Research Publications PDF Print


Hall, Elizabeth. 2014. Impact of Tai Lue on Muak Sa-aak phonology. Mon-Khmer Studies Journal 43.1:24–30.

Abstract: The Austroasiatic language Muak Sa-aak belongs to the Angkuic branch of the Palaungic subgroup. Speakers live primarily in eastern Shan State of Myanmar. This analysis is based on the variety of Wan Fai village. Although Burmese and Chinese are influential, their primary contact language is the Tai Kadai language Tai Lue. Borrowing from this language is extensive, even to the extent of replacing their numerals with Tai Lue. Although Muak Sa-aak underwent the Germanic shift typical of Angkuic languages, replacing proto-voiced initials with voiceless ones, it still retains some voiced initials. There is some evidence that language contact may have resulted in a three-tone system, where pitch would otherwise have been largely predictable. For the majority of rhotic-initial loan words, borrowing shows a direct correspondence of Muak Sa-aak /r/ with initial /h/ in Tai Lue. Some evidence from Assamese Tai languages suggests that rather than being a replacement, this might reflect a time when Tai Lue possibly still had a rhotic.


Hall, Elizabeth. 2014. An Analysis of Muak Sa-aak Tone. Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society (JSEALS) 7:1-10. Link to the published article:

Abstract: Muak Sa-aak is a tonal Angkuic language spoken in Eastern Shan state of Myanmar, belonging to the Austroasiatic family. It has three contrastive tones: a falling tone, a low tone, and a constricted tone with two allotones. Syllable structure and tone are closely linked, seen by restrictions on the occurrence of tones with certain syllable structures. Angkuic languages do not appear to develop tone through the loss of an initial consonant voicing distinction, as they instead underwent a shift where proto-voiceless initial tenuis stops became aspirated and proto-voiced consonants were devoiced (Svantesson 1988); it instead is connected with vowel length contrast (Svantesson 1988, Diffloth 1991). None the less, Muak Sa-aak preserves vowel length contrast despite the development of tone. It is argued that Muak Sa-aak tonogenesis is motivated by both vowel length and final consonants.


Tebow II, Charles Thomas, and Lew, Sigrid. 2013. A phonological description of Western Bru, Sakon Nakhorn Variety, Thailand. Mon-Khmer Studies Journal 42:127-139.

Abstract: This paper provides a phonological analysis for a Western Bru variety spoken in Northeast Thailand labelled Bru Sakon Nakhorn (Bru SN). Previous descriptions of Western Bru varieties differ in the amount of distinctive vowel qualities, the presence of onglides linked to phonation and vowel height, the contrastive status of the feature nasalisation, and vowel contrast in reduced syllables. The present analysis identifies contrastive onglides, lack of contrastive nasalization, and predictable vowel qualities in reduced syllables. It further argues that the consonants often described as palatal plosives or alveolo-palatal affricates in Mon-Khmer languages are alveolo-palatal plosives. The vowel system indicates that diphthongs are phonologically short vowels. Ongliding related to vowel height and phonation type is not present. Furthermore, this variety appears to differ from closely related So in distinguishing onglides and offglides. Spectrograms and minimal pairs reveal that they are contrasting phonemes, not allophones, indicating that Bru SN clearly retains this vowel contrast, in line with other Bru varieties.


Lew, Sigrid. 2014. A linguistic analysis of the Lao writing system and its suitability for minority language orthographies. Writing Systems Research 6 (1). Special Issue: Reading and writing: Insights from the alphasyllabaries of South and Southeast Asia, 25-40. Link to the published article:

Abstract: Standard Lao, the official language in the Lao PDR, is spoken in and around the capital Vientiane. Lexicon, vowels and especially tone inventories of the many Lao dialects in the nation differ tremendously. A new orthography to replace the traditional Pali-based orthography which was hard to teach and learn was established during the Lao language reform in 1975. This study investigates the grapheme-phoneme correspondences of Lao orthography and its applicability to other languages in the multilingual nation. After a short introduction to the Lao language and the linguistic situation in the country, the Lao phoneme inventory and a description of the nature and historical development of Lao script are presented, including some taxonomic considerations discussing the segmental, suprasegmental and syllabic features of this script. This is followed by a linguistic evaluation of the orthography and a summary in the light of how to apply Lao script to other languages spoken in the country. Three minority orthographies based on Lao script illustrate that the almost entirely direct phonemic correspondences, consistency in the formation of multigraphs, the rich grapheme inventory, and the both segmental and syllabic characteristics of this semi-alphabetic script support a direct application to other, even unrelated languages with contrastive suprasegmental features like tone or voice quality. No orthography testing or studies on literacy acquisition have been done on these or any other Lao-script based minority scripts yet, so that firm recommendations regarding the creation of new Lao-script based orthographies cannot be given.

