Kanashi is a Sino-Tibetan (ST) language belonging to the West Himalayish (WH) subbranch of this language family. It is spoken by less than 2,000 individuals in one single village (Malana in Kullu district, Himachal Pradesh state, India), which is completely surrounded by villages where local Indo-Aryan (IA) varieties are spoken. Until we started working on this language, there was very little linguistic material available on it. Researchers (e.g. Diack 1896; Tobdan 2011) have long speculated about the prehistory of Kanashi: how did it end up in Malana, cut off from its closest linguistic relatives? Even though claims have been made of a close genealogical relation between Kanashi and Kinnauri (another WH language), at present separated by over 200 km of rugged mountainous terrain (e.g. Diack 1896; Grierson 1903–1927; Sharma 1989), none of the works actually discusses the details about their shared linguistic features.
Based on primary fieldwork, in the proposed volume, we aim to present a detailed overview of synchronic and diachronic aspects of Kanashi: synchronic linguistic descriptions (chapters 2-4 describing the sound system of Kanashi, its grammar in outline, and its intriguing numeral systems), word lists (English-Kanashi, Kanashi-English), and diachronic and genealogical aspects of the language (chapters 6–8).
As for the diachronic and genealogical aspects, our Kanashi documentation work, together with Anju Saxena’s previous work on languages of Kinnaur enables us to uncover some intriguing linguistic features common to Kanashi and Kinnauri, which provide insights into their history, e.g.: a subset of IA nouns and adjectives in both languages end in -(a)ŋ or -(a)s, elements which do not otherwise appear in Kanashi or Kinnauri, nor in the IA donor languages; a valency changing mechanism where the transitive marker -ja: is replaced with the intransitive marker -e(d) on borrowed IA verbs (again: elements without an obvious provenance in the donor or recipient language); reduplication of the final syllable of a verb (indigenous and IA) to indicate the perfective aspect if the verb stem does not end in -ʧ or -ʃ ; and verb indexing for subject and affected speech act participant (for the last-mentioned, suppletive verb forms for ‘give’ and ‘tell’). These features are neither found in IA languages nor in the ST languages geographically closest to Kanashi (Pattani, Bunan, Tinani), but only in Kinnauri, which is spoken further away. Intriguingly, traces of some of these features are also found in some ST languages belonging to various different subgroups (both WH and non-WH), spoken in Uttarakhand in India and in western Nepal (e.g. Rongpo, Chaudangsi, Raji and Raute). This raises fundamental questions regarding genealogical classification, language contact and prehistory of the WH group of languages and of this part of the Indian Himalayas, which is the topic of discussion in chapters 6–8 of our book proposal.