"Half of the languages of the world are teetering on the brink of extinction. Just think about it." (Wade Davis, Canadian anthropologist)
The term white tai ('Tay Donx in white tai, Thái trắng in vietnamese, 傣端/dǎiduān in chinese, taï blanc in french) refers to an ethnic minority mainly found in the Northwest of Vietnam and in the South of China in the district of Jinping (province of Yunnan). It also refers to the specific language of this ethnic group, who counts a little less than 500.000 speakers worldwide.
According to the Atlas of endangered languages, which can be found on the UNESCO website (source: http://www.unesco.org/culture/languages-atlas/index.php?hl=fr&page=atlasmap), the white tai language is not considered as being endangered. However, we notice that fewer and fewer people are capable of reading or writing it and that there are very few educational initiatives to pass it on in the areas where the White Tais live. Existing documentation on the language remains limited, out-of-date or difficult to obtain.
We should not wait for the language to appear on the sad ranking for the endangered languages in order to take action in favour of its conservation!
I have planned a stay in Vietnam next September, in the Phong Thô disctrict (Province of Lai Châu), to meet White Taïs working for the conservation of their culture:
TEO Văn Điệc : 67 years old, has been voluntarily teaching Tai Blanc for 40 years, is considered a specialist of the white tai language in Vietnam. He is encountering difficulties in encouraging the young generations in the province of Lai Châu to keep alive their language. For several years, he has been accumulating an important bibliography in Vietnamese which it will be advisable to analyze and to integrate in the project.
NÔNG Văn Nhay: craftsman/musician, works within the Association of Arts and Literature in the Lai Châu Province for the preservation of the traditional white tai arts. He also produces and plays Ting Tao, the traditionnal two-strings white tai guitar (offered as a compensation to your contribution to the project).
My mission, along with those persons collaboration, will be to:
> share our bibliography (manuscripts, books, research publications...)
> make voice-recording and videos of white tai speakers (glossary, everyday situations, stories, songs, oral traditions,...).
Moreover, I will take the opportunity to:
> study local teaching methods
> analyse Mr TEO Văn Điệc's difficulties to pass down the language to the young generations, in order to suggest solutions later.
Then back to France, I would have got enough subject matters to build a multi-languages website opened to everyone and dedicated to the white tai language. It will include:
> an introduction to the language: history, phonetics, writing system
> a glossary (expandable up to users suggestions)
> lessons by topics, from videos and voice recordings done during the stay, enhanced by transcriptions and translations
> manuscripts analysis.
The website will be the result of a cooperation with future users and project contributors.
As with any linguistic project, it becomes necessary to involve experts on the subject.
That is why two specialists in Taï-Kadaï languages (the linguistic group in which Tai Blanc is classified) agreed to bring their expertise and to advise on the project:
> Michel FERLUS: retired CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research, France) study leader, (but still active and in demand for conferences worldwide), associate member of the CRLAO (Center of Linguistic Researches in Oriental Asia, France), linguist, specialist of Austro-Asian and Taï-Kadaï languages in South-East Asia in a broad sense (an area which also covers East India and South China)
> Tai-Luc NGUYEN TAN: teacher at the INALCO (National Institute of Oriental Languages & Civilizations in Paris, France), lecturer in compared linguistics of the Taï-Kadaï languages, author of "Let's speak Lü: The Thaï language of the twelve thousand rice fields of Yunnan" ( Harmattan).
During my last trip in Vietnam in 2011, I was invited by White Tais to a celebration. Music, rice wine and laughters. From the outside, uncle An said to me "Môn Lay!" (white tai meaning for "lot of laugh"), I answered with a smile...just before I realized he actually meant to say "Moonlight" while pointing to the sky. I brought back this play on words with my memories: up to me, it is the best name I could find for this project!
IF YOU ARE WILLING TO BRING ANY HELP (GRAPHIC DESIGN, FONT CREATION, TRANSLATION,...) PLEASE CONTACT ME!