Santa language

Native to China
Region Gansu province, mainly in Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, and Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region[1]
Native speakers
200,000 (2007)[2]
  • Shirongolic
    • Santa
Arabic, Latin
Language codes
ISO 639-3 sce
Glottolog dong1285[3]

The Santa language, also known as Dongxiang (Chinese: 东乡语; pinyin: Dōngxiāng yǔ), is a Mongolic language spoken by the Dongxiang people in northwest China.


There are no dialects in strict sense, but three local varieties (tuyu) can be found: Suonanba (ca. 50% of all Dongxiang speakers), Wangjiaji (ca. 30% of all Dongxiang speakers) and Sijiaji (ca. 20% of all Dongxiang speakers).


Except for a limited number of cases there is no vowel harmony, and the harmonic rules governing the suffix pronunciation are by far not as strict as those of Mongolian.[2]


Dongxiang has 29 consonants:[4]

Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Stop plain p t k q
Fricative voiceless f s ʂ ɕ x h
voiced ʐ ʁ
Affricate plain ts t͡ɕ
aspirated tsʰ tsʰ t͡ɕʰ
Nasal m n ŋ
Approximant w l j
Trill r


Dongxiang has 7 vowels:[4]

Front Center Back
plain retroflex unrounded rounded
Close i ɯ u
Mid ɘ ɚ
Open ɑ

Dongxiang has neither vowel harmony nor distinctions of vowel length.[2]



Plural marking: Suffix Condition -la any noun Examples ~oni 'sheep1 eoni-la 'sheep' -sla/-sila certain noun and pronoun in 'girl' o~in-sla 'girls' -pi only noun indicating relatives gajieiau 'brother' gajieiau-pi 'brothers'


In common with other Mongolic languages, Dongxiang is basically a SOV language. In Linxia, however, under the influence of the Mandarin Chinese dialects spoken by the neighbouring Hui people, sentences of the SVO type have also been observed.[5]

Writing system

Knowledge of Arabic is widespread among the Sarta, and as a result, they often use the Arabic script to write down their language informally (cf. the Xiao'erjing system that was used by Hui people); however, this has been little investigated by scholars. As of 2003, the official Latin alphabet for Dongxiang, developed on the basis of the Monguor alphabet, remained in the experimental stage.[6]


Numeral Classical Mongolian Dongxiang
1 nigen niy
2 qoyar ghua
3 ghurban ghuran
4 dorben jierang
5 tabun tawun
6 jirghughan jirghun
7 dologhan dolon
8 naiman naiman
9 yisun yysun
10 arban haron

The Tangwang language

There are about 20,000 people in the north-eastern part Dongxiang County, who self-identify as Dongxiang or Hui people who do not speak Dongxiang, but natively speak a Dongxiang-influenced form of Mandarin Chinese. The linguist Mei W. Lee-Smith calls this the "Tangwang language" (Chinese: 唐汪话), based on the names of the two largest villages (Tangjia and Wangjia, parts of Tangwang Town) where it is spoken and argues it is a creolized language. [7] According to Lee-Smith, the Tangwang language uses mostly Mandarin words and morphemes with Dongxiang grammar. Besides Dongxiang loanwords, Tangwang also has a substantial number of Arabic and Persian loanwords.[7]

Like standard Mandarin, Tangwang is a tonal language, but grammatical particles, which are typically borrowed from Mandarin, but are used in the way Dongxiang morphemes would be used in Dongxiang, don't carry tones.[7]

For example, while the Mandarin plural suffix -men (们) has only very restricted usage (it can be used with personal pronouns and some nouns related to people), Tangwang uses it, in the form -m, universally, the way Dongxiang would use its plural suffix -la. Mandarin pronoun ni (你) can be used in Tangwang as a possessive suffix (meaning "your"). Unlike Mandarin, but like Dongxiang, Tangwang has grammatical cases as well (however only four of them, unlike eight in Dongxiang).[7]


  1. Bao (2006).
  2. 1 2 3 Santa at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Dongxiang". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. 1 2 Field (1997), p. 37.
  5. Bao (2006), 1.1: 东乡语的语序特点.
  6. Kim (2003), p. 348.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Lee-Smith, Mei W.; International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies (1996), "The Tangwang language", in Wurm, Stephen A.; Mühlhäusler, Peter; Tyron, Darrell T., Atlas of languages of intercultural communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas, Volume 2, Part 1. (Volume 13 of Trends in Linguistics, Documentation Series)., Walter de Gruyter, pp. 875–882, ISBN 3-11-013417-9


Further reading

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