This course provides an introduction to Lizu, a little-studied Tibeto-Burman language spoken by circa 7,000 people in a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual area in Sichuan Province, China. The linguistic neighbors of Lizu are Southwestern Mandarin (Sinitic) and various Tibeto-Burman languages, including Kham Tibetan (Bodish), Nuosu (Lolo-Burmese), and Pumi (Qiangic).

folk dance group of the Lizu Tibetans of Muli County

Lizu is isolating, verb-final, and head-final. Syntax operates predominantly through word order and the use of nominal and verbal particles and auxiliaries. The syntactic relations of subject and object are not grammaticalized. The clause structure is based on the pragmatic relations of topical material (clause-initial) vs. focal material (clause-final).

The course covers the phonological, morphological, and syntactic structures of Lizu. The course material is based on (a) recordings of basic vocabulary items and natural narrative texts collected in first-hand fieldwork, and (b) select topical research papers. The emphasis will be on understanding the basic phonological and grammatical structures, and acquiring a basic vocabulary. The course also addresses the processes of documenting and describing a little-known, unwritten language spoken in a multilingual setting.

Map showing the area where Lizu is spoken.

The course is intended for students of descriptive and comparative Tibeto-Burman linguistics who are interested in exploratory work on underdescribed languages. Upon successful completion of this course, students will be trained in the analysis of linguistic structures at different levels (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics) and have a basic understanding of significant typological patterns that are characteristic of Tibeto-Burman languages of Southwest China.


Foundational courses in linguistics theory, phonology, and syntax. Knowledge of Chinese is a bonus.

Sound Files: