About the Workshop

We are grateful to our sponsors, whose generous support has made this workshop possible.

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Description of the Goals of STLS-2016

Many of the Sino-Tibetan languages of Sichuan and adjacent areas of Southwest China are under-explored. In recent decades scholars have been increasingly turning their attention to these fascinating languages and dialects, including many Tibetan varieties, Ngwi (=Yi) varieties, and at least a dozen languages tentatively classified as “Qiangic”. The Qiangic languages in particular are of typological interest, featuring such properties as large segmental inventories, uncommon tone and tone-like systems, topography-based spatial deixis, prohibitive marking with dental-stop-onset prefixes, nominal classification via existential verbs, and grammatical structures governed by animacy hierarchies. These properties are not only of inherent interest, motivating scholars to investigate, analyze, and report on them, but also raise important questions about the history and subgrouping of the Sino-Tibetan language family, questions which can only be answered through comparative and collaborative work.

This was the impetus underlying the decision of researchers at the Institute of Linguistics at Academia Sinica to organize a workshop on “Tibeto-Burman Languages of Sichuan”. Its goals were to foster international cooperation and stimulate cross-fertilization of research efforts. Scholars actively engaged in field research on these languages shared research ideas, results, and methodological approaches in the synchronic, diachronic, and comparative analysis of these languages. The workshop constituted a significant step towards a better understanding of the linguistic history and typological diversity of the vast Sino-Tibetan family, while at the same time opening up new avenues for future investigation. Its success prompted the organization of second edition of the workshop, hosted by the Center for Chinese Linguistics of Peking University in 2010, with an emphasis on historical issues as reflected in the theme “Principles and Practices of Reconstruction”.

The third workshop was held three years later in Paris in 2013 under the auspices of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). In light of the fact that the traditional division of Sino-Tibetan into the two branches Sinitic and Tibeto-Burman has now become one of several competing hypotheses concerning the internal subgrouping of the family, the name of the workshop was changed by substituting “Sino-Tibetan” for “Tibeto-Burman”. In order to encourage researchers to explore the languages of Sichuan in a broader linguistic context, its theme was designated as “Sino-Tibetan Languages of Sichuan in their Areal Context”. The workshop included presentations on languages spoken in areas bordering Sichuan as well as on more distantly-spoken languages that provide a useful comparative perspective.

[The program and abstracts of the third workshop are available for viewing at the workshop website.]

Building on the achievements of the first three workshops, the fourth workshop will be held at the University of Washington in Seattle in 2016. In recognition of the enduring importance of studying the languages of Sichuan in an areal and historical-comparative context, the workshop has been renamed a second time, to “Sino-Tibetan Languages of Southwest China”, with an understanding that the non-Sinitic languages of Sichuan will remain the central focus.

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[Photo credit: Henriette Daudey. Landscape in southwestern Muli Tibetan Autonomous County (木里藏族自治县; སྨི་ལི་རང་སྐྱོང་རྫོང་; ꃆꆹꀒꋤꊨꏦꏱꅉꑤ)]