View the author's accepted manuscript


Page, Christina Joy. 2013. "A new orthography in an unfamiliar script: a case study in participatory engagement strategies." Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. 1-16. DOI: 10.1080/01434632.2013.783035

Abstract: This paper describes a series of workshops in which speakers of two minority languages in southeast Asia without a written tradition developed orthographies for their languages. Sociolinguistic factors affecting orthography design and acceptability are explained, particularly those motivating script choice, followed by linguistic considerations for orthography development. A discussion of the necessity for community participation in orthography development includes methods for facilitating a participatory orthography development process. Next, a case study of participatory orthography development where two language communities developed their initial orthography proposals with the author's involvement is presented. As a result of various sociolinguistic factors, both groups of workshop attendants developed an orthography in a script previously unknown to the majority of their language communities. The paper outlines the process used for this, as well as specific strategies for involving language committee members in orthography development. An evaluation of the case study in the light of previous research is given in the conclusion, followed by a discussion of how participatory orthography processes can be applied when working with other language communities, in order to develop orthography proposals that are sociolinguistically acceptable.

View the author's accepted manuscript


Hall, Elizabeth. 2013. A phonological description of Muak Sa-aak. Mon-Khmer Studies Journal 42:26-39

Abstract: The Austroasiatic language Muak Sa-aak, belonging to the Angkuic branch of Eastern Palaungic, is a tonal language spoken in Eastern Shan State of Myanmar and in China. This paper provides a phonological description of a variety spoken in Eastern Shan State. Like other Angkuic languages, Muak Saaak has undergone a shift whereby proto voiced stops have become voiceless and voiceless stops have become aspirated. However, the language does have the voiced stops /b, d/, due to borrowing. Despite the development of tone, Muak Sa-aak retains contrastive vowel length. Another surprising feature of this language is the phenomenon of final sonorant lengthening for short vowels.


Miller, Michelle. 2013. A description of Kmhmu' Lao-script based orthography. Mon-Khmer Studies Journal 42:12-25

Abstract: Kmhmu’ is a language of the Mon-Khmer language family. Extensive linguistic research and analysis of the varieties of Kmhmu’ spoken in Southeast Asia has led to the grouping of Kmhmu’ into three dialect categories, generally referred to as Northern, Western and Southern (Svantesson 1989). The orthographydescribed in this paper was developed for the Southern dialect and utilizes a Lao-based script. Suksavang and Preisig (Suksavanget al 1994) were instrumental in refining this orthography. This description of the Southern Kmhmu’ orthography explains how the Lao script is used and/or adapted to represent the Kmhmu’ phonemes, presents orthographic conventions for writing words of various structural types and summarizes teaching/learning experiences observed in mother-tongue Kmhmu’ speakers.
Keywords: Austroasiatic, orthography, sesquisyllables


Michelle M. Miller and Timothy M. Miller. 2011. A Study of Language Use and Literacy Practices to Inform Local Language Literature Development among Khmu in Thailand. Mon-Khmer Studies Journal Special Issue No. 2., 98-111.


Wannemacher, Mark. 2011. A Phonological Overview Of The Lacid Language. Chiang Mai: Payap University Linguistics Institute.

Abstract: This paper provides an overview of Lacid phonology.  It begins by examining four previous studies, followed by the author's own phonological analysis of the Lacid language.  The author's analysis includes syllable and word structure, Lacid consonants and consonantal processes, Lacid vowels and vowel processes, morphophonemics, tone and voice quality analyses.  The papers concludes with a comparison of the previous studies with the author's analysis and suggestions for further study.

Miller, Timothy and Michelle. 2009. A sociolinguistic and literacy study of Khmu communities in Thailand: toward the process and products of language development. Chiang Mai: Payap University Linguistics Institute.

Abstract: Khmu is a Mon-Khmer language spoken in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China. There has been extensive linguistic research conducted among Khmu communities, and there have been experimental efforts to apply this research toward the development of an orthography using the Thai script to serve the Khmu of Thailand, but currently there is not an orthography that has been accepted by Khmu communities and used for the development of local language literature. This research was conducted to gather salient sociolinguistic, education, literacy, and inter-dialect intelligibility data that will inform the process and products of a community-based language development program that may include orthography development, design and use of local language literacy instruction materials and ultimately the production of local language literature and non-print media resources that will be relevant to community needs and desires. This research was conducted among Khmu communities of Chon Daen sub-district, Nan province, Thailand, during 2008.

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