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Contacts de langues et changements linguistiques : cas du chinois et des langues altaïques – CLCL

Submission summary

Chinese, all through its history, has been in contact with Altaic languages in the north, and with those of the Tai and Austroasiatic taxa in the south. It is not surprising that Mongolian and Manchurian-Tungus languages of the Altaic family have played an important role in the history of China. There is no doubt that it was during these periods when Altaic languages were in contact with Chinese on a large scale that its evolution and structural change were accelerated. In fact, there was probably never any period when the evolution of the Chinese language took place exclusively on the basis of internal mechanisms. This project has to be inscribed in the prolongation of the studies realised by Thomason and Kaufman (1988) on creolization and pidginization of languages, Harris and Campbell (1995) on historical linguistics, Aikhenvald (2002) on language contact in Amazonia and more recently in the work of Heine et Kuteva (2005) on the effect of language contact on grammatical structure. Thanks to these works, it is now recognized that all kinds of linguistic elements can be borrowed from one language to another, that is, not just items from the phonology and the lexicon, but also morphological elements and even grammatical structures. Hence, the goal of this project is to set up an inventory of the attested changes which have occurred, to analyze and to localize the linguistic phenomena arising from contact between the Northern Chinese dialects and Altaic languages. We will thus contribute some of the explanations indispensable for the reconstruction and analysis of structural changes that the Chinese language has undergone throughout its history. We will similarly contribute to an improved understanding of the typological characteristics which distinguish Northern Chinese languages from the Sinitic languages of the southern, central and southeastern China. The research group, constituted by researchers at the CNRS, the EHESS and the INALCO in Paris, will collaborate with a research group of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and the University of California Santa Barbara working on language contacts in China. It will also collaborate with specialists at the Geography Department of the Federal Polytechnic School at Zürich. Adopting a two-dimensional approach, both synchronic and diachronic, we will compare observations taken from historical documents on Northern and Northwestern Chinese dialects with empirical data gathered from fieldwork to be carried out for the project. Our goal is to measure and to situate historically, as precisely as possible, the influence of Altaic languages such as Mongolian, on the evolution of Northern Chinese, a dialect group which includes Standard Mandarin, as in use today. Our general investigation into the relationship between language, settlement and history in Asia will result in a book accompanied by an historical atlas of linguistic contacts between the Chinese and the Altaic worlds.

Project coordination


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.



Help of the ANR 140,000 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: - 36 Months

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