Restricted Area:

Inner Asia Langauge Research: An Overview

Dwyer (1992, 1995) first proposed applying the term Sprachbund to the area, which was adopted by Slater (2003) and Janhunen (2004), the latter discussing convergence features. Indivi­dual grammars of some of these endangered varieties have appeared (e.g. de Smedt and Mostaert 1945, Todae­va 1960, Tenishev 1976, Field 1997, Roos 2000, Slater 2003, Dwyer 2007), as well as sketch grammars of hard-to-classify “mixed” varieties (Sechenchogt 1999, 2002, Janhunen et al 2008) and a lexical study of Monguor and Tibetan (Róna Tas 1966).

Examples of convergence include Turco-Mongolic morpholo­gy and syntax in NW Mandarin (Dwyer 1992, 1995, Zhu et al 1989), tonogenesis in Mongolic (Dwyer 2008), and Sino-Tibetan retroflex obstruents and Tibetan evidentiality in Salar (Dwyer 2007) and SE Monguor (Slater 2003). Despite the seemingly large speaker numbers for two of the five focus languages, language attrition is proceeding rapidly, due to a lack of schooling and media in the languages and low prestige.

Inner Asian website: languages (focus languages are shaded). Speaker numbers from Lewis 2009; NW Mandarin numbers extrapolated from the 2000 China census.

Family Language [ISO] Speakers Existing Documentation
Sino-Tibetan NW Mandarin [cmn] 43,500,000 sketches (Zhang/Zhu ’87, Zhu et al 1989, Dede 2007)
Amdo Tibetan [adx] 810,000 lexicon (Hua/Long 1993), sketches (Roerich 1958, Mackeley et al. 1999); phonology (Sun 1986, 1993)
Mongolic Monguor [mjg] 120,000 extensive, but SE less so: mainly Slater ’03, Dwyer ‘08
Baonan [peh] 8,000 grammars (Todaeva 1960, Chen & Chinggeltai 1986)
Turkic Salar [slr] 20,000 extensive, e.g. Tenishev 1976, Lin 1992, Dwyer 2007
Wutun [wuh] 2000 sketch (Janhunen et al 2008)
Kangjia [kxs] 430 sketch (Sechenchogt 1999, 2002)


Even thorough sur­veys of the world’s major linguistic areas (e.g. Muysken 2008) omit Inner Asia, due to the information void. The field currently has no reliable electronic resources on any aspect of Inner Asian languages, let alone ones that are comparative and historical. Cross-linguistically, etymo­lo­gical dic­tionaries are rare, es­­­pe­ci­ally of endangered languages. At most, such languages are very spo­ra­dically re­presented in com­parative etymological surveys (e.g. a few Salar and Monguor examples ap­pear in Sta­rostin et al. 2003). For Salar, Monguor, Wutun and Baonan, there is no precedent for a single-lan­guage or comparative etymological dictionary. In Turkic, there is only one (excellent) print dictionary for pre-13th century Turkic (Clauson 1972) and one for Turkish (Nişanyan 2007), but for Mongolic ”[n]o etymological dictionary of the Mongolic language family has ever been prepared” (Janhunen 2003: xix), and this is still true today.


2000 Chinese census. 《2000年人口普查中国民族人口资料》 [Tabulation on nationalities of 2000 population census of China]. Beijing: China Statistical publishing.

Chen Naixiong, ed. 1985. 保安语词汇. [A Bao’an Lexicon]. Huhehaote: Neimenggu Chubanshe.

Chen Naixiong and Chinggeltai. 1986. 保安语和蒙古语 [Bao’an and Mongolian]. Huhehaote: Neimenggu Chubanshe.

Chen Zhongzhen and Lei Xuanchun, eds., 1985. 西部裕固语简志 [A Grammatical Sketch of the West Yugur language]. Beijing: Minzu.

Clauson, Gerard. 1972. An Etymological Dictionary of Pre-13th Century Turkish. Oxford.

Dede, Keith. 2007. The origins of the anti-ergative [xa] in Huangshui Chinese. Language and Linguistics 8.4: 863-881.

Dwyer, Arienne. 1992. Altaic Elements in the Línxià dialect [of NW Chinese]: Contact-induced Change on the Yellow River Plateau / 臨夏方言的阿爾台語成分 : 黃河高原的語言交叉及其變化 (in English). Journal of Chinese Linguistics 20.1: 160–179.

Dwyer, Arienne. 1995. From the Northwestern Chinese Sprachbund: Xúnhuà Chinese Dialect Data. The Yuen Ren Society Treasury of Chinese Dialect Data Vol I: 143–182.

Dwyer, Arienne M. 2000. Direct and indirect experience in Salar. In Bo Utas and Lars Johanson, eds. Evidentials. Turkic, Iranian and neighbouring languages. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 45–59.

