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Nuosu language

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Title: Nuosu language  
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Subject: Nisoish languages, Loloish languages, Lolo-Burmese languages, Languages of China, Hmong language
Collection: Languages of China, Languages of Thailand, Loloish Languages, Yi People
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Nuosu language

ꆈꌠ꒿ Nuosuhxop
Native to China
Region Southern Sichuan, northern Yunnan
Ethnicity Yi people
Native speakers
2 million  (2000 census)[1]
Standard forms
Liangshan (Cool Mountain) dialect
Yi syllabary, formerly Yi logograms
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ii
ISO 639-2 iii
ISO 639-3 iii
Glottolog sich1238[2]

Nuosu (or Nosu), 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 yǔ, 彝語/彝语) and, as such, is the only one taught in schools, both in its oral and written forms. It is spoken by two million people and is increasing; 60% are monolingual. 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 (nuòsū yǔ 诺苏语/諾蘇語), the Chinese characters for nuòsū have no meaning.[3]

The occasional terms 'Black Yi' (Mandarin: hēi Yí 黑彝) and 'White Yi' (bái Yí 白彝) 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 1
    • Bradley (1997) 1.1
    • Lama (2012) 1.2
    • Chen (2010) 1.3
  • Writing system 2
  • Phonology 3
    • Consonants 3.1
    • Vowels 3.2
    • Tones 3.3
  • Vocabulary 4
    • Numbers 4.1
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


The Qumusu 曲木苏 (Tianba 田坝) dialect is the most divergent. The other dialects group as Niesu 聂苏 (Suondi and Adu) and as Nuosu proper (Muhisu 米西苏, Yinuo 义诺, and Shengzha 圣乍). Niesu (distinguish Nesu) has lost the voiceless nasals and has developed a couple diphthongs.[4]

The Yellow Yi (黄彝) of Kunming, central Yunnan, who call themselves Nisu, also speak a Northern Yi dialect (Bradley 2005). The Yellow Yi had originally migrated from Sichuan, and live in 4 villages in northwestern Fumin County (endangered) and 1 village in northwestern Anning County (moribund, highly endangered).[5] It is most closely related to Suondi Yi (Bradley 2005).

Bradley (1997)

According to Bradley (1997),[6] there are 3 main dialects of Nosu, of which the Southeastern one (Sondi) is most divergent.

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

Lama (2012)

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

  • Nuosu
    • Qumusu (Tianba)
    • Nuosu proper
      • Nuosu
        • Muhisu
        • Nuosu (nɔ˧su˧)
          • Yinuo
          • Shengzha
      • Niesu (nie˧su˧)
        • Suondi
        • Adu

Chen (2010)

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

  • Nosu 诺苏方言
    • Senza, Shèngzhà 圣乍次方言
      • Senza, Shèngzhà 圣乍 (no̱˧su˧): 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 义诺 (no̱˨su˨): 600,000 speakers primarily in Meigu, Mabian, Leibo, and Ebian, Ganluo; also in Yuexi, Zhaojue, and Jinyang
      • Lidim, Tiánbà 田坝 (no̱˧su˧): 100,000 speakers primarily in Ganluo, Yuexi, and Ebian; also in Hanyuan
    • Sodi, Suǒdì 所地次方言 (no̱˧su˧): 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 in function, the glyphs are independent in form, with little to suggest a direct relation.

The Modern Yi script (ꆈꌠꁱꂷ nuosu bburma [nɔ̄sū bʙ̝̄mā] 'Nosu script') is a standardized syllabary derived from the classic script in 1974 by the local Chinese government. 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 for use in Yi, based on the romanized script of Gladstone Porteous of Sayingpan.[7] (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 Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal voiced m /m/ n /n/ ny /ɲ/ ng /ŋ/
unvoiced hm /m̥/ hn /n̥/
Plosive prenasalized nb /mb/ nd /nd/ mg /ŋɡ/
voiced bb /b/ dd /d/ gg /ɡ/
unvoiced b /p/ d /t/ g /k/
aspirated p /pʰ/ t /tʰ/ k /kʰ/
Affricate prenasalized nz /ndz/ nr /ndʐ/ nj /ndʑ/
voiced zz /dz/ rr /dʐ/ jj /dʑ/
unvoiced z /ts/ zh /tʂ/ j /tɕ/
aspirated c /tsʰ/ ch /tʂʰ/ q /tɕʰ/
Fricative unvoiced f /f/ s /s/ sh /ʂ/ x /ɕ/ h /x/ hx /h/
voiced v /v/ ss /z/ r /ʐ/ y /ʑ/ w /ɣ/
Lateral voiced l /l/
unvoiced hl /l̥/


  Front Central Back
Close i /i/ y /z̞*/ u /u/
Close-mid e /ə/ o /o/
Open-mid ie /ɛ/ uo /ɔ/
Open a /a/

* Identified with the vowel of the Mandarin 四 "four"


  • high [˥] – written -t
  • mid falling [˧˨] or mid [˧] – written -x
  • mid [˧] – unmarked
  • low falling [˨˩] – written -p



Number 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Yi script ꊰꊪ ꊰꑋ
Reading t͡sʰɿ̂ ȵî sɔ̄ lɿ̄ ŋɯ̄ ʂɿ̂ hi̋ ɡū t͡sʰī t͡sʰīt͡sʰɿ̂ t͡sʰīȵî


  1. ^ Nuosu at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Sichuan Yi". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Zhu Wenxu etc. 朱文旭、木乃热哈、陈国光 Yi-yu basic course 彝语基础教程 Central Minorities Publishing Co. 中央民族大学出版社 (2006-04出版)
  4. ^ Lama, Ziwo Qiu-Fuyuan (2012), Subgrouping of Nisoic (Yi) Languages, thesis, University of Texas at Arlington
  5. ^ Bradley, David. 2005. "Sanie and language loss in China".International Journal of the Sociology of Language. Volume 2005, Issue 173, Pp. 159–176.
  6. ^ *Bradley, David (1997). "Tibeto-Burman languages and classification". In Tibeto-Burman languages of the Himalayas, Papers in South East Asian linguistics. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  7. ^ Yi language
  • Chen Kang [陈康]. 2010. A study of Yi dialects [彝语方言研究]. Beijing: China Minzu University Press.

Further reading

  • Collective book, Ritual for Expelling Ghosts, A religious Classic of the Yi nationality in Liangshan Prefecture, Sichuan. The Taipei Ricci Institute (November 1998)
  • Ma Linying, Dennis Elton Walters, Susan Gary Walters (editors). Nuosu Yi-Chinese-English Glossary. Nationalities Publishing House (2008). ISBN 978-7-105-09050-1/H.638.

External links

  • Yi font by SIL
  • Pronunciation of Yi Consonant and Vowel
  • Learn Yi Vocabulary
  • Yi language edition of the People's Daily
  • Yi keyboard input
  • 600 Phrases in the Liangshan Yi Dialect
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