Salar language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Native to China
Region Qinghai, Gansu
Native speakers
70,000  (2002)[1]
Arabic, Chinese, Pinyin-based Latin, and a separate Latin alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3 slr
Glottolog sala1264[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Salar is a Turkic language spoken by the Salar people, who mainly live in the provinces of Qinghai and Gansu in China; some also live in Yining, Xinjiang. The Salar number about 105,000 people, about 60,000[3](2002) speak the Salar language; under 20,000[3] monolinguals.

The Salar arrived at their current location in the 14th century, having migrated there from the west, according to a Salar legend from Samarkand. Linguistic evidence points to a possible western Turkic, Oghuz origin of the Salar. Contemporary Salar is heavily influenced by contact with Tibetan and Chinese.


The Salar language is the official language in all Salar autonomous areas.[4] Such autonomous areas are the Xunhua Salar Autonomous County and the Jishishan Bonan, Dongxiang and Salar Autonomous County.


Salar phonology has been influenced by Tibetan and Chinese. In addition, /k, q/ and /g, ɢ/ have become separate phonemes due to loanwords, as it has in other Turkic languages.[5]

Labial Dental Retroflex Alveolopalatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Plosive p b t d k ɡ q ɢ
Affricate t͡ʂ d͡ʐ t͡ɕ d͡ʑ
Fricative f (v) s z ʂ ɕ x ʁ h
Nasal m n
Approximant w l r j

Salar vowels are as in Turkish, with the back vowels a, ɨ, o u and the corresponding front vowels e, i, ø, y.[6]

Chinese and Tibetan Influence[edit]

In Amdo, Salar language has heavy Chinese and Tibetan influence. Although of Turkic origin, major linguistic structures have been absorbed from Chinese. Around 20% of the vocabulary is of Chinese origin, and 10% is also of Tibetan origin. Yet the official Communist Chinese government policy deliberately covers up these influences in academic and linguistics studies, trying to emphasize the Turkic element and completely ignoring the Chinese in the Salar language.[7] The Salar use the Chinese writing system since they do not have their own.[8] Salar language has taken loans and influence from neighboring Chinese languages.[9] It is neighboring variants of Chinese which have loaned words to the Salar language.[9]

Writing system[edit]

Salar used to be written in Arabic script; they still use it at present.[10] There are calls to standardize the Arabic-based script for Salar. Some Salar call for a Latin script, and some Salar elders who dislike the Latin script desire an Arabic script.[11] This lack of an official script has led the Salar to use the Chinese writing system.[12] China offered the Salar an official writing system but it was rejected. The Salar favor the continued use of Chinese characters which shows their "strong attachment to being citizens of the Chinese state".[13]

Despite there being an unofficial Latin-script alphabet based on the orthography for Turkic languages for the Salar, the Latin script is unpopular among the Salar and has failed to catch on.[citation needed] Arabic script is much more popular among the Salar.[citation needed] The Arabic script has historical precedent among the Salar; centuries-old documents in the Salar language were written in the Arabic script when discovered.[14]

Pinyin based Latin alphabet[edit]

A romanization of the Mengda dialect of Salar based on pinyin has been developed, created by a Salar, Ma Quanlin, who lives in Xunhua.[15] Like Pinyin, which is used to romanize Mandarin Chinese, this salar romanization is divided into categories of consonants and vowels.[15] Letters that occur both in pinyin and romanization of Mengda Salar share the same sound values.[15]


Pinyin IPA English approximation Explanation
b [p] spit unaspirated p, as in spit
p [] pay strongly aspirated p, as in pit
m [m] may as in English mummy
f [f] fair as in English fun
d [t] stop unaspirated t, as in stop
t [] take strongly aspirated t, as in top
n [n] nay as in English nit
l [l] lay as in English love
l /ð/ those as in English the
g [k] skill unaspirated k, as in skill
/ɣ/ no equivalent in English "thicker and deeper" version of g
k [] kay strongly aspirated k, as in kill
h [x] loch roughly like the Scots ch. English h as in hay or hot is an acceptable approximation.
j [] hatch No equivalent in English. Like q, but unaspirated. Not the s in Asia, despite the common English pronunciation of "Beijing". The sequence "ji" word-initially is the same as the Japanese pronunciation of (ジ) ji.
q [tɕʰ] cheek No equivalent in English. Like cheek, with the lips spread wide with ee. Curl the tip of the tongue downwards to stick it at the back of the teeth and strongly aspirate. The sequence "qi" word-initially is the same as the Japanese pronunciation of (チ) chi.
x [ɕ] she No equivalent in English. Like she, with the lips spread and the tip of your tongue curled downwards and stuck to the back of teeth when you say ee. The sequence "xi" is the same as the Japanese pronunciation of (シ) shi.
zh [] junk Rather like ch (a sound between choke, joke, true, and drew, tongue tip curled more upwards). Voiced in a toneless syllable.
ch [tʂʰ] church as in chin, but with the tongue curled upwards; very similar to nurture in American English, but strongly aspirated.
sh [ʂ] shirt as in shoe, but with the tongue curled upwards; very similar to marsh in American English
r [ʐ], [ɻ] ray Similar to the English z in azure and r in reduce, but with the tongue curled upwards, like a cross between English "r" and French "j". In Cyrillised Chinese the sound is rendered with the letter "ж".
z [ts] reads unaspirated c, similar to something between suds and cats; as in suds in a toneless syllable
c [tsʰ] hats like the English ts in cats, but strongly aspirated, very similar to the Czech and Polish c.
s [s] say as in sun
y [j], [ɥ] yea as in yes. Before a u, pronounce it with rounded lips.*
w [w] way as in water.*
v [v] vitamin as in very.


