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Sino-Tibetan Language Research Methodology Workshop

a rounded red an blue illustrated graphic pattern

Detail of graphic design from the first Sino-Tibetan Language Research Forum Manual created in 2016

Design by Sherab Lhadron

The Language Vitality Initiative partnered with Nankai University (NKU) in Tianjin, China, to offer the Sino-Tibetan Language Research Methodology Workshop. The workshop is a two-week series of courses that train thirty-five to forty-five students each year from Tibetan and other minority nationalities and languages in linguistics and language description, language and cultural documentation, and approaches to multilingualism.

The linguistic picture of Tibetan areas in China is complicated. In addition to the large Tibetan languages of China—Ü-Tsang, Amdo, and Kham—there are at least fifty smaller Tibetic languages and thirty-eight minority (non-Tibetic) languages, whose speakers often identify as Tibetan. With perhaps the exception of the largest three, all urgently need measures for maintenance and learning.

Responding to the need for training, the Sino-Tibetan Language and Linguistics Summer Institute is a collaboration between Tibetan students, community language practitioners, NKU, the Ancient Tibetan Texts Research Center of Qinghai Province, Shanghai Normal University (SHNU) Tibetology Research Center, and the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH). The institute consists of two parts: the workshop and the Tibetan Language and Linguistics Forum. For three days in the middle of the workshop, the forum brings together Chinese academics for presentations of research and rigorous discussion. Both workshop and forum are hosted at Nankai University. NKU is a top-tier research university with international collaborations and a long tradition of research in ethnic minority languages, including graduating the first Tibetan PhD in linguistics.

In June 2016, CFCH and NKU signed a memorandum of understanding, two months before the first workshop. There had never before been an academic institute devoted exclusively to Tibetan linguistic training in China, and the 2016 forum was the first major academic gathering held in Tibetan.

Workshop Objectives

  • Provide coursework in descriptive linguistics for minority nationality students, primarily those from Tibetan languages and cultures
  • Provide hands-on training in documentation of their own languages and cultural practices, including introductions to linguistic software
  • Increase awareness of language shift and approaches to maintenance and multilingualism
  • Introduce students to Chinese and international researchers and instructors, making connections and giving encouragement to further their education and practice

Workshop Materials

The workshop provides two weeks of intense training through ten to twelve courses. There are three categories: core courses (1:45 hours for 3-4 days), documentation and technology (1:45, 1-2 days), and field methods, using a small Tibetic or Tibeto-Burman language (every day). The evenings are equally full with guest lectures, study hall, and salons, where students share their own research or community language projects.

The courses are taught by professors at NKU, SHNU, and Beijing University, internationally recognized guest professors from Europe and the United States, and curators from CFCH. Introduction to Linguistics and the technical workshops are taught by graduate students to give them experience teaching in semiformal settings.

Students

All participants must go through a short application process run through NKU.

Here are some of the criteria used:

  • Enthusiasm for applying what they learn to their own languages and communities
  • Background in linguistics via language teaching, traditional text-based historical linguistics, or linguistics coursework
  • High proficiency in Chinese (because of the diversity of languages represented, Chinese is the common classroom language)
  • Ability to speak their Tibetic or minority languages is not essential, due to lack of intergenerational transmission of highly endangered languages and from urbanization

Once accepted, tuition is free and includes the cost of travel to Tianjin and room and board on campus during the workshop. Interested students within the People’s Republic of China should contact Professor Yeshes Vodgsal Atshogs. Interested students outside of the People’s Republic of China can contact Dr. Mary Linn.

Impact

During and after the workshop, students connect to each other and instructors through a group chat. These groups provide continuing support and allow our partners to funnel news and opportunities their way.

We also use the chat groups to conduct follow-up surveys six months later. By this time, students understand better what information they found the most useful and what they need more of. We ask how they have used the information (e.g. teaching products, data collection, furthering their education). We gauge broader dissemination by asking if they have shared the information with others, and if so, how (e.g. local workshop, teaching, discussions, group chats). To this end, the workshop is successful, as students each year report documentation projects in their own communities, sharing information, encouraging language use, and acceptances into graduate programs.

  • 1. Introduction to Linguistics

    This is a course taught by Xuan Guan (University of Oregon), and it is an introductory course to phonetics, phonology, morphology, and syntax. Topics covered include articulatory phonetics, minimal pairs, morphemes as well as descriptivism vs. prescriptivism.

