Michel Ferlus

Portrait of Michel   Ferlus

Michel Ferlus (1935, France) is a French linguist who has studied the historical phonology of languages of Southeast Asia. In addition to phonological systems, he also studies writing systems, in particular the evolution of Indic scripts in Southeast Asia.

After following classes in ethnology and prehistory taught by André Leroi-Gourhan; in primitive religions’ by Roger Bastide; in linguistics by André Martinet; and in Southeast Asian languages and history by George Cœdès, Ferlus worked in Laos as a teacher from 1961 to 1968. There, he did fieldwork on languages such as Hmong and Yao (Hmong-Mien family), Khmu/​Khamou and Lamet (Austroasiatic/Mon-Khmer), as well as Phu Noi/Phou-Noy (Sino-Tibetan).

A researcher with Centre National de la Recherché Scientifique (CNRS) since 1968, he studied in Thailand and Burma (Myanmar) in the 1980s Wa, Lawa, Palaung, Mon and Nyah Kur languages; Viet-Muong languages and local Tai langugages and writing systems in Vietnam and Laos in the 1990s.

According to specialists, Michel Ferlus’s main discoveries relate to the effects of monosyllabicization on the phonological structure of Southeast Asian languages. Tonogenesis (the development of lexical tones), registrogenesis (the development of lexically contrastive phonation-type registers), the evolution of vowel systems all partake in a general (panchronic) model of evolution.

Amongst his publications:

  • La langue souei : mutations consonantiques et bipartition du système vocalique,” Bull. Société Linguist. Paris, vol. 66, no. 1, pp. 378 – 3881971.
  • Spirantisation des obstruantes médiales et formation du système consonantique du vietnamien”. Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale. 11 (1): 83 – 106. doi:10.3406/clao.1982.1105.
  • Essai de phonétique historique du khmer (du milieu du premier millénaire de notre ère à l’époque actuelle),” Mon-Khmer Studies, vol. 21, pp. 57 – 891992.
  • Remarques sur le consonantisme du proto kam-sui”. Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale. 25 (2): 235 – 278. doi:10.3406/clao.1996.1451.
  • On borrowing from Middle Chinese into Proto-Tibetan: a new look at the problem of the relationship between Chinese and Tibetan,” in Language variation: papers on variation and change in the Sinosphere and the Indosphere in honour of James A. Matisoff, D. Bradley, R. LaPolla, B. Michailovsky, and G. Thurgood, Eds. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, 2003, pp. 263 – 275.
  • What were the four divisions of Middle Chinese?,” Diachronica, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 184 – 2132009.