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Review of  A Grammar of Qiang

Reviewer: Edward J. Vajda
Book Title: A Grammar of Qiang
Book Author: Randy J. LaPolla
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Ifugao, Tuwali
Language Family(ies): Tibeto-Burman
Book Announcement: 16.671

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Date: Mon, 07 Mar 2005 08:53:00 -0800
From: Ed Vajda <>
Subject: A Grammar of Qiang with Annotated Texts and Glossary

AUTHOR: LaPolla, Randy J., with Huang, Chenglong
TITLE: A Grammar of Qiang with Annotated Texts and Glossary
SERIES: Mouton Grammar Library 31
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2003

Edward J. Vajda, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington

[This review was originally submitted in July 2004, but not received. We
apologize to the reviewer, author and publisher for the delay in posting
it. --Eds.]


Qiang is an endangered Sino-Tibetan language spoken in the northern part
of China's Sichuan Province. This full-length reference grammar is based
on extensive fieldwork conducted with speakers of the Yadu subdialect of
northern Qiang. The author, Randy LaPolla, is already well-known for his
extensive work on Sino-Tibetan languages in general (Thurgood and LaPolla
2003) and Dulong-Rawang in particular (LaPolla 2000). The other
contributor, Chenglong Huang, is a native speaker informant whose
expertise and hospitality were instrumental in helping the author complete
his research. The data included in the book come from Mr. Huang or members
of his family, with whom L stayed during much of his fieldwork.

The book contains five chapters, a collection of six annotated Qiang
texts, and an extensive English-Qiang glossary arranged by semantic field.
There is also a map of Sichuan Province showing the Aba Tibetan and Qiang
Autonomous Prefecture, where most of the 70,000 or so native speakers live
(xv), and two plates showing black-and-white photographs of Qiang villages

Chapter 1 (1-20), entitled 'Introduction', discusses Qiang society and
culture. Subsections describe the geographic setting, speakers'
livelihoods, traditional occupations, foods, houses, clothing, and kinship
system. A chart (4) gives the Qiang alphabet together with corresponding
IPA symbols. The alphabet, devised in the 1980s, is based on a single
regional dialect. With little opportunity for use as the basis of a
literary tradition, the script has done little to stem the intensifying
language shift over to Mandarin Chinese. There is also brief discussion of
previous work done on the language (16-17).

Chapter 2 (21-37) discusses the phonological system. Qiang phonology is
rather complex for a Tibeto-Burman language. There are 39 consonants,
distributed over seven places of articulation: labial, dental, retroflex,
palatal, velar, uvular and glottal. Consonants form a wide variety of
anlaut as well as auslaut clusters. The latter are not inherited from
Proto-Tibeto-Burman, but instead derive from diachronically later
conflations of disyllables into monosyllables. The vowel system is equally
complex, with eight cardinal vowel articulations. Length (short vs.
geminate) is phonemic at each articulation. There are also phonemically
rhotacized vowels, a wide variety of diphthongs, and even one triphthong.
Because both on-glides and off-glides are prevalent, Qiang syllable
structure is quite diverse, particularly given the concomitant complexity
of consonant articulations and clusters. A system of vowel harmony
operates in word formation. On the prosodic level, there is a non-melodic
word stress rather than a system of phonemic tones.

Chapter 3 (39-117) discusses nominal morphology. This includes pronouns,
but excludes adjectives, which are a type of stative verb morphologically.
Nouns lack grammatical gender, though certain derivational suffixes
identify living beings as biologically male or female. Noun stems may
consist of single roots or contain two nouns, with the modifying noun
always preceding its semantic head. Numerals follow the noun and must in
turn be followed by a classifier morpheme. Simple adjectives also follow
their head noun, though relativized modifiers as well as possessive nouns
marked in the genitive preceded the head noun. A chart (39) gives the
general structure of the noun phrase as follows: genitive phrase +
relative clause + NOUN + adjective + demonstrative or definite marker +
(numeral + classifier)/plural suffix. Qiang is both head-marking as well
as dependent marking. Postpositions may attach to a noun phrase to
identify it as actor or undergoer, recipient, benefactor, instrument, or a
variety of other roles. The form and functions of these postpositions are
neatly summarized in a chart (114). Functional sentence perspective
requires that the first noun phrase or postpositional phrase in the
sentence be the topic, regardless of its semantic role. Postpositions can
be used optionally to identify which semantic role the topic expresses.