    If the video is not available, try these links.

    1. Video 1
    2. Video 2
    3. Video 3
    4. Video 4
  • 2. Introduction to the International Phonetic Alphabet

    This is a course taught by Professor Yeshes Vodsal Atshogs (Nankai University) on the basics of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). As this course was created for native speakers of Tibetan, the course uses the Tibetan abugida as the entry point for introducing the consonants and vowels of the International Phonetic Alphabet.

    There are two sets of lectures for this class. The first is an in-person class taught at Nankai University in 2016. The second is an online class taught in 2020.

    Exercises

    Student Handouts

    Teacher Handouts

    If the video is not available, try these links.

    1. Video 1
    2. Video 2
    3. Video 3
    4. Video 4
    5. Video 5



    If the video is not available, try these links.

    1. Video 1
    2. Video 2
    3. Video 3
    4. Video 4
  • 3. Documenting Language and Culture

    This is a joint lecture by Dr. Mary Linn (Smithsonian) and Nathaniel Sims (University of California, Santa Barbara). This lecture addresses best practices for video documentation, providing students with fundamentals for video documentation of language embedded in cultural activities.  The lecture looks at the differences between elicited data and natural language data, and the kinds of grammatical and lexical data that occur in different traditional and everyday activities and events. It discusses how to re-elicit more data from videos. The lecture uses the Video Production Handbook to cover technical aspects of making good videos, and students will be asked to view some short documentation videos to discuss in class.

  • 4. Language Attitudes and Use

    This lecture by Dr. Mary Linn (Smithsonian), given to the online workshop in 2020, covers the basics of language attitudes and how these affect language use, shift, and maintenance. The course covers topics such as prestige, economic viability, and urbanization in relation to maintaining multilingualism. The lecture also touches on issues of code-switching and purism and how they affect language use, especially in modern urban settings.

  • 5. Topics in Sino-Tibetan / Trans-Himalayan Linguistics

    This is a set of lectures given in 2016 at Nankai University by Professor George van Driem (University of Bern). The lectures cover a wide range of topics spanning from the peopling of the Tibetan Plateau to the historical morphology of certain languages of the Trans-Himalayan language family. The lectures discuss the history of the field of Sino-Tibetan linguistics and how the views of the language family have changed over time. Van Driem shares his experience from fieldwork in Nepal and Bhutan. He also discusses some of the pitfalls of idealism within linguistic documentation and talks about the importance of describing a language on its own terms.

  • 6. Topics in Sino-Tibetan Linguistics

    This is a set of lectures given in 2018 at Shanghai Normal University by Dr. Guillaume Jacques (Research Center for East Asian Linguistic, CRLAO). The lectures discuss historical linguistics and morphology with an emphasis on Japhug Rgyalrong, Kiranti, Tibetan, and other Tibeto-Burman languages. The lectures cover a wide range of topics spanning verbal morphology of Japhug Rgyalrong to history of person indexation in the language family. Jacques draws from his fieldwork experience with Japhug Rgyalrong and Kiranti languages.

    Handouts

    Readings

    If the video is not available, try these links.

    1. Video 1
    2. Video 2
    3. Video 3
    4. Video 4
  • 7. Topics in Sino-Tibetan Linguistics

    This is a set of lectures given in 2016 at Nankai University by Professor Scott DeLancey (University of Oregon). The lectures cover a wide range of topics spanning from the classification and subgrouping of the Sino-Tibetan family to the morphosyntax of individual languages within the family. In addition to examples from Chinese and Tibetan, DeLancey shares many examples from his work documenting Bodo, a Sino-Tibetan language of northeastern India. The topics of the eight lectures are as follows.

    • The Sino-Tibetan Languages: Typology, Subgrouping; outline of the lectures
    • Sino-Tibetan Noun Phrases and Nominalization
    • Syntactic Features of Bodo: Verb Serialization, Information Management 
    • Historical Development of Tibetan: The Classical and Modern Tibetan Verb
    • Verbal Categories in Tibetan: Tense, Aspect, Modality, Evidentiality
    • Verb Agreement in Sino-Tibetan Languages
    • Comparative Morphology and Sino-Tibetan
    • Summary and Conclusions

    These lectures are of general interest to students of linguistics as well as those interested in historical,  functional, and typological approaches to explanation in morphosyntax.