Dwyer, Arienne M. 2007. Salar: A Study in Inner Asian contact processes. Part I: Phonology. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Dwyer, Arienne M. 2008. Tonogenesis in Southeastern Monguor. In Harrison, K. David et al., eds. A world of many voices: Lessons from documented endangered languages. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Dwyer, Arienne. Forthcoming 2011. Salar: A Study in Inner Asian contact processes. Part II: Grammar. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Field, Kenneth L. 1997. A grammatical overview of Santa Mongolian, Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara.

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Hua Kan & Long Bojia, eds. 1993. Anduo Zangyu kouyu cidian [A dictionary of colloquial Amdo Tibetan]. Lanzhou: Gansu Renmin.

Huang Bufan, Dai Qingxia et al., eds. 1992. Zang-Mian yuzu yuyan cidian [A Tibeto-Burman Lexicon]. Beijing: Zhongyang Minzu.

Janhunen, Juha. 2003. The Mongolic Languages. Routledge.

Janhunen, Juha. 2004. On the Hierarchy of Structural Convergence in the Amdo Sprachbund. Paper presented at the 2004 LENCA 2 conference.

Janhunen, Juha, Marja Peltomaa, Erika Sandman, and Xiawu Dongzhou. 2008. Wutun. München: LinComEuropa Languages of the World 466.

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Li Keyu. 1991. Mongghul Qidar Merlong/Tu-Han cidian [A Mongghul-Chinese dictionary]. Xining: Qinghai renmin.

Lin Lianyun. 1992. 汉撒拉、撒拉汉词汇 [Chinese-Salar, Salar-Chinese lexicon]. Chengdu: Sichuan renmin.

Makley, Charlene, Keith Dede, Kan Hua, and Qingshan Wang. 1999. The Amdo dialect of Labrang. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 22.1: 97-127.

Muysken, Pieter. 2008. Introduction. Conceptual and methodological issues in areal linguistics. In Pieter Muysken (ed.), From Linguistic Areas to Areal Linguistics . Amsterdam: Benjamins, pp. 1-24.

Nişanyan, Sevan 2007. Sözlerin Soyağacı: Çağdaş Türkçenin Etimoloji Sözlüğü [An Etymological Dictionary of Contemporary Turkish]. Adam Yayınları, Revised and Enlarged 3rd Edition. Online: http://www.nisanyansozluk.com/

Roerich, Georges de. 1958. Le parler de l’Amdo. Étude d’un dialecte archaïque du Tibet. (Serie Orientale Roma, 18.) Rom: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente.

Róna-Tas, András. 1966. Tibeto-Mongolica: The Tibetan Loanwords of Monguor and the Development of the Archaic Tibetan Dialects. The Hague: Mouton.

Roos, Marti. 2000. The Western Yugur (Yellow Uighur) Language. Grammar, Texts, Vocabulary. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Leiden.

de Smedt, Albrecht, and Antoine Mostaert. 1945. Le dialecte monguor parlé par les Mongols du Kansou occidental, IIe partie: Grammaire. Peking: Monumenta Serica 6.

Sun, Jackson T.-S. 1986. Aspects of the Phonology of Amdo Tibetan: Ndzorge Sæme Xera Dialect. Monumenta Serindica No. 16. Tôkyô: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Tôkyô University of Foreign Studies.

Sun, Jackson T.-S. 1993. Evidentials in Amdo Tibetan. BIHP 63: 945-1001.

Sechenchogt [斯钦朝克图]. 1999. 康家语研究 [Research on the Kangjia Language]. Shanghai: Yuandong Chubanshe.

Sechenchogt [斯钦朝克图] ed., 2002. 康家语概况 [A Grammatical Sketch of Kangjia language].

Slater, Keith. 2003. A Grammar of Mangghuer: A Mongolic language of China’s Qinghai-Gansu Sprachbund. London & New York: Routledge.

Starostin, Sergei, Anna V. Dybo, and Oleg A. Mudrak. 2003. Altaic Etymological Dictionary. Brill. Online: http://starling.rinet.ru/cgi-bin/query.cgi?root=config&morpho=0&basename=\data\alt\altet

Tenishev, Edgem R. 1976a. Stroj salarskogo jazyka. Moskva: Nauka.

Todaeva, B.X. 1960. Mongol’skie Yazyki i Dialektiy Kitaya. Moscow.

Zhang Chengcai, Zhu Shikui. 1987. Xining Fangyan zhi [An outline of the Xīníng dialect]. Xining: Qinghai renmin.

Zhu Yongzhong, Üjiyediin Chuluu (Chaolu Wu), Keith Slater, and Kevin Stuart. 1997. Gangou Chinese Dialect: A Comparative Study of a Strongly Altaicized Chinese Dialect and Its Mongolic Neighbor. Anthropos 92: 433-450.