Phutai Language

A comparative study of the Phutai in Thailand and Laos P.D.R.





     After completing the Thai-Isan-Lao Phrasebook (White Lotus, 2000) Asger Mollerup worked for a short period on the Phutai language as it is spoken in his multi-ethnic village, Ban Kaeng Nang, Dong Luang District, Mukdahan Province, Thailand, where he has been living for nearly two decades. The Phutai dialect of Kaeng Nang Village is an off-spring of the Phutai from the neighbouring Khao Wong District, Kalasin Province, from where the village formerly was administered.

     Due to other tasks the author had to shelf the studies of Phutai language until he January 1, 2007 married a Phutai woman and moved to her village, Ban Na Ko, Boa Khao (Kutchinarai) District, Kalasin Province. Now living in a mono-ethnic culture the inspiration for Phutai came to live again - with 'Mor Let' (Thanyalux Chayasook Mollerup) as an inspiring co-writer.

     In the first part of 2007 both authors were busy with work and individual projects. Now in the rainy season 2007 we work together again: Phutai 'writing manual', as the Phutai has no written language and no general consensus on how to write it.

Project description

     In 2006 the two authors compiled wordlists in Thai, Lao-Isan and Phutai containing words where the phonemes differ from one another. For example 'beautiful': Phutai: sap, Thai: suai, Lao: ngam.

     The Phutai language project will in many ways be similar to the Thai-Isan-Lao Phrasebook containing phrases, wordlists, grammar by sample and writing manuals for Phutai as well as Thai and Lao. The writing will be done using Thai and Lao letters. Thai letters for Central Thai and Phutai in Thailand. Lao letters for Lao and Phutai in Laos P.D.R. For the non-native speakers IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) will be applied. Everything will be translated into English. And sound-tracks will be done on Phutai.

     Phutai is like Thai and Lao a tonal language belonging to the Tai-Kadai language family. The Phutai live in a Lao language environment, but is not a Lao dialect. Phutais are often referred to as Phutai Dam (Black Phutai) and Phutai Khao (White Phutai). Some writers associate the Phutai with the Tai Dam and Thai Khao (and even Thai Daeng and Tai Lai) of Northern Lao and NW-Vietnam (Sip Song Chu Tai or Sip Song Chao Tai, Dien Bien Phu, Muang Thaen). The authors believe that this should be modified to that the area of origin probably is the same and that the groups are closely related - but different. An arguments for this working-theory is based on comparative linguistics: Tai Dam have diphthongs, Phutai have not. For example: Tai Dam: 'wife': mia, 'cow': ngua, 'north': nuea is in Phutai: mee, ngoo, noe. Comparative studies in tonal systems will surely tell to what extend the languages - and the ethnic groups - are related.
     All proto-tai words are mono-syllabic and the phonemes mostly identical. For example: 'mother': mae, 'eat': kin, and 'water': naam will the same in the three languages, but the tones added to the phonemes are different. See tonal systems / tonal cards.
     The Phutai in NE-Thailand were resettled from different areas of southern Laos in the 19th century.  They say that they have different dialects. These dialects mostly differs in use of tonal system. The Phutai on the other side of the Mekong will probably differ in tonal systems as well. Maybe it will be possible to link Phutai dialects on the two sides of the Mekong by comparing tonal cards and thereby trace the origin of a Phutai dialect in Isan (NE-Thailand).
     The proto-tai phonemes of the Phutai dialects along the eastern and western side of the Mekong are expected to be very much alike. The Lao Phutai might have a more archaic vocabulary.

     An initial study tour to the Phutai area in Sawannakhet Province in Southern Laos on the other side of the Mekong River will be conducted after the rainy season.
     Later visits will include elders of our community, who will be valuable informants on similarities/differences in language and culture on the two sides of the Mekong River.

     Friends of ours, doing projects about Phutai healing, herbal medicine and massage (mor jau, mor pau, mor samunphrai, mor nuat), Phutai weaving, Phutai history, extinct vocabulary, etc have been invited to contribute with separate web-pages - hopefully being chapters in a coming book.
     Others could join as well. The project is open - and so is the Indo China Bridge crossing the Mekong River at Mukdahan-Sawannakhet.

Planning (due to changes)
1.0.0. Language:
1.1.1. Phutai language in Ban Na Ko, Boa Khao District, Kalasin Province, Thailand (2005-07).
1.1.2. Wordlist with Phutai phonemes that differ from Lao and Thai (2005-07)
1.1.3. Phrases in Phutai (2007).
1.1.4. Wordlists (illustrated) with ords for tonal determination (2007).
1.1.5. Manual for writing Phutai language (2005-08).
1.2.0. Phutai language in Muang Phin, Muang Wang and Maung Sephon, Sawannakhet province, Lao P.D.R. (2007-09).
1.3.0 Other Phutai dialects in Mukdahan, Kalasin, Nakhon Phanom and Sakon Nakhon provinces, Thailand (2008-10).
1.4.0. Phutai dialects in northern Laos (2008).
1.5.0. Phutai dialects in Vietnam (2008).
1.6.0. Phutai and Tai Dam language: Similarities and differences (1998-2009).

Phutai, Nyo and Yoi language (Sakon Nakhon Province): Similarities and differences (2009).

1.8.0. Tonal analysis based on recordings of the above dialects  (2007 and on).
1.9.0. Literature studies (2005 and on).
2.0.0. Culture, costumes and history of the Phutai in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam:
Compare customs and beliefs (e.g. beliefs in spirits (‘liang phii’), annual ceremonies and customs, marriage ceremonies etc.) -  (2006 an on).
2.2.0. Compare weaving and other handicrafts: Field studies in Sawannakhet, Laos (2007-08) - by achan Sanoe.
2.3.0. Phutai traditional medicine (2005-08) - by mor Thao
2.4.0. Phutai extinct vocabulary (2006-08) - by nong Thao
2.5.0. Phutai children's plat (2007) - by achan Baa.
2.6.0. Literature studies (2005 and on).
3.0.0. Output:
3.1.0. ''Preservation of Minority Languages along the Mekong River'' (2007 and on).
3.2.0. Website (2005 and on).
3.3.0. Publish the results as a book (eventually an E-book).
4.0.0.  Form:
4.1.0. English, Thai, Lao and IPA - with associated sound tracks on CD.


12 August 2007

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