Trung (based on the endonym Tvrung — 独龙, or Dulong, in Chinese) is a Tibeto-Burman language spoken in Gongshan Nu and Dulong Autonomous County, Yunnan Province, China, in dozens of villages alongside the Dulong River. Trung and its related languages are still poorly understood by outsiders, but preserve many of the most archaic traits of the Tibeto-Burman family. Approximately 7,000 people are officially classified by the Chinese state as ethnic Dulong — including many now living beyond traditional Trung territory. A similar number of people now classified as ethnic Nu live one valley east along the Nu river and speak Gongshan Nu, a closely related but distinct variety. This dictionary is an attempt to document the language varieties of the several thousand speakers living along the Dulong River, with a strong focus on the Third Township dialect.

The Concise Trung-Chinese-English Dictionary《简明独龙语汉语英语词典》is the product of decades of work by Trung and non-Trung scholars. However partial and provisional, it represents the genius of the Trung language as spoken today by thousands of Trung people. This trilingual Dictionary, which includes Chinese and English, has been compiled, edited, and disseminated both for those speakers and for interested outsiders everywhere. The aim of the Dictionary is to play a supporting role, wherever possible, in the continued flourishing and development of the Trung language.


Few minority languages in China have remained unaffected by the spread of Chinese, particularly in recent years, and only the largest such languages (Uighur, Zhuang, Tibetan, Lisu etc.) are used in education and media and can be said to be “safe” in the coming few generations. Most other minority languages — in northwest Yunnan, Anong (with fewer than 100 speakers) is a sign of things to come — are now seriously endangered. Despite its relatively small number of speakers, Trung has remained viable principally because of its isolation, currently at least two days’ journey from Kunming, the provincial capital. The first, largely unpaved road into the Dulong River valley was only completed in 1999. Until the end of 2014, this road was closed off by snow during winter months.


Now, significant and rapid changes to local lifeways are occurring throughout the region, including among Trung speakers: swidden agriculture and hunting have been banned and phased out; entire villages have been resettled and rebuilt; environmental protection, reforestation, electricity, and a cash economy have been introduced. Other major changes are taking place in the areas of culture and religion — the coming of television, cell phones, internet, and a local form of Christianity, accompanied by the disappearance of older cultural forms. Outsiders are still rare, but tourists, border guards, officials, teachers, traders, temporary laborers are arriving in growing numbers. The Chinese government is making a strong push to develop the region.


Trung is an officially recognised language in Gongshan Autonomous County — clearly felt to be a distinct language by its speakers, though dialect differences are recognized and discussed. There are a few second-language speakers of Trung, mainly those who married into the community and live in the area. Most Trung still speak the language to varying degrees as a mother tongue, with increasing proficiency in Southwest Mandarin, Standard Chinese, Lisu, Tibetan, Gongshan Nu, and even Burmese. The Trung community has generally accepted the exonym Dulong 独龙, but speakers of related Rawang varieties across the Burmese border often continue to identify by clan or locality, reflecting older practice.


Trung is used primarily in the home, in the village, and in informal community settings. The presence of one outsider in a conversation may be enough for speakers to switch languages, and there is some shyness on the part of Trung people in speaking their language in unfamiliar or urban settings, among outsiders. Some classroom instruction at the primary school level is held in an informal mixture of Trung and Chinese, but the goal is generally not to enhance Trung proficiency. Any higher-level schooling takes place in Chinese in the county seat of Gongshan, which is largely Chinese- and Lisu-speaking.


The Trung orthography uses Latin letters, based on a system first conceived by American linguist and missionary Robert Morse for Rawang in Burma. The effort to create a Trung orthography on this basis and the initial outlines of such a system date back the mid-1980s and have continued down to the present day thanks to the efforts of Trung scholars.


Although no competing standard exists, the current orthography has only been implemented to a limited degree — the most notable efforts include training sessions for teachers and a series of standard primary school textbooks (bilingual, with Trung translations by Li Jinming and Li Aixin). To some extent, audio-visual documentation of the spoken language has used and will continue to use the orthography for transcription and dissemination. There is currently little in terms of other texts or media, and little use of the orthography in daily life.


