Lesser Known Languages
of Northern Vietnam

Support of this research provided by:


 the National Endowment for the Humanities (1995-97)
the National Science Foundation (1995-97, 1998-2000)
through the research grants SBR-9511285 and SBR-9729043


Dr. Jerold A. Edmondson
Dr. Kenneth J. Gregerson
The University of Texas at Arlington
Prof. Dr. Nguyen Van Loi
the Linguistics Institute of Vietnam

(A map and selected sound files for the research described below can be found here.)

The ethnic minority languages of northern Vietnam represent a rich diversity as to their genetic affinities (Kadai and Tai, Tibeto-Burman, Mon-Khmer, Hmong-Mien) and populations that range from a few hundred to a million speakers.  Even so, they constitute without exception some of the least understood groups in the Southeast Asian linguistic area, indeed in the world as a whole.  The reasons for this relative void in our linguistic knowledge are rather straightforward.  Many of the speakers of these languages live in geographical areas that are rather difficult of access due to lack of roads and seasonal restrictions on travel.  A further factor is that native speakers of a number of these languages have not traditionally ventured out to take part in or live in the larger Vietnamese world.  Without doubt, however, the biggest complication to linguistic research in the last half century has been the virtually unbroken series of armed conflicts that has disrupted not only scholarly research, but all other aspects of life in Indochina.  Since 1995, however, there have been a series of fieldwork projects between the US and Vietnam on who the peoples of the borderlands are and what their languages are like.

Beginning in September 1995 there have been seven expeditions to the Vietnamese borderland provinces of Lai Chau (1999), Son La (1999), Cao Bang (1998), Ha Giang (1996, 1997), Tuyen Quang (1995), and Lao Cai (1996) jointly by the American team with a Vietnamese team headed by Professor Nguyen Van Loi of the Linguistics Institute of Vietnam, Hanoi.  During this time more than 30 languages have been studied for their phonological, lexical, and to some extent, their grammatical features.  A list of these languages and their genetic affiliation is available  here.

In order to provide more information about these languages, we have prepared an FTP-site with digitized sound files of our data on languages of the borderlands.  In the list of languages and their genetic affiliations (see link above) the LETTERED locations represent languages studied 1995-1997.  Sound files for these language can be obtained on CD-ROM only (for the moment at least). On the linked map, the NUMBERED locations (except number 4)--languages studied 1998-2000--can be downloaded by clicking on the number and then by following the linked items to the digitized sound file.  To obtain CD-ROM versions of the 1998-2000 data, please contact the email address below.   Email edmondson@uta.edu.