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Review of An Ili Salar vocabulary: Introduction and a provisional Salar-English lexicon

posted February 1st, 2008

An Ili Salar vocabulary: Introduction and a provisional Salar-English lexicon. By Abdurishid Yakup. (Contribution to the studies of Eurasian languages 5.) Tokyo: Department of Linguistics, University of Tokyo, 2002. Pp. xiv, 182. OCLC 60659716.

Reviewed by Craig Farrow, SIL International

Publications on the Salar language (primarily Qinghai Province, China) are few and far between, and so An Ili Salar vocabulary is a welcome contribution, especially since it is the first publication to focus on the Ili variety (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China; population in 1985 census: 3,706). Although the book is not a treatise on the Salar language (that is not its intent), Abdurishid Yakup offers interesting insights into the historical development of the Ili variety and helpful comparisons with the many languages it has been in contact with.

The main factor that sets this variety of Salar apart from the varieties spoken in Qinghai is that the language of wider communication in Ili is Uyghur, as opposed to Mandarin Chinese. ‘Unlike Qinghai Salars, not many Salars in Xinjiang are able to communicate in Chinese’ (19), and since Salar has no written script ‘the Salars use Modern Uyghur as the main literary medium’ (20). The Ili Salars have migrated from Qinghai over the last hundred years and Y believes that Ili Salar is regaining Turkic morphological features from Uyghur that had been almost lost in Qinghai. This leads him to conclude that Salar’s recent exposure to a related language, after being isolated from Turkic languages for a long time, has resulted in a faster assimilation of Uyghur features than would normally be expected through contact with languages of different language families.

In light of the variety of languages that Salar speakers have been in contact with over the last centuries, Y’s discussion of the influence that contact with related and unrelated languages has had on Ili Salar is noteworthy. In fact, a chief strength of this work is the frequent presentation of cognates from the various contact languages—Chinese, Tibetan, Uyghur, Kazakh, and Arabic—as well as relevant comparisons with the Qinghai variety of Salar. Y not only gives illustrative examples in the introduction, but borrowings from contact languages are also an integral part of the lexicon.

The lexicon itself is, of course, the main part of this work. It consists of around 5,000 entries covering an extensive range of primarily concrete lexemes. Lexemes are transcribed in IPA using a mixture of phonemic and phonetic representations (to illustrate how various phonemes are realized), although these are not marked in any way, so it is not always clear which is which. Glosses are supplied in English, and, where Y has identified borrowings from other languages, he also gives the likely source lexemes. A significant feature of the lexicon is numerous example phrases and collocations, with the result that this work also provides some basic morphological and grammatical data.

Y also briefly includes a comparison between Ili Salar phonology and the Qinghai (Gaizi/Jiezi) variety, a history of the linguistic classification of Salar, a good background and historical summary of the Ili Salar people, cultural and sociolinguistic observations, and a thorough bibliography.

Overall, this work is a valuable contribution to the linguistic literature. Being the first publication on Ili Salar, it provides good groundwork for further study and comparison between Salar varieties. It is also a useful resource for researchers interested in the dynamics of language contact, especially among Central Asian languages.