    If the video is not available, try these links.

    1. Video 1
    2. Video 2
    3. Video 3
    4. Video 4
    5. Video 5
    6. Video 6
    7. Video 7
    8. Video 8
    9. Video 9
    10. Video 10
    11. Video 11
    12. Video 12
  • 8. Folk Literature and Sociolinguistics

    This is a set of three lectures given by Professor Tim Thurston (University of Leeds) for the online workshop in 2020.

    The first lecture introduces both oral and material traditions and cultures. It addresses the question: what can attention to folklore and other expressive cultures bring to our studies of language? The second lecture explores how including oral traditions within language documentation work can help bring important perspectives to language revitalization work. The third lecture engages with concepts from the previous two lectures to imagine new ways that documentation related to the Tibetan epic of Gesar might also be used in linguistic work.

    If the video is not available, try these links.

    1. Video 1
    2. Video 2
    3. Video 3
  • 9. Historical-Comparative Sino-Tibetan Linguistics

    This is a set of four lectures, given by Professor Shi Xiangdong (Nankai University), on historical-comparative Sino-Tibetan linguistics. Shi explores different ways that Tibetan and Chinese have been proposed to be related and espouses the view of Li Fangkui and other scholars that Chinese and Tibetan are related languages belonging to the same linguistic family. Sometimes sound changes accumulate and mask the similar origin of two members of a family.  For example, the issue of consonant clusters in Chinese has received some attention. Some argue that Chinese did not have consonant clusters as there are no traces of these clusters in modern Chinese varieties. However, through comparison with Tibetan and other languages, it can be demonstrated that Chinese had complex consonant clusters. Shi also discusses the comparative method as well as wordlist comparisons such as using the Swadesh list. Because the Chinese script does not directly encode phonetic information, there are some methodological challenges to linguistic comparisons that are not present in the study of other language families. The lectures address some of those methodological considerations.

    Note that the examples rely on being able to interpret the phonetic reconstructions in IPA, so students should first watch the IPA lectures before watching the historical lectures.

    If the video is not available, try these links.

    1. Video 1
    2. Video 2
    3. Video 3
    4. Video 4
    5. Video 5
    6. Video 6
    7. Video 7
  • 10. Structure of Words and Sentences

    This was a lecture series given over two days by Dr. Mary Linn (Smithsonian) and Dr. Zoe Tribur (University of Oregon) at Nankai University in 2017. The lectures cover different parts of speech, as well as tests for determining parts of speech. There is a focus on characteristics of nouns and verbs, with a special focus on verbal tense and aspect. The lectures also introduce processes that derive nouns from verbs. Lastly, the lectures cover clausal phenomena and processes that create sentences from clauses.

    If the video is not available, try these links.

    1. Video 1
    2. Video 2
    3. Video 3
    4. Video 4
  • 11. Fundamentals of Morphosyntax

    This is a fifteen-hour course taught in 2018 by Professor Lin You-Jing (Peking University) introducing the fundamentals of morphosyntax from a typological perspective. This includes an overview of different morphological profiles found cross-linguistically, with an emphasis on the types of systems and structures found in Sino-Tibetan languages.

    While this is not a field methods course, it is taught with the goal of preparing students to conduct research and analysis of morphosyntax on unfamiliar languages and serves as a companion to the field methods courses.

    If the video is not available, try these links.

    1. Video 1
    2. Video 2
    3. Video 3
    4. Video 4
    5. Video 5
    6. Video 6
    7. Video 7
    8. Video 8
    9. Video 9
    10. Video 10
    11. Video 11
    12. Video 12
  • 13. Field Methods

    This is a two-week course taught by Professor Katia Chirkova (Research Center for East Asian Linguistics, CRLAO) and Wang Dehe at Nankai University in 2017. The topic of the course is Ersu, a Tibeto-Burman language of Sichuan, China, and Wang Dehe’s native language. Chirkova leads the students in investigating the structural characteristics of Ersu. Like many languages of Sichuan, Ersu has a complex segmental and suprasegmental phonological system and so the majority of the class is devoted to an analysis of the phonetics and phonology of the language. Chirkova also leads the students in conducting a static palatography with Wang Dehe as the subject. Apart from the phonetics and phonology, the course also deals with some of the morphological characteristics of the language, such as the system of orientational prefixes found in the verb-complex.

    If the video is not available, try these links.