The Dictionary contains over 4,000 entries and over 1,500 example sentences, all translated into Chinese and English, as well as reversal indices in those languages — for an intended audience that is both Trung and non-Trung. The headwords and example sentences come from a variety of sources, including recordings and the native fluency of three of the editors themselves. All the editors are familiar with Third Township Trung, which was chosen here as the standard for the following reasons: 1) its central linguistic place in the Trung dialect chain, 2) its use in the political and commercial center of the Dulong River valley, Kongdang, and 3) its status as the best-known variety. Li Jinming is a native speaker of First Township Trung, Li Aixin is a native speaker of Fourth Township Trung, and Yang Jiangling is a native Third Township speaker who also has knowledge of Fourth Township Trung. Most of Ross Perlin’s research has focused on the Third Township variety.


The main section of the Dictionary is organized in Trung alphabetical order, based on English alphabetical order. The Chinese reversal index is ordered according to pinyin spelling, followed by tone, then the number of strokes, with secondary sequencing as needed (e.g. 哀, 唉, 挨 etc). A single entry is listed with multiple senses, the most frequent or prototypical first, where the semantic links are clear (e.g. lvng’la, “man, husband”). Otherwise two or more homographs are considered separate words and listed as different entries, again in order of frequency wherever possible. Example sentences or phrases, which represent naturalistic data wherever possible, are used to illustrate the word in action, or highlight particularly frequent collocations.


In Trung, there are productive morphological processes for transforming words through affixation — kei “eat” becomes keisa "food", svlvp "teach" becomes salvp “teach each other” or svlvpsheu “learn”. Reduplication is one such morphological process whose workings are hard to trace in the context of the Dictionary: a distributive meaning with nouns (“every”), intensification with many verbs (vdung “middle” becomes vdungdung “right in the middle”, pvshing “green” becomes pvshingshing “very green”), and other subtler shades of meaning depending on context.


The most frequent and predictable morphological transformations in Trung involve the intransitive prefix v-, the causative prefix sv-/tv-, the suffix indicating reflexive or middle voice -sheu, the reciprocal prefix v-, and the nominalizing affixes vng- and -sa. The Dictionary includes a fair number of words transformed by these affixes, but in general the complex forms are listed only if they are particularly frequent (e.g. keisa)或意义难以预测的(如:blang “forage” / svblang “put out to pasture”). In some cases, as with the nominalizing prefix vng-, the more commonly cited form is given, e.g. vng’leum “egg”, even though leum ” is also readily understood and used in compounds. Both u “head” and vng'u “head” are included because both are frequently used — the meaning is identical but the context of use may vary. It is difficult to come up with a one-size-fits-all policy for deciding what headword to list — our decision has been to list more forms rather than fewer.

A general rule of thumb: given the heavily prefixing nature of Trung specifically and Tibeto-Burman more generally, it can be useful to look up both syllables of any disyllabic word.


Trung parts of speech do not always map easily onto English or Chinese categories — the parts of speech included in the Dictionary should be treated as a very rough guide. Adjectives, for instance, do not exist as an independent class within Trung, but are rather a subset of intransitive verbs — “new”, for instance, might be translated as “be new”, adding a nominalizer for use in a noun phrase such as “new book”. Likewise, classifiers appear to be a relatively open class, capable of being derived from a large number of verbs and nouns, e.g. mvgraq “grab” becomes ti mvgraq “one fistful”.


Finally, the Dictionary is meant not only as a guide to the core lexicon of the language, but as an introduction to Trung culture and history. More than just a list of words, the lexicon is a system with structure and pattern — whether that structure is transparent (water-related words containing ngang / wang ) or currently opaque (water-related words containing chv-). The lexicon has remarkable richness in areas directly tied to Trung lifeways such as swidden agriculture and hunting. The Dictionary almost certainly under-represents the variety and diversity of what it does describe — there is substantial phonetic, lexical, and semantic variation even within dialects — which can be increasingly difficult to document as the older generation passes away. A full multi-dialectal Dictionary, accompanied by a substantial and various corpus of texts and an in-depth grammatical description, would begin to close the massive gap, which the Concise Dictionary only hints at.


Although a great deal of specialist vocabulary is not in the Dictionary — knowledgeable Trung elders can name many more plants and animals that we could include here, for instance — there are still dozens of bird names, plant species, and many terms referring to Trung history, religion, and myth. Wherever possible, we have provided brief descriptions (too often without scientific names, unfortunately), marked archaic terms, and indicated the context of use. Hopefully these brief entries will be points of entry rather than endpoints, inspiring the student of Trung culture to dig deeper into existing ethnographic material, or if possible to learn more from Trung people themselves.