Restricted Area:

Interactive Inner Asia Project

The project aims to provide a model lexicographic, demographic, and grammatical feature infrastructure, giving users tools to explore Inner Asia, its individual languages, and their contact and change. The con­ver­gence of unrelated languages in Inner Asia is as striking as that of the Balkans, yet the fea­tures of the area’s languages have hardly been compared. The area remains largely undocu­men­ted as a Sprach­bund. Since most of the relevant Inner Asian languages are endangered, we have a nar­row tem­poral op­portu­nity in which to understand these interactions, in order to contribute to typological and contact theory.

Inner Asia—bounded by the Himalayas to the south, Mongolia to the north, the Pamirs to the west, and the Ordos Plain of north-central China to the east—is a vast area of four million square kilo­me­ters, which suppor­ted a large number of ancient civilizations, including early Indo-European, Turkic, and Sino-Tibetan peoples. Inner Asia has a number of geographic sub-regions, one of which is this project’s focus: the upper Yellow River littoral area, now in Haidong prefecture of Qinghai province, Chi­na. The ri­ver and its tributaries have sustained relatively large numbers of sedentary agriculturalists. This area was chosen since it shows the most convergence between unrelated languages and is where P.I. Dwyer has con­ducted 20 years of documentation

Inner Asia. (Map Source: http://www.indiana.edu/~rifias)
Map of Inner Asia


The project focuses on seven languages in one part of Inner Asia: the upper Yellow River littoral area. The focus languages include five endangered languages - Salar (ISO 639-3:slr, Turkic), Baonan (peh) and SE Monguor (mjg, Mongolic), Wutun (wuh, Mandarin-Tibetan creole), and Kangjia (kxs, Mongolic-Sinitic) - and two areally dominant languages, Northwestern Mandarin (cmn) and Amdo Tibetan (adx). This website will pro­vide descriptive pages and typological analysis for these languages. The focus languages are key to under­standing historical develop­ments in Turkic and Mongolic, and they preserve a number of archaisms. The languages are also impor­tant for understanding language contact processes, by comparing convergent and divergent processes with demographic, sociocultural, ecological, and typological data.

Current Study Area.
Map of Inner Asia



The project has two interrelated objectives: to produce a database-backed website on the Inner Asian Sprachbund languages, and an etymological dictionary of the Salar language. The website will be a major online resource of a linguistic area, containing grammatical sketches, maps, comprehensive comparative lexical and grammatical features databases, and a discussion wiki. This website will also pro­vide some descrip­tive information on of the broader Inner Asian region of Inner Mongolia, Chinese Tur­kestan, and Tibet.

Later phases include expanding the collaboration to include many more Inner Asian scholars, and to expand the database to in­clude other endangered Inner Asian Mongolic (N Monguor (Tu) [mjg], Baonan [peh], Dongxiang [sce]), Shera “East” Yugur [yuy]) and Tur­kic languages (Sarig “West” Yugur [ybe]); other (semi-)dominant languages, Uyghur [uig], then Kazakh and Kyrgyz.

Current and future focus languages. (Map Source: Lewis 2009)

Map of Inner Asia