Monday, October 7, 2013

Language Profile: Zhuang

Over the past year we've looked at several macrolanguages such as Lahnda, Malay, and Serbo-Croatian. Today we're going to take a look at another macrolanguage, this time in China.

Zhuang is a member of the Tai-Kadai language family that also includes Thai. It is spoken by the Zhuang people, the largest minority ethnic group in China. It is primarily spoken in the southern Chinese area known as the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, though many speakers also live in Yunnan province.

According to the Ethnologue, there are 16 languages that make up the Zhuang macrolanguage. These distinct languages are not mutually intelligible, though some of them are closely related enough to constitute a dialect continuum.

The Li River in China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Some linguists prefer to group the languages by geographic location, dividing them into northern and southern Zhuang dialects based on their location in relation to the Yongjiang River. Hongshui He Zhuang is the most spoken of the languages in the northern region, with nearly 3 million speakers. South of the river, Yongnan Zhuang is the most spoken, with about 1.5 million speakers. 

There is also a standardized prestige dialect of the Zhuang languages known as Wuming. It is a dialect of the Yongbei Zhuang language, and has been developed by the government for official use in certain situations.

The Zhuang languages have traditionally been written in Old Zhuang script, known as Sawndip, for over one thousand years. It is a logographic system that uses Chinese characters. However, Standard Zhuang is also written using a Latin-based script.