The Bonan language (pronounced [p⁼aoˈnaŋ], Baonang; Chinese: 保安语, Bǎo'ān yǔ; Amdo Tibetan: Dorké) is the Mongolic language of the Bonan people of China. As of 1985, it was spoken by about 8,000 people, including about 75% of the total Bonan ethnic population and many ethnic Monguor, in Gansu and Qinghai Provinces and the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture. There are several dialects, which are influenced to varying degrees — but always heavily — by Chinese and Tibetan, while bilingualism in Wutun is less common. The most commonly studied is the Tongren dialect. There is no writing system in use. The language is also referred to as "Manegacha", natively.
Bonan phonology has been heavily influenced by Tibetan. Consonants possess a [±aspirated] contrast. Initial consonant clusters of mostly falling sonority are present in native words, as are heavy diphthongs, though the content of both is heavily restricted. The possible word-initial consonant clusters in Bonan are [mp, nt, nt͡ɕ, ntʂ, ŋk, tʰχ, χt͡ɕ, rt͡ɕ, lt͡ɕ, ft, fk, ʂp, ʂk].
Ñantoq Baoan has six vowels /a, e, ə, i, ɵ, u/, with long counterparts for all except /ə/.
Bonan, like other Mongolic languages, is agglutinative.
Verbal morphology is quite complex. Evidentiality is marked in the indicative mood as "definite" or "indefinite" with a specific suffix or with an auxiliary verb. The present definite is used to mark naturally occurring phenomena, while the present indefinite indicates the habits of animals. The indefinite may also mark volition. The future, continuous, and perfective suffixes also possess markers for evidentiality that are often used to mark negation.
Bonan has a primary SOV (subject–object–verb), but topicalization of an object is common. It is known for its peculiar double marking of the copula. A Mongolic copula, of which there are several with different meanings, comes sentence-finally, following Bonan SOV word order, while a copula [ʂɪ] from Chinese /ʂɨ̂/ “to be” appears between the copula’s subject and complement, as in Chinese SVO word order. This Chinese copula is optional and is used to emphasize the subject. The definite, but not indefinite, copula can also act as a participle following some finite verbs. For example:
- [ənə ʂɪ kuŋʂə-nə t͡ɕʰitʂə o]
this COP commune-GEN car IND.COP
“This is the commune’s car.” (Buhe & Liu 1985: 65)
Uniquely among Mongolic languages, adjectives follow the noun they modify. This is due to Tibetan influence.
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