Yi Language
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Yi Language
Northern Yi, Liangshan Yi, Sichuan Yi
Native toChina
RegionSouthern Sichuan, northern Yunnan
EthnicityYi people
Native speakers
2 million (2000 census)[1]
Standard forms
Liangshan (Cool Mountain) dialect
Yi syllabary, formerly Yi logograms
Language codes
ii Sichuan Yi, Nuosu
iii Sichuan Yi, Nuosu
iii Nuosu, Sichuan Yi
Glottologsich1238  [2]
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Nuosu or Nosu (, pronunciation: Nuosuhxop), also known as Northern Yi, Liangshan Yi, and Sichuan Yi, is the prestige language of the Yi people; it has been chosen by the Chinese government as the standard Yi language (in Mandarin: Yí y?, /) and, as such, is the only one taught in schools, both in its oral and written forms. It was spoken by two million people and was increasing as of (PRC census); 60% were monolingual (1994 estimate). Nuosu is the native Nuosu/Yi name for their own language and is not used in Mandarin Chinese; although it may sometimes be spelled out for pronunciation (nuòs? y? /), the Chinese characters for nuòs? have no meaning.[3]

The occasional terms 'Black Yi' (Mandarin: h?i Yí ) and 'White Yi' (bái Yí ) are castes of the Nuosu people, not dialects.[]

Nuosu is one of several often mutually unintelligible varieties known as Yi, Lolo, Moso, or Noso; the six Yi languages recognized by the Chinese government hold only 25% to 50% of their vocabulary in common. They share a common traditional writing system, though this is used for shamanism rather than daily accounting.[]

Dialects of Nuosu

Lama (2012)

Lama (2012) gives the following classification for Nuosu dialects.

  • Nuosu
    • Qumusu (Tianba)
    • Nuosu proper
      • Nuosu
        • Muhisu
        • Nuosu (nsu?)
          • Yinuo
          • Shengzha
      • Niesu (nie?su?)
        • Suondi
        • Adu

The Qumusu (Tianba ) dialect is the most divergent. The other dialects group as Niesu (Suondi and Adu) and as Nuosu proper (Muhisu , Yinuo , and Shengzha ). Niesu has lost voiceless nasals and has developed diphthongs.[4]

Adu , characterized by its labial-velar consonants, is spoken in Butuo County and Ningnan County of Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, and also in parts of Puge County , Zhaojue County , Dechang County , and Jinyang County (Pan 2001).[5]

Nyisu or Yellow Yi of Fumin County, Yunnan may either be a Suondi Yi (Nuosu) dialect or Nisu dialect.

Zhu & Zhang (2005)[6] reports that the Shuitian people () reside mostly in the lowlands of the Anning River drainage basin, in Xichang, Xide, and Mianning counties of Liangshan Prefecture in Sichuan. They are called Muhisu (mu33 hi44 su33) by the neighboring Yi highland people. Shuitian is spoken in the following locations. Shuitian belongs to the Shengzha dialect () of Northern Yi.

Bradley (1997)

According to Bradley (1997),[8] there are 3 main dialects of Nosu, of which the Southeastern one (Sondi) is most divergent.

  • Northern
    • Tianba AKA Northwestern
    • Yinuo AKA Northeastern
  • Central (Shengzha )
  • Southeastern (Sondi)
    • Sondi
    • Adur

Chen (2010)

Chen (2010) lists the following dialects of Nosu. Also listed are the counties where each respective dialect is spoken.

  • Nosu ?
    • Senza, Shèngzhà
      • Senza, Shèngzhà (nosu?): 1,200,000 speakers primarily in Xide, Yuexi, Ganluo, Jinyang, Puge, Leibo, Xichang, Dechang, Mianning, Yanyuan, Yanbian, Muli, Shimian, Jiulong, and Luding; also in Huaping, Yongsheng, Ninglang, Lijiang, Jianchuan, Yongshan, and Qiaojia
      • Yino, Yìnuò (nosu?): 600,000 speakers primarily in Meigu, Mabian, Leibo, and Ebian, Ganluo; also in Yuexi, Zhaojue, and Jinyang
      • Lidim, Tiánbà (nosu?): 100,000 speakers primarily in Ganluo, Yuexi, and Ebian; also in Hanyuan
    • Sodi, Su?dì (nosu?): 600,000 speakers primarily in Tuoxian, Huili, Huidong, Ningnan, Miyi, Dechang, and Puge

Writing system

Classic Yi is a syllabic logographic system of 8,000–10,000 glyphs. Although similar to Chinese characters in function, the glyphs are independent in form, with little to suggest a direct relation.

The Modern Yi script (? nuosu bburma [ns? bm?] 'Nosu script') is a standardized syllabary derived from the classic script in 1974 by the local government of China. It was made the official script of the Yi languages in 1980. There are 756 basic glyphs based on the Liangshan dialect, plus 63 for syllables only found in Chinese borrowings.

