From 2013 to 2016 I coordinated a three-year research project funded by the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme:

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Ersu and Xumi: Comparative and Cross-Varietal Documentation of Highly Endangered Languages of South-West China

The project entailed fieldwork in a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual region in western Sichuan Province in the People's Republic of China, where the four team members analyzed two language clusters:

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The Ersu 尔苏 language cluster comprises three mutually unintelligible languages: Ersu, Duoxu (a.k.a. Tosu), and Lizu.
The Xumi 旭咪 language cluster comprises two varieties with limited mutual intelligibility. We refer to these varieties as Upper Xumi and Lower Xumi, as they are spoken in the upper and lower reaches of the Shuiluo river. Note: Xumi is the official name of the group in the national Mandarin Chinese language (the name was given to the group by the Pumi ethnic majority of the region); Shuhi 书亨 is the autonym of the group, used by the speakers themselves. This website uses Xumi and Shuhi interchangeably.

All languages and varieties in these two clusters are endangered. The moribund Duoxu language currently has 4 remaining speakers, and the severely endangered Xumi (Shuhi) language has circa 1,000 proficient speakers.

Katia and Duoxu language consultant Jin Wanxiang
(Mianning, Sichuan Province, China, April 2013; photo by Wang Dehe)

This Major Documentation Project was funded by the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme with a £90,712 grant. Audio, video, text, and image files of the project deposited with the Endangered Languages Archive:

Research in the project was carried out by Katia Chirkova (CNRS), Wang Dehe 王德和 (Xichang College), Yuan Xiaowen 袁晓文 (Sichuan Institute of Nationalities), and Han Zhengkang 韩正康 (Sichuan Institute of Nationalities).

The work of professor Wang Dehe, one of our project members, inspired the publication of several lushly illustrated articles in Chinese popularizing journals (see the above two examples). For other publications that resulted from our project, see the publications page on this website.