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SIL Electronic Survey Reports 2009-007

Nisu dialect geography

Author  Fine, Cathryn

Nisu, a Burmic language spoken in Yunnan, China, is traditionally divided into three dialects: Yuan-jin, E-xin, and Shi-jian (Chen et al., 1985; Zhu, 2005). However, little evidence has been presented to justify this grouping, and the degrees of difference between dialects have been left unexplored. In this research paper, I re-examine Nisu dialect clusters using several complementary methodologies: comparative dialectology, intelligibility testing, and a recently developed quantitative measure of pronunciation differences known as Levenshtein distance (Heeringa, 2004). I propose a basic division between Northern and Southern Nisu, with a subordinate isogloss dividing Northern into Northwestern and North Central. This classification is similar to, but not identical with, the one originally proposed by Chen et al. 1985: Southern is roughly equivalent to Yuanjin, while Northern encompasses E-xin (Northwestern) and Shi-jian (North Central). The primary differences between the two analyses lie in the supporting evidence and clustering hierarchy. Beyond clarifying the main divisions in Nisu, this research also represents the first application of Levenshtein distance to a tonal language in the Sinosphere, with results to suggest it as a useful tool for future work in Burmic-dialect geography.

  Nisu dialect geography
Published  2009
Languages  Nisu, Eastern [nos]
Nisu, Northern [yiv]
Nisu, Southern [nsd]
Nisu, Southwestern [nsv]
Country  China
Subjects  Language surveys
Keywords  Language surveys