In 1958 the Chinese government had introduced a Roman-based alphabet based on the romanized script of Gladstone Porteous of Sayingpan.[9] (This was later replaced by the Yi script.)

A signpost in a public park in Xichang, Sichuan, China, showing Modern Yi, Chinese and English text.


The written equivalents of the phonemes listed here are "Yi Pinyin". For information about the actual script used see the section above entitled Writing System.


Labial Alveolar Retroflex Alveolopalatal Velar Glottal
Nasal voiced m /m/ n /n/ ny /?/ ng /?/
unvoiced hm /m?/ hn /n?/
Plosive prenasalized nb /?b/ nd /?d/ mg //
voiced bb /b/ dd /d/ gg /?/
unvoiced b /p/ d /t/ g /k/
aspirated p /p?/ t /t?/ k /k?/
Affricate prenasalized nz /?dz/ nr // nj //
voiced zz /dz/ rr // jj //
unvoiced z /ts/ zh // j //
aspirated c /ts?/ ch // q //
Fricative unvoiced f /f/ s /s/ sh /?/ x /?/ h /x/ hx /h/
voiced v /v/ ss /z/ r /?/ y /?/ w /?/
Lateral voiced l /l/
unvoiced hl /l?/


  Front Non-front
  unrounded rounded
loose y /z?/ u /v/
tight yr /z?/ ur /v??/
Near-close loose i /e?/ e // o /o?/
Open-mid tight ie /?/ uo /?/
Open tight a /a/

Nuosu has five pairs of phonemic vowels, contrasting in a feature Eatough calls loose throat vs. tight throat. Underlining is used as an ad-hoc symbol for tight throat; phonetically, these vowels are laryngealized and/or show a retracted tongue root. Loose vs. tight throat is the only distinction in the two pairs of syllabic consonants, but in the vocoids it is reinforced by a height difference.

The syllabic consonants y(r) u(r) are essentially the usual Sinological vowels ? ?, so y can be identified with the vowel of the Mandarin ? "four", but they have diverse realizations. Y(r) completely assimilates to a preceding coronal except in voice, e.g. /?z/ [] "to marry", and are [m?l?] after a labial nasal, e.g. /m?zsz/ [m?m?lsz] "cloth". U(r) assimilates similarly after laterals, retaining its rounding, e.g. /l?v/ [l?l] "to stir-fry", and is [m] after a labial nasal, e.g. /m?v/ [m?m] "mushroom"; moreover it induces a labially trilled release of preceding labial or alveolar stops, e.g. /?dv?/ [?d?v?] "to hit".

The tight-throat phone [] occurs as the realization of // in the high tone. That it is phonemically loose-throat is shown by its behaviour in tightness harmony in compound words.


  • high [?] - written -t
  • high-mid [?] or mid falling [] - written -x
  • mid [?] - unmarked
  • low falling [] - written -p

The high-mid tone is only marginally contrastive. Its two main sources are from tone sandhi rules, as the outcome of a mid tone before another mid tone, and the outcome of a low-falling tone after a mid tone. However, these changes do not occur in all compounds where they might: for instance wo "bear" + mop "mother" regularly forms wo mox "female bear", but vi "jackal" + mop "mother" forms vi mop "female jackal" without sandhi. The syntax creates other contrasts: tone sandhi applies across the boundary between object and verb, so is present in SOV clauses like mu jy lu ti shex "Mujy looks for Luti", but is absent in OSV clauses like mu jy lu ti shep "Luti looks for Mujy". A few words, like xix "what?", have underlying high-mid tone.



Number 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Yi script ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Reading t?s s l f? hi? t?s t?st?s t?sî


  1. ^ Nuosu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Sichuan Yi". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Zhu Wenxu etc. Yi-yu basic course Central Minorities Publishing Co. (2006-04)
  4. ^ Lama, Ziwo Qiu-Fuyuan (2012), Subgrouping of Nisoic (Yi) Languages, thesis, University of Texas at Arlington
  5. ^ Pan Zhengyun. 2001. Yi-yu Adu-hua chunruan-e fufuyin shengmu bijiao yanjiu. [A comparative study of labiovelar cluster initials in the Adu patois of the Yi language]. Minzu Yuwen 2001.2:17-22.
  6. ^ Zhu Wenxu [] & Zhang Jing [] 2005. "Yiyu Shuitianhua gaikuang" [?]. Minzu Yuwen 2005:4.
  7. ^ a b Main datapoint used in Zhu & Zhang (2005)
  8. ^ *Bradley, David (1997). "Tibeto-Burman languages and classification". In Tibeto-Burman languages of the Himalayas, Papers in South East Asian linguistics. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  9. ^ Yi language

Further reading

External links

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