    1. Video 1
    2. Video 2
    3. Video 3
    4. Video 4
    5. Video 5
    6. Video 6
    7. Video 7
    8. Video 8
    9. Video 9
  • 14. Introduction to Ethnobotany

    This lecture by Nathaniel Sims (University of California, Santa Barbara) and Professor Katia Chirkova (Research Center for East Asian Linguistics, CRLAO) at Nankai University in 2016 covers the fundamentals of ethnobotany and introduces the purpose of documenting ethnobotanical knowledge. Sims shares his experience working to collect plant names in Heishui County, Sichuan. He also shares example questions that can be used for conducting interviews about both edible and medicinal uses for local plants. Chirkova shares her experience as part of a team of researchers who carried out an initiative to document plant names in Sichuan.

    If the video is not available, try these links.

    1. Video 1
    2. Video 2
  • 15. Introduction to Phonological Analysis

    This is a set of lectures by Professor Zeng Xiaoyu (Nankai University) given at Nankai University in 2017. The focus of the lectures is the structuralist analysis of phonetic systems and how they can be analyzed in abstract phonological terms. The principles taught include contrastive and complementary distribution of phones. Zeng also teaches some methods of notation for phonological rules and phonological environments.

    If the video is not available, try these links.

    1. Video 1
    2. Video 2
    3. Video 3
    4. Video 4
    5. Video 5
    6. Video 6
  • 16. Introduction FieldWorks Language Explorer (FLEx)

    This set of lectures was recorded at Nankai University in 2017. The focus of these lectures is on the software FieldWorks Language Explorer, or FLEx, for linguistics. This software is developed and maintained by the Summer Institute of Linguistics and is widely used by linguists conducting linguistic fieldwork and analysis.

    The lectures include different people sharing their experiences using the FLEx software. Wang Dehe gives an overview of how he used it to build a lexical database for his mother tongue, Ersu. Guanxuan introduces the functionalities of FLEx and how it can be used for automated glossing of interlinear texts. Guanxuan also shares how to link both pictures and audio files to the lexical database entries. Tshe.dbang sgrol.ma shares her experience using FLEx to gloss and translate texts in her mother tongue, Situ Rgyalrong.

    If the video is not available, try these links.

    1. Video 1
    2. Video 2
    3. Video 3
    4. Video 4
  • 17. FLEx-ELAN-FLEx Workflow

    This more advanced set of lectures by Nathaniel Sims (University of California, Santa Barbara) for the 2020 workshop details how to use FLEx and ELAN together to annotate linguistic corpora. This set is split into three lectures. The first introduces the functionalities of ELAN. The second introduces the FLEx software. The third focuses on how to use these two programs together in a cohesive workflow.

    If the video is not available, try these links.

    1. Video 1
    2. Video 2
    3. Video 3
    4. Video 4
  • 19. Topics in Sociocultural Linguistics

    This is a stand-alone lecture by Dr. Bsodnam Lhundrub (Southwestern University of Finance and Economics), which was recorded at Nankai University in 2017. The topic of the lecture is sociolinguistics. Bsodnam Lhundrup discusses issues of language and identity, as well as the importance of the way native speakers of minority languages perceive their own language in relation to other languages. He speaks about his own experience as a native speaker of Stau and encourages discussion about issues of linguistic identity.

    If the video is not available, try these links.

    1. Video 1
    2. Video 2
    3. Video 3
    4. Video 4
    5. Video 5
    6. Video 6
    7. Video 7
  • 20. Characteristics of Tibetan Nasal Consonants

    This is a stand-alone lecture by Professor Wang Shuangcheng (Shanghai Normal University). The main content of the lecture is the pronunciation of certain voiced and voiceless nasal consonants in different varieties of Tibetan. Wang incorporates instrumental phonetic evidence including airflow and other measures of nasality. He also specifically lists some vocabulary of Tibetan regions, makes some comparisons, and elaborates on the characteristics of these sounds in diachrony.

  • 21. Topics on the Khroskyabs Language of Sichuan

    This is a stand-alone lecture by Dr. Lai Yunfan (Max Planck Institute) on characteristics of the Khroskyabs (< Rgyalrongic) language of Sichuan. The primary focus of the lecture is on person marking in the verbal system. It also discusses the direct-inverse system in the verbal morphology.

    If the video is not available, try these links.

    1. Video 1
    2. Video 2

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