Michel Ferlus

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Michel Ferlus
A picture of Michel Ferlus with Vi Khăm Mun, a scholar of Tương Dương, Nghệ An, Vietnam, at Mr. Mun's home
Michel Ferlus with Vi Khăm Mun, a scholar of Tương Dương, Nghệ An, Vietnam, at Mr. Mun's home. Date: 01/2014.
Known forRe-discovering the Lai Pao (Lai Paw) writing system, unique to Tương Dương, Việt Nam; making seminal contributions to the historical phonology of Southeast Asian languages
Scientific career
Fieldshistorical phonology
InfluencesAndré-Georges Haudricourt, André Martinet, George Cœdès, André Leroi-Gourhan, Roger Bastide

Michel Ferlus (born 1935) is a French linguist whose special study is in the historical phonology of languages of Southeast Asia. In addition to phonological systems, he also studies writing systems, in particular the evolution of Indic scripts in Southeast Asia.


Michel Ferlus was born in 1935. He followed classes in ethnology and prehistory taught by André Leroi-Gourhan; in 'primitive religions' by Roger Bastide; in linguistics by André Martinet; and in Southeast Asian languages and history by George Cœdès. He worked in Laos as a teacher from 1961 to 1968. This allowed him to do fieldwork on languages of Laos, including Hmong and Yao (Hmong-Mien family), Khmu/Khamou and Lamet (Austroasiatic/Mon-Khmer), as well as Phu Noi/Phou-Noy (Sino-Tibetan). He became a researcher at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in 1968. He mainly did fieldwork in Thailand and Burma (Myanmar) in the 1980s, studying Wa, Lawa, Palaung, Mon and Nyah Kur; in Vietnam and Laos in the 1990s, studying Viet-Muong (also known as Vietic) languages, and the Tai languages and writing systems of northern and central areas of Vietnam, including the Lai Pao writing system of Vietnam, which was close to falling into oblivion.[1]

He has published extensively about his findings on numerous languages of Laos, Thailand, Burma/Myanmar, and Vietnam, in journals such as Mon-Khmer Studies, Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale, and Diachronica.

Main findings[edit]

Michel Ferlus's main discoveries relate to the effects of monosyllabicization on the phonological structure of Southeast Asian languages. Tonogenesis (the development of lexical tones), registrogenesis (the development of lexically contrastive phonation-type registers), the evolution of vowel systems all partake in a general (panchronic) model of evolution.[2] Phenomena such as the spirantization of medial obstruents, which resulted in a major historical change in the sound inventory of Vietnamese,[3] are also part of the broad set of changes—originating in monosyllabicization—that swept through East/Southeast Asia.

Selected publications[edit]

  • “La langue souei : mutations consonantiques et bipartition du système vocalique,” Bull. Société Linguist. Paris, vol. 66, no. 1, pp. 378–388, 1971.
  • “Simplification des groupes consonantiques dans deux dialectes austroasiens du Sud-Laos,” Bull. Société Linguist. Paris, vol. 66, no. 1, pp. 389–403, 1971.
  • Ferlus, Michel (1982). "Spirantisation des obstruantes médiales et formation du système consonantique du vietnamien". Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale. 11 (1): 83–106. doi:10.3406/clao.1982.1105.
  • “Essai de phonétique historique du khmer (du milieu du premier millénaire de notre ère à l’époque actuelle),” Mon-Khmer Stud., vol. 21, pp. 57–89, 1992.
  • Ferlus, Michel (1992). "Histoire abrégée de l'évolution des consonnes initiales du Vietnamien et du Sino-Vietnamien". Mon–Khmer Studies. 20: 111–125.
  • “Langues et peuples viet-muong,” Mon-Khmer Stud., vol. 26, pp. 7–28, 1996.
  • Ferlus, Michel (1996). "Remarques sur le consonantisme du proto kam-sui". Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale. 25 (2): 235–278. doi:10.3406/clao.1996.1451.
  • “Le maleng brô et le vietnamien,” Mon-Khmer Stud., vol. 27, pp. 55–66, 1997.
  • Ferlus, Michel (1997). "Problèmes de la formation du système vocalique du vietnamien". Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale. 21 (1): 37–51. doi:10.3406/clao.1997.1504.
  • “Les systèmes de tons dans les langues viet-muong,” Diachronica, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 1–27, 1998.
  • “Les disharmonies tonales en viet-muong et leurs implications historiques,” Cah. Linguist. - Asie Orient., vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 83–99, 1999.
  • “On borrowing from Middle Chinese into Proto-Tibetan: a new look at the problem of the relationship between Chinese and Tibetan,” in Language variation: papers on variation and change in the Sinosphere and the Indosphere in honour of James A. Matisoff, D. Bradley, R. LaPolla, B. Michailovsky, and G. Thurgood, Eds. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, 2003, pp. 263–275.
  • “The Origin of Tones in Viet-Muong,” in Papers from the Eleventh Annual Conference of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society 2001, Somsonge Burusphat, Ed. Tempe, Arizona: Arizona State University Programme for Southeast Asian Studies Monograph Series Press, 2004, pp. 297–313.
  • “What were the four divisions of Middle Chinese?,” Diachronica, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 184–213, 2009.


  1. ^ A Vietnamese TV programme about fieldwork on the Lai Pao script by Michel Ferlus and Trần Trí Dõi
  2. ^ Ferlus, Michel. 1979. “Formation Des Registres Et Mutations Consonantiques Dans Les Langues Mon-khmer.” Mon-Khmer Studies 8: 1–76.
  3. ^ Ferlus, Michel. “Spirantisation des obstruantes médiales et formation du système consonantique du vietnamien,” Cah. Linguist. - Asie Orient., vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 83–106, 1982.

External links[edit]