Chinese-dominant bilingualism: Testing the bilingual competence of ethnic Nuosu

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This research provides quantitative evidence of the decline in Nuosu competence among the young Nuosu generation in Liangshan, Sichuan, China, through a direct comprehensive linguistic measurement of their Nuosu- Chinese bilingual competence. Although the young generation can still speak Nuosu, a Tibeto-Burman language, as fluently as the elder Nuosu generations without apparent difficulty, this research identifies the subtle change of competence before it becomes widely noticeable. A sample of 34 ethnic Nuosu of three generations was tested in Xichang, Liangshan, through measuring their core or implicit language knowledge (i.e. morphology, syntax, lexicon, semantics, and pragmatics) in Nuosu and Chinese. The participants were from seven Shynra-speaking counties and two Yynuospeaking counties, mainly within Liangshan. The test format was listening and speaking, to include illiterate speakers. It was found that all elder and middle-aged subjects still possessed monolingual baseline competence, which was stable and maintained at a high level. However, only half of the young Nuosu subjects achieved monolingual baseline competence in Nuosu. The other half, though still considered as native speakers of Nuosu, had lower and more varied competence; however, almost all of them achieved monolingual baseline competence in Chinese. The Nuosu speech community in Liangshan is shifting from Nuosu-dominant bilingualism to Chinese-dominant bilingualism. Moreover, the present study proposes a typology of native speakers and a typology of bilinguals based on different levels of competence obtained from the current sample. Copyright © 2019 John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)280-322
JournalLinguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


Ding, H. (2019). Chinese-dominant bilingualism: Testing the bilingual competence of ethnic Nuosu. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area, 42(2), 280-322. doi: 10.1075/ltba.17014.din


  • Bilingual competence
  • Grammatical description
  • Lesser-known languages
  • Native language
  • Nuosu


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