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The Australian National University

Kusunda linguistics

Kusunda is a heavily endangered language isolate of western Nepal. There is currently one speaker resident in Nepal (Gyani Maiya Sen, who lives near Lamahi in the Deukhuri valley, just south of the Dang valley and north of the Siwalik range of hills that form the border with India), with two other speakers reported to have recently moved to India. The language was largely unknown, apart from reports of a very atypical lexicon, until 2005, when David Watters prepared a grammatical sketch (available online) with the assistance of other members of the Central Department of Linguistics at Tribhuvan University, in Kathmandu.

The ethnic group, the smallest known group in Nepal, is featured in local indigenous activism, as reported in this story from the newspaper Gorkhapatra. The fate of the language was the subject of a recent report from the BBC News Service. For more reports, and relevant links, see the links page.

John Peterson, from Christian-Albrechts-Universit├Ąt in Kiel, Germany, examined the lexicon that was made available in Watters (2005), and has been valuable in suggesting research directions to do with Kusunda. He also maintains the extremely valuable Bibliography for seldom studied and endangered South Asian Languages. It's a must-stop location for anyone interested in work on the lesser studied languages of the region. Also here.

Our work is concentrating on obtaining naturalistic texts. Already these texts have shown that many of the traits described in Watters (2005) are artefacts of elicitation: since Nepali, the contact language, is SOV, the sentences obtained were all SOV, whereas the texts show that word order is not fixed at a clausal level, and indeed that NPs may be scattered about the sentence. Perhaps even more dramatically, textual analysis and follow-up elicitation has shown that Kusunda verbs do not mark tense, aspect, mood, or negation, making the language very typologically aberrant in any sample.

Some short texts and their preliminary analysis are available in pdf format here.

The linguists working as part of the Kusunda team are:

Gyani Maiya Gyani Maiya Dang Valley Dang Valley

Updated:  19 July 2014/Responsible Officer:  Mark Donohue /Page Contact:  Mark Donohue