Pinyin IPA Form with zero initial Explanation
a [ɑ] a as in "father"
o [ɔ] (n/a) Approximately as in "office" in British accent; the lips are much more rounded.
e [ɯ̯ʌ], [ə] e a diphthong consisting first of a back, unrounded semivowel (which can be formed by first pronouncing "w" and then spreading the lips without changing the position of the tongue) followed by a vowel similar to English "duh". Many unstressed syllables in Chinese use the schwa [ə] (idea), and this is also written as e.
i [i] yi like English bee.
u [u] wu like English "oo"
ai [aɪ̯] ai like English "eye", but a bit lighter
ei [eɪ̯] ei as in "hey"
ui [u̯eɪ̯] wei as u + ei;
ao [ɑʊ̯] ao approximately as in "cow"; the a is much more audible than the o
iu [i̯ɤʊ̯] you as i + ou
ie [i̯ɛ] ye as i + ê; but is very short; e (pronounced like ê) is pronounced longer and carries the main stress (similar to the initial sound ye in yet)
an [an] an as in "ban" in British English (a more open fronted a)
en [ən] en as in "taken"
in [in] yin as i + n
un [yn] yun as ü + n;
ang [ɑŋ] ang as in German Angst (starts with the vowel sound in father and ends in the velar nasal; like song in some dialects of American English)
eng [əŋ] eng like e in en above but with ng added to it at the back
ing [iŋ] ying as i + ng
ong [ʊŋ], [u̯əŋ] weng starts with the vowel sound in book and ends with the velar nasal sound in sing; as u + eng in zero initial.


  1. ^ Salar at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Salar". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b :report for language code:slr
  4. ^ Fèlix Martí (2005). Fèlix Martí, ed. Words and worlds: world languages review. Volume 52 of Bilingual education and bilingualism (illustrated ed.). Multilingual Matters. p. 123. ISBN 1-85359-827-5. Retrieved 6-3-2011. 
  5. ^ a b Dwyer (2007:96)
  6. ^ Dwyer (2007:121)
  7. ^ William Safran (1998). William Safran, ed. Nationalism and ethnoregional identities in China. Volume 1 of Cass series--nationalism and ethnicity (illustrated ed.). Psychology Press. p. 72. ISBN 0-7146-4921-X. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  8. ^ Thammy Evans (2006). Great Wall of China: Beijing & Northern China (illustrated ed.). Bradt Travel Guides. p. 42. ISBN 1-84162-158-7. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  9. ^ a b Raymond Hickey (2010). Raymond Hickey, ed. The Handbook of Language Contact (illustrated ed.). John Wiley and Sons. p. 664. ISBN 1-4051-7580-X. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  10. ^ Ainslie Thomas Embree, Robin Jeanne Lewis (1988). Ainslie Thomas Embree, ed. Encyclopedia of Asian history, Volume 4 (2 ed.). Scribner. p. 154. ISBN 0-684-18901-1. Retrieved 2011-01-01. (Original from the University of Michigan)
  11. ^ William Safran (1998). William Safran, ed. Nationalism and ethnoregional identities in China. Volume 1 of Cass series--nationalism and ethnicity (illustrated ed.). Psychology Press. p. 77. ISBN 0-7146-4921-X. Retrieved 2011-01-01. 
  12. ^ Thammy Evans (2006). Great Wall of China: Beijing & Northern China (illustrated ed.). Bradt Travel Guides. p. 42. ISBN 1-84162-158-7. Retrieved 2011-01-01. 
  13. ^ Page 68, Allatson, Paul, MacCormack, Jo. (2008) Exile Cultures, Misplaced Identities. Rodopi
  14. ^ Dwyer (2007:91)
  15. ^ a b c MA Quanlin, MA Wanxiang, and MA Zhicheng (December 1993). "Salar Language Materials". In Kevin Stuart. SINO-PLATONIC PAPERS. Number 43. Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305 USA. p. 3. Retrieved September 30, 2012. 


  • Hahn, R. F. 1988. Notes on the Origin and Development of the Salar Language, Acta Orientalia Hungarica XLII (2–3), 235–237.
  • Dwyer, A. 1996. Salar Phonology. Unpublished dissertation University of Washington.
  • Dwyer, A. M. 1998. The Turkic strata of Salar: An Oghuz in Chaghatay clothes? Turkic Languages 2, 49–83.


  • Dwyer, Arienne M (2007). Salar: A Study in Inner Asian Language Contact Processes; Part 1: Phonology. Harrassowitz Verlag. ISBN 3-447-04091-2. 

External links[edit]