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A Grammar of Zoulei, Southwest China

Southwest China

Xia Li, Jinfang Li and Yongxian Luo

Zoulei is an endangered language spoken by several hundred speakers in China’s Guizhou Province and adjacent areas. It is a variety of the Ahou dialect of the highly diverse Gelao group within the Tai-Kadai language family. Zoulei is a typical isolating and analytic language, basically monosyllabic, particularly with verbs, with a number of striking features that are generally not found in other members of the Tai-Kadai family. The language is also marked by a rich phoneme inventory and lexical tone, compounding, serial verb constructions and strong head-initial constituent order, as well as a vocabulary that may enhance our understanding of the early history and culture of this region.
In the opening chapters, the volume describes the social, cultural, and linguistic organization of this group, outlines the main points of Zoulei phonology, and presents an overview of the grammar. In succeeding chapters, it examines a number of grammatical topics in greater detail, including phrase and clause structure, verbal syntax, discourse particles, among others. The volume also includes a vocabulary and several texts recorded from village elders.
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2. The Sound System


The sound system of Zoulei is characterized by a set of voiced and voiceless stops, including uvular stops, along with voiceless affricates and fricatives. No voiced affricates are found in our data. Initial consonants mainly consist of simple consonants, with three consonant clusters involving bilabial and labial-dental sounds. No length or tense-lax contrast is found with vowels. Finals taking nasal endings are mainly found with Chinese loans. No syllabic consonants are found. There are 4 tones, with intriguing patterns of tone sandhi. 16 syllable types can be established. Free variants and lenition are a feature of initial consonants and vowels, indicating that Zoulei sound system is in an unstable condition, and in a process of undergoing radical change due to influence from outside languages.

Below we describe the sound system of Zoulei spoken in Bigong village located on the border of Dingqi Township and the Special Administrative Township of Liuzhi, Zhenning County of Anshun Municipality, Guizhou Province.7

2.1 Initial consonants

Zoulei has a system of 35 initial consonants, including 32 simple consonants and 3 consonant clusters involving bilabial and labio-dental sounds with the liquid -l, as illustrated in Table 2.1. ← 19 | 20 →

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