The Nùng Dialects of Lạng Sơn Province

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Translation of a paper given at the International Conference of Vietnam studies and the Enhancement of International Cooperation: Vietnam National University and National Centre for Social & Human Sciences in 1998.
14 pages
This study looks at the Nung language, one of the 54 official minorities of Vietnam. While outsiders consider Nung one cohesive group, the Nung divide themselves into different groups using about 20 other names such as Nung Chao, Nung Inh, Nung Hu Lai, etc. Do these different names represent any significant differences between the groups? This study started with surveying historical documents, the writings of Vietnamese scholars, and Tai linguistics sources. Then interviews were done and word lists taken from over 60 Nung speakers living throughout the northeast provinces of Bac Thai, Ha Bac, Lang Son and Cao Bang. The phonetic and tonal characteristics of each person’s speech were analyzed and grouped into like categories. The speakers’ home area and what group they said they belonged to was noted. What they perceived about other Nung groups and where they were located were also recorded. Comparisons of phonetic differences were based on proto-Tai as described by Li Fang Kuei in his book “A Handbook of Comparative Tai.” The tone systems of each type were analyzed on the basis of Gedney’s 20-box system using acoustic speech analysis software. This paper investigates only Lang Son province which is considered the main area of the Nung and where over 40% of the population is Nung. This study gives some evidence that there are four distinct groups, each with clear differences in dialect, location and dress. These differences seem to correlate with the names they call themselves which are generally the places of origin from China. While the differences were perhaps more pronounced when the different groups of Nung arrived from China, there is evidence that these differences are being lost as they increasingly interact with each other and become integrated into Vietnamese society. However, their speech still gives clear indication of each group’s different origins when phonetic segments and tone systems are compared.
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