Tibetan, Daur, Evenki and Oroqen Databases Appraised by Experts

According to China’s Ministry of Education (数据库), several minority language projects underway during the current 12th Five-year Plan (2011-15) have been appraised and approved by experts. They are:

  • Database of Modern Tibetan Grammar Research (现代藏语语法信息辞典数据库研究)
  • Database of Daur, Evenki and Oroqen Voice Acoustic Parameters (达斡尔、鄂温克和鄂伦春语语音声学参数数据库)

Undertaken by the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (中国社会科学院民族学与人类学研究所), applications for these databases include promotion of minority language education, language engineering research, and in the case of the Tibetan database, text annotation and machine translation.

It will be interesting to see where all this hard work leads. Many minority languages in China still have no written form and research into them is often restricted to territory and peoples within the PRC, even when speakers of the language straddle international borders.

The Evenki language, spoken by several tens of thousands of Evenki in China, Russia and Mongolia, is a case in point.  According to an expert cited in Wikipedia (Evenki Language), in Russia, “Since the 1930s ‘folklore, novels, poetry, numerous translations from Russian and other languages’, textbooks, and dictionaries have all been written in Evenki.” Evenki elementary and middle school textbooks have also been published.

As I understand it, however, nothing similar has taken place on the Chinese side of the border.

In my piece on Evenki Place Names Behind the Hànzì, I describe how related research is carried out in the PRC:

Indeed, a book called <鄂温克地名考> (Evenki Place Names), compiled by a committee of Evenki scholars in 2007, confirms that those [Evenki place] names [cited in a novel about the Evenki, Last Quarter of the Moon] definitely exist. This book alone cites some 1,800 Evenki place names, and the overwhelming majority are not translations from the Chinese, although many have been influenced by Russian, Mongolian and Manchu names.

As might be expected in politically correct China today, the book cites only those place names that are located within the People’s Republic of China. Considering that the Evenki traditional homeland extended into Russia, that’s an annoying blind spot!

I have found the same approach in other Evenki-related reference works written and published in China. For instance, <鄂温克语:参考语法> (Evenki: A Reference Grammar), by the respected Evenki scholar Dr. Chao Ke (朝克) who earned his doctorate in Japan, is a 365-page tome which mentions that about half of all Evenki live in Russia, and speak a dialect that differs somewhat from those spoken in China. Period. There is no further discussion of how this dialect has been impacted by contact with a Slavic language, for instance, or how it otherwise differs from those spoken on the Chinese side of the border.

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