Bih is a Chamic language spoken in the Southern highlands of Vietnam. Around 500 people in Buon Trap town consider themselves as Bih ethnically, but fewer than 30 people are fluent in Bih. This supports the fear that the generation of elderly adults is the last generation speaking Bih. This doctoral dissertation project will contribute toward the preservation of the language by providing the first-ever orthography of Bih. Co-PI Tam Nguyen of the University of Oregon will undertake significant onsite work with the language. The co-PI will record natural language data in the form of conversations, folklore, songs and other forms of discourse. These oral texts supplemented with word-by-word elicitation when appropriate will contribute vocabulary toward the development of a Bih/Rade/English/Vietnamese dictionary.

A Bih/Rade/English/Vietnamese dictionary promises to offer a significant contribution to linguistics and related fields as there are no grammars, dictionaries or scholarly publications available on the language to date. A detailed documentation of the Bih lexicon contributes to the field of Austronesian historical linguistics, particularly to Vietnamese scholars interested in the reconstruction of proto-history, such as anthropology, archaeology, folklore, art-history and population genetics. First and foremost, the project will be of use to the Bih people who exhibit the fear of their language loss and wish to have written forms of their lexicon for language preservation. As collaboration with the University of Tay Nguyen and the Center of Daklak Ethnic Research is included, the proposed project is carefully designed to meet the needs of the speaking community as well as those of the academic communities.

Project Report

Bih is an endangered Chamic language (< Austronesian) spoken in and around Buon Trap village of Krong Ana district, Dak Lak, Vietnam. Bih was formerly considered a dialect of Ede (also called Rade: ISO 639-3: rad) until the results from the project "Documenting Bih, an Austronesian language of Vietnam in a comparative perspective: a Bih/Rade/English/Vietnamese Dictionary" (together with the results from the Bih documentation project funded by ELDP from SOAS) presented. This project has created approximately 3,000 entries of the Bih lexical Toolbox database and numerous conference presentations. All entries in the lexicon have English and Vietnamese glosses while two-third of them have Ede gloss. Most of entries have Bih examples with English free translations. The project, together with the Bih documentation project, produced a number of audio recordings accompanied with transcribed texts. "A Grammar of Bih" as one of the project outcomes will be published by March 2013. The project has contributed to the fields of Austronesian historical linguistics. With its focus on history and etymology of the words from Proto-Chamic two thousand years ago and the two modern Chamic languages today (Bih and Rade), the lexicon provided evidence regarding Bih as a distinct language from Rade. Within the framework endeavoring to collaborate with the Bih speech community, the project has trained two community members to work as language recording and transcribing assistants. They themselves later will do their own recordings of their native language while the last speakers are available. With the first-ever orthography of Bih in the forms of the lexicon (and other materials produced from the dissertation), the project has contributed toward the preservation of the language. These documents, together with the trained community members, help empower the Bih language preservation and revitalization programs based on the community own desires. In addition, in collaboration with the University of Tay Nguyen and the Center of Dak Lak Ethnic Research, the project encouraged the community of Vietnamese scholars, for instance, a documentation project for Ede Oral Literature has been discussed among Ede community members under the project co-PI's supervision or a Bih lexicon database and dictionary with the collaboration with the Bih community members has been proposed. The project co-PI will continue her professional career to conduct descriptive projects with high-quality grammars and dictionaries with accompanying texts and recordings in collaboration with speech communities.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Shobhana Chelliah
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University of Oregon Eugene
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