Language change is often traced to language contact, but the specific sociolinguistic processes are not fully understood. This article reports on our field research of contact between Chinese and two minority languages in rural southwest China: Sui and Qiang. The study shows how lexical tone, an underrepresented variable in sociolinguistics, can be valuable as an empirical measure of language contact and change. Furthermore, we find that it is the same Chinese tone, a high tone in Southwest Mandarin, which is affecting the phonologies of both of these disparate minority languages. We use a social constructionist approach to model these changes: the “Structure” of a language is dialectically constructed by individual moments of speech — “Events” — which are in turn influenced by Structure. From this perspective, each individual use of a high-tone Chinese word is constructing and changing Sui and Qiang. Tone therefore provides an audible gauge of cross-cultural contact, reflecting and constructing the rapidly changing sociolinguistic landscape of rural southwest China.
© by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston