Slater, Keith. 2009. Review of WUTUN by J Janhunen, M Peltomaa, E Sandman, and Xiawudongzhuo. ASIAN HIGHLANDS PERSPECTIVES 1:367-371.

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I once heard a presentation in which the speaker gave a typology of 'mixed languages', the final type of which was 'languages that should not be', and the only example of this type given was Wutun. This evaluation was based on confusing details about Wutun that had, to that time, appeared in scholarly publications. Based on the descriptions found in such publications as Chen (1982, 1988, 1989), Li (1984, 1986), Wurm (1995), and especially the analysis presented by Lee-Smith and Wurm (1996), Wutun appeared to be a fairly random mixture of Tibetan, Chinese, and Mongolian elements. Randomness in linguistic structure, of course, should not be, and a random mixture of elements from three source languages would be unusual indeed. With this background, the linguist with an interest in the outcomes of language contact will be delighted with Wutun. Janhunen et al. have done a great service to the field by giving us both a reliable outline of the structures of Wutun, and (more importantly from a contact perspective) by identifying historical sources of the various Wutun lexemes and structures that they describe. Under this well informed treatment, Wutun no longer appears to be a random mixture, nor even a particularly odd language.

The Book

This is the first ever systematic grammatical description of the Wutun language, spoken by a compact population of some 4,000 individuals at Wutun, Qinghai Province, China, also known as the Amdo region of ethnic Tibet. Wutun is an aberrant variety of Northwest Mandarin. Its basic vocabulary and the material resources of its grammar are mainly of a Chinese origin, but structurally it has almost completely adapted to its current linguistic environment, in which various local varieties of Amdo Tibetan are the dominant oral idioms.

Wutun may be characterized as a topic-prominent serial-verb language with a welldeveloped category of nominal case and a complex system of complement verbs and auxiliaries. Its other properties include a highly diversified consonant paradigm and the universally uncommon category of perspective.

The Wutun speakers are officially classified as members of the Tu nationality, but culturally they are closely connected with the Tibetan ethnicity. The locality of Wutun is an important center of Tibetan art and learning, Wutun remains a living language supported by the whole local community of all generations.

Juha Janhunen is Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the Institute for Asian and African Studies, University of Helsinki. Marja Peltomaa and Erika Sandman are doctoral candidates at the same institute. Xiawu Dongzhou, a native speaker of Wutun, is a project manager based in Xining, Qinghai Province, China. ISBN 978 3 89586 026 3. Languages of the World/ Materials 466. 136pp. USD 70.50 / EUR 48.00 / GBP 34.50 2008.