Chapter 4 (119-220) tackles the most involved aspect of Qiang morphology:
the finite verb complex, which contains both prefixes as well as suffixes.
A chart (120) lists sixteen morpheme classes, including the verb root
itself. The verb root is preceded by four prefixal classes: intensifying
adverb, directional prefix, negative prefix, and the continuative aspect
marker. There are twelve suffix positions that include such functions as
evidentiality, aspect, and causativity. Different types of evidentiality
are expressed using distinct position classes: inferential evidential in
suffixal slot seven, visual evidential in suffixal slot eight, and hearsay
evidential in suffixal slot eleven - the last position in the verb form.
There are also two positionally and morphologically distinct sets of
pronominal agreement markers that coordinate with non-actor (the third to
last slot) and actor (the next to last slot). Verb stems are usually
strictly transitive or intransitive, though there are a small number of
ambitransitive (labile) verbs, which can function either as transitives or
intransitives. A verb root plus third-person agreement suffix would
constitute the minimal verb complex, so that even the shortest finite verb
forms are polymorphemic. One of the interesting features of the Qiang verb
is its system of eight directional prefixes, which are cognate with
prefixal forms in other Qiangic and denote the following spatial
notions: "vertically up, vertically down, upstream, downstream, toward the
center, out from center, in, out". Many verbs can only combine with a
single prefix, often with lexicalized meaning; others are capable of
combining with all eight prefixes.

Chapter 5 (221-48), entitled "The clause and complex structures," pulls
together information about noun and verb phrases given in the earlier
chapters, and also discusses sentential syntax. Topics discussed here
include the use of nominalizations in relative constructions, coordination
strategies, complex structures consisting of multiple clauses, and the
structure of narratives in general. Quite a bit of information is also
provided on focus marking and topic/comment structure.

The next section (249-328) is a collection of six previously unpublished
Qiang texts. Each text is presented with morpheme divisions and
interlinear morpheme glosses, followed by a literal English translation.
Text topics range from creation myths ("The creation of the world", "The
legend of the origin of all things") to animal tales ("Uncle Snake") and
tales of everyday life ("The story of a lazy man", "An orphan", "The old
man of the Chen family").

The English-Qiang glossary (329-88) is arranged according to the following
semantic classes: natural phenomena, wild animals, birds, domestic
animals, insects, fish, plants, farming, food, food preparation, eating
and storage utensils, buildings and structures, furniture, tools, trade
and business, town and road, travel, language and communication, religion,
festivals, games and play, body parts, actions involving body parts,
grooming, life and death, warfare, kinship, types of people, verbs of
interaction between people, stative verbs (i.e., adjectives), time
phrases, movement, quantifiers, pronouns, and adverbs and particles. This
is followed by an alphabetized English-Qiang index (389-420), a section of
endnotes (421-32), a bibliography that cites most easily accessible work
published previously on Qiang (433-42), and an index to the grammatical
sections of the book (443-45).


This grammar contains a thorough description of a particular subdialect of
the northern dialect of Qiang. Information of this extensive detail and
clarity is not available on this language from any other English source. L
also includes, in passing, quite a few remarks of a historical-comparative
nature that shed light on the genetic relationship between Qiang and other
members of the Qiangic branch of Tibeto-Burman. Despite the complex
dialectal situation, L provides little information on the local diversity
of Qiang dialects, which are only now being exhaustively surveyed by the
Qiang Dialect Atlas Project. The main thrust of this book is to provide a
detailed synchronic reference of a single language form, unencumbered by
discussion of dialectal variations. This is to be expected, since the
series in which this volume was published is designed primarily to provide
descriptive references to contemporary languages in the form of a thorough
grammatical sketch accompanied by annotated texts and dictionary
materials - all of which L succeeds in providing. Considerable space is
devoted to pragmatic structure and its influence on morphosyntax and word
order patterns. Also useful is L's use in the grammatical explanations of
narrative examples taken from the folktales he includes as complete
narrative texts in the volume's second section. Like any superbly
written descriptive grammar, this book will be of great value to
typologist and linguist in general, but in particular to Sino-Tibetanists
and anyone interested in Qiang language or culture. It is certain to
remain the standard reference on this language for many years to come.


LaPolla, Randy J. (2000) Valency-changing derivations in Dulong-Rawang.
Changing valency: Case studies in transitivity, ed. by R. M. W. Dixon &
Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, pp. 282-311. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Thurgood, Graham and Randy J. LaPolla (2003) The Sino-Tibetan Languages.
London & New York: Routledge.


Edward J. Vajda is professor of linguistics, Russian language, and
Eurasian studies at Western Washington University. He is an editor of the
journal Word. His research interests include minority languages of the
former Soviet Union and other areas of Eurasia. For the past several years
he has been intensively involved in descriptive research on the structure
of Ket, a language isolate spoken by a few hundred people in Central
Siberia near the Yenisei River.

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