The Monguors - Their Language and Culture

Strategies of the Intercultural Dialogue in an Interethnic Milieu

International workshop organized by the Department of Inner Asian Studies, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, March 19–20, 2012

The workshop is supported by the European Union and co-financed by the European Social Fund
(grant agreement no. TAMOP 4.2.1/B-09/1/KMR-2010–0003).

Abstracts and materials related to the lectures

Ágnes Birtalan: Fieldwork and Philological Studies at the Department of Inner Asian Studies

Juha Janhunen: The peoples and languages of the Amdo Qinghai region

Sławoj Szynkiewicz: Are the Monguors Adapted or Assimilated to the Chinese Culture?

In ethnology assimilation means a complete loss of cultural specificity. The Monguors’ case is that of an advanced acculturation, that is of modification and adjustment. They always have been in the state of multidirectional culture exchange involving Tibetans and Han. At present hey tend to participate in an open multinational state. They receive more than give out of their own heritage, and benefits count notable in comparison with sacrifices.

The Monguors surrendered some parts of their identity to Han culture willingly or undeliberately, but without coercion and with no open strategy from above. Conversion to Buddhism has changed comparably the Monguor culture, but not to the extent of labelling it an assimilation. Assimilation is commonly associated negatively, but until it signifies only acculturation, it remains a universal means of accomodation, though often interpreted with bias.

The Han acculturate to Monguors as well, though on local level only. More significant is the opposite process, which usually affects a great part of a small ethnicity. Ethnic culture is threatened especially by Chinese substitutions in terminology related to traditional worldview.

Borrowings from the mainstream culture are unavoidable and usually start with an upper strata of a society. Apart from that, there are segments who understand that a deep adaptation promises untroubled survival and advantageous participation in nation’s modernization. Therefore they purposedly tend to mirror the dominant culture, but even then do not terminate their ethnic background.

Assimilation does not seem to be a proper definition of the Monguors’ cultural status from the anthropological point of view. They appear however close to it. They profess own identity that consists of feeling of ethnic separateness, have an ethnonym and records of group history, their majority declares own language. All that singles them apart of neighbouring groups and secures continuity of identity. Their situation can be classed as an advanced acculturation. No strong culture revival movement is being observed.

Sławoj Szynkiewicz: What is in their name? Tu vs Monguor

It has been proposed that the name “Tu” was dictated in order to deprive the Monguors of their identity. The author of the idea, Susette Cooke, holds Communists responsible for the intrigue as they had the power to restore their self-name but did not. In her words the Mongours were dispossessed and exiled from their origin and history. Following is a discussion of validity of this assumption.

In old China non-Han nationalities were barred from the Chinese civilization and thus could save their identity. Under the PRC they are expected to modernize and adjust to the Han who lead modernization. Remaining outside the civilised or socialist community has always been considered retrogressive. Multicultural state of new China recognizes various identities under the condition of becoming progressive, that is discarding maladjusted parts of their heritage.

Internal differentiation of the Monguors does not work for ethnic unity and self-appelations do not conceal them. Thus traditional foreign name can stimulate wholeness. “Tu” is an inclusive name used since late medieval times to designate mixed population dominated by the Monguors. Though Chinese in origin, the name was accepted by the latter as a neutral word embracing diversified community. Long-lasting language convention got it regular for the Monguors and Chinese as well, wich made the appelation Tu habitual and established in the Chinese vocabulary.

Older historians were conjecturing on ancient Tuyuhun people that might have given origin to the Monguors. The chronicled name was associated with the present one irrespectively of their different meaning and writing. It could appear convenient for people’s sentiments as giving food for the group’s pride. Recent studies have casted doubts on the association, anyhow it paid service to Monguor identity.

All China nationalities lost something of their heritage, except their names that can be used freely in everyday usage. Prohibited is expressing values considered harmful for nation’s security, which can be defined very broadly. As an alternative for articulating sensitive ideas there appeared ways of manifesting ethnic culture in a bid to represent it to a wide public. They however confine cultures to folkloristic display thus limiting identities to representation. But Tu–Monguor ethnonym, or any other, has nothing to do with depreciation or recognition of identity.

Hans Nugteren: 120 years of Mangghuer. Potanin’s and Rockhill’s materials compared to modern data

This paper aims to investigate the phonetic and lexical features of 19th century ‘Sanchuan’, as documented in wordlists by G. N. Potanin and W. W. Rockhill, and compare them with those of Mangghuer according to later sources. Of special interest are those phonetic features and lexical items that were preserved in the older sources, but have not been documented since.

Phonetically, the most consistent tendency is the loss of syllable-final consonants. The speed of this development apparently increased after the mid-20th century data of B.X. Todaeva and Chinggeltei, which are quite close to the old sources in this respect.

Lexically, a small set of typical Mangghuer words have been documented at several stages, and still persist, such as duġli ‘ghost’ and dama ‘face’, which are missing even from its sister language Mongghul.

Hans Nugteren: Shared features of the Monguor languages within Shirongol

The Monguoric branch of Shirongol can be defined (i.e., contrasted with the Baoanic branch) by a small number of sound laws, and by a larger number of irregular phonetic developments, lexical and grammatical features.

The most striking phonetic features are the loss of *n and the palatalisation of *ki > ći.

Lexical items that survive in Monguoric, but not in Baoanic, include *balgasun ‘wall’, *idee ‘pus’. Other typical Monguoric items include *andźi ‘where?’ and *baga- ‘to hit’. The Monguoric languages also share specific loanwords, such as *takau ‘chicken’ from Turkic and the Iranian loanword *bag ‘tree’. A shared semantic peculiarity is the development ‘to look’ from *nau ‘to aim’. The paper will give further examples from these categories.

Mátyás Balogh: Among the Minhe Mongours: the Experiences of Two Brief Stays in the Sanchuan Region

The Farmer - The Nadun festival is held from August to October every year in the Monguor villages of the Sanchuan region situated in the northern bank of the Yellow River, the southern part of Minhe Hui and Monguor Autonomous County. Different stories are related by the performances of the Nadun-dancers. Some of them are inspired by Chinese classics such as the -Sanguo Yanyi- 'The Romance of the Three Kingdoms'.This dance called "The Farmer" is about an idle boy, who likes gambling and doing business in the city, but when it comes to plowing he proves to be very clumsy. His parents and wife also participate in the dance during which they invite old and reputable men from the village and entertain them to some liquor and tobacco. In return the elders teach the boy, his parents and wife how to plow the earth.

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Minhe Monguor recording 1: Ghudarqi bulai - The lying boy [download MP3]

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Minhe Monguor recording 2: Sange xjun - Three daughters [download MP3]

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Minhe Monguor recording 3: Jiutou yaomer - Nine-headed monster [download MP3]

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