula data also provides grounds for rethinking several other Ngwi-branch relationships. Findings are presented in a variety of charts, tables and maps. Research results have broader implications for dialectology, epistemology, regional ethnohistory, geolinguistics, and neglected diversity in the Sinosphere.
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