Lalo is a Central Ngwi (Loloish) language cluster spoken in western Yunnan, China by fewer than 300,000 speakers. The purpose of this thesis is to subgroup Lalo regional varieties according to shared innovations that are unlikely to have occurred by chance, contact, or drift. As a complement to the subgrouping, Lalo varieties are also classified according to phonetic distance and intelligibility. Previous research has focused mostly on one variety of Lalo, spoken in western Weishan County (Björverud 1998; Huang and Dai 1992; Chen et al. 1985). In this thesis, the phonological systems of fifteen Lalo varieties are described, many for the first time. Proto-Lalo is then reconstructed by applying the comparative method to Lalo varieties' lexicons and by tracing Proto-Lalo’s development from Proto-Ngwi (Bradley 1979b) and Proto-Burmic (Lolo-Burmese) (Matisoff 2003). Tone changes in various Lalo varieties show voiced prevocalic segments conditioning the development of a low-rising tone and harsh phonation conditioning the raising of pitch height. Phylogenetically, Lalo has three major dialect clusters, Eastern, Western, and Central, which together constitute the Core Lalo group and are located in the traditional Lalo homeland of southern Dali Prefecture. There are also four peripheral varieties, Mangdi, Eka, Yangliu and Xuzhang, whose ancestors migrated out of the Lalo homeland at different times. Phonetic distance between Lalo varieties, as measured by Levenshtein edit distance, is analysed with NeighborNet network analysis and multi-dimensional scaling. This dialectometric analysis also uncovers the three dialect clusters and four peripheral varieties, with minor discrepancies due to contact. Intelligibility test results, which have a strong, significant correlation with phonetic distance, show that cross-cluster comprehension is low. Also, Lalo’s ethnolinguistic vitality is eroding, with many varieties already on the path to extinction. Integrating results from historical linguistics, dialectometry, and sociolinguistics, this thesis presents a more complex picture of Lalo inter-dialectal relationships than previously thought.
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