Turkic Vocabulary in Dongxiang Mongolian: A Possible Substrate?

Julie Lefort

Turkic Vocabulary in Dongxiang Mongolian: A Possible Substrate?

(65th Meeting Astana, 2023)

Dongxiang Mongolian (东乡语) is spoken in the Autonomous county of Dongxiang (东乡族自治县) in Southern Gansu, People’s Republic of China. According to historical evidences (Chen 2006), it is possible that the Dongxiang people were originally speakers of a (several different?) Turkic language(s) and that they shifted to Middle Mongolian during the late 12th — early 13th century. However, Dongxiang’s lexicon is mainly Mongolic, and features a relatively small number of Turkic words. Its syntax remains strictly Mongolic.

For this paper, I propose to give an overview of the Turkic vocabulary found in Dongxiang Mongolian. Ma & Chen (2001) have identified about 50 words of Turkic origin in Dongxiang which I have classified as 1. Words from the « common Turkic-Mongolian vocabulary » and early Turkic loans present in Middle Mongolian. Those words could have been borrowed at the moment of their possible language shift from Turkic to Mongolic and cannot be identified as reminiscences of a Turkic language spoken by the proto-dongxiang people (e.g. alima ‘fruit’ < *alma ‘apple’ ; basi ‘tiger’ < *bars; khuzha ‘ram’ < *kočgar; tulun ‘leather pocket’ < *tulum); 2. Regional vocabulary, which are secondary loans from Turkic languages, shared among the other Mongolic and partially Turkic languages spoken in the Gansu-Qinghai region (e.g. tashi ‘stone’< *taš; bagva ‘toad’ < *baqa; giejie ‘paper’ < *kegde), and 3. Words that are unique to the Dongxiang language, of which some of them do not have cognates in the Modern Turkic languages spoken in China and are most probably inherited from Middle Turkic (e.g. ba’er ‘money’ < *baqir ‘coper coin’; lashigva ‘noodles’ < *laqʂha ‘noodles’). The later could be identified as a possible substrate. The diversity of the Turkic words found in Dongxiang Mongolian reflects different types of contact-induced and sociolinguistic mechanisms, i.e. language shift (adoption of a new lexicon), areal diffusion (borrowings in the context of the Gansu-Qinghai linguistic area), and inheritance (substrate residues).

Keywords: Dongxiang language, Turkic Vocabulary, Loanwords, language shift, substrate


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