Maxim Chistotin (Максим Чистотин), a native of Moscow, is conducting work on the Mey or Sherdukpen language, financed by a grant from the Firebird Foundation. Maxim has been affiliated with the Himalayan Languages Project since 2009. His previous work covered topics ranging from the emission of greenhouse gases from peat bogs in Siberia to the innoculation of crop rhizomes with strains of symbiotic bacteria to enhance nitrogen metabolism and effective soil fertility.
The Mey, or Sherdukpen, number about 3,000. They reside in half a dozen villages situated at altitudes between 1400 and 2200 m in the Tenga river basin in the eastern Himalayas. For the winter months, when agricultural activities are suspended, the Mey move to the foothills, one day’s journey from their permanent settlements. The community consists of two divisions of unequal status, whose members do not intermarry. Captain Robert Siggins Kennedy of the Indian Medical Service was the first to mention the Mey language. In his 1914 report, he pointed out that ‘while Tawang-Mon-Ke and Dirang-Mon-Ke have number of Tibetan roots, Sherdukpen has not’. A century later, data on Mey are still confined to word lists and a concise grammatical sketch.
Mey or Sherdukpen is a member of the Kho-Bwa cluster. The contours of the Kho-Bwa cluster were already suggested by the residue in Ivan Simon’s 1976 classification. In 1993, Jackson Sun tentatively named this subgroup ‘Bugunish’, though the precise contours of the subgroup were still poorly understood. The position of Puroik a.k.a. Sulung was particularly still questioned. In 1999, Roland Rutgers provided evidence in the form of shared likely lexical innovations that established this group as a distinct subgroup within the language family. For the subgroup demonstrated by Rutgers, the name Kho-Bwa cluster was coined in the 2001 handbook Languages of the Himalayas, based on the semantic development undergone by of the roots for ‘fire’ and ‘water’ in these languages.