Naxi language

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Native to China
Region Yunnan and Tibet
Ethnicity Nakhi, Mosuo
Native speakers
350,000  (2010)[1]
Geba script, or Dongba augmented with Geba
Official status
Official language in
People's Republic of China
Language codes
ISO 639-3 nbfinclusive code
Individual codes:
nxq – Naxi
nru – Narua (Yongning Na)
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Naxi (autonym: nɑ˩çi˧), also known as Nakhi, Nasi, Lomi, Moso, Mo-su, is a Tibeto-Burman language or group of languages spoken by some 310,000 people concentrated in the Lijiang City Yulong Naxi Autonomous County (Yùlóng Nàxīzú Zìzhìxiàn 玉龍納西族自治縣) of the province of Yunnan, China. Nakhi is also the name of the ethnic group that speaks it.


See also: Naish languages

There are at least two Naxi languages. Western Naxi (or Naxi proper) is fairly homogeneous, whereas Eastern Naxi (or Na) consists of several mutually unintelligible dialects.

It is commonly proposed in Chinese scholarship that these languages lie within the Lolo–Burmese languages: e.g. Ziwo Lama (2012) classifies Naxi as part of the Naxish branch of Loloish. However, Thurgood and La Polla (2003) state that "The position of Naxi ... is still unclear despite much speculation," and leave it unclassified within Tibeto-Burman.[2] Guillaume Jacques & Alexis Michaud (2011)[3] classify Naxi within the "Naic" group of a proposed "Na-Qiangic" branch.

The syntactic structure is similar to other Tibeto-Burmese languages spoken in Yunnan.


According to the 2000 Chinese census, 310,000 people speak Nakhi, and 100,000 of those are monolingual. Approximately 170,000 speak Chinese, Tibetan, Bai, or English as a second language. Almost all speakers live in Yunnan, but some are in Tibet, and it is possible that some live in Burma.

The language is commonly spoken among Nakhi people in everyday life and the language is in little danger of dying out soon, although the written literacy is still a rare skill. The language can be written in the Geba or Latin scripts, but they are rarely used in everyday life and few people are able to read Naxi.

The three most common dialects are Lijiang, Lapao, and Lutien. Lijiang, which is spoken in the western parts of the language's range, is the most uniform of the three and it is heavily influenced by Putonghua and Yunnanese dialects, proved by its huge volume of loan words from Chinese. The eastern dialects, which are much more native and have many dialectal differences.

Naxi phonemes[edit]

The alphabet used here is the 1957 pinyin alphabet.


IPA and Naxi Pinyin orthography
Labial Labiodental Dental Retroflex Alveolo-palatal Palatal Velar Glottal
Voiceless stop p b t d c ? k g ʔ
Aspirated stop p t  ? k
Voiced stop b bb d dd ɟ ? ɡ gg
Prenasalized stop ᵐb nb ⁿd nd ᶮɟ ? ᵑɡ mg
Voiceless affricate ts z zh j
Aspirated affricate tsʰ c tʂʰ ch tɕʰ q
Voiced affricate dz zz rh jj
Prenasalized affricate ⁿdz nz ⁿdʐ nr ⁿdʑ nj
Voiceless fricative f f s s ʂ sh ɕ x x h
Voiced fricative v v z ss ʐ r ʑ y ɣ w
Nasal m m n n ɲ ni ŋ ng
Lateral l l
Flap or trill r ?
Semivowel w u, ɥ iu j i


In the Lijiang dialect, there are nine vowels, plus syllabic /v̩/. They are: /i, e, æ, ɑ, y, ɨ, ə, o, u/ written i, ee, ai, a, iu, ee, e, o, u. There is also a final /əɹ/, written er.


There are four tones: high level, mid-level, low level (or falling), and, in a few words, high rising. They are written -l, -, -q, -f.


  • Bradley, David. 1975. "Nahsi and Proto-Burmese–Lolo." Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 2: 1.93–150.
  • Bradley, David. 1997. "Tibeto-Burman languages and classification." Papers in Southeast Asian linguistics No.14: Tibeto-Burman languages of the Himalayas ed. by D. Bradley, 1–64. Canberra: Department of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.
  • Fang Guoyu 方国瑜 and He Zhiwu 和志武. 1995. Nàxī Xiàngxíng Wénzì Pǔ (A dictionary of Naxi pictographic characters) (纳西象形文字谱). Kunming: Yunnan Renmin Chubanshe.
  • Fu Maoji. 1944. A Study of the Moso Hieroglyphic Manuscript "The Genesis and History of Mankind", from Likiang (麗江麼些象形文’古事記’研究). Wuchang, Hubei: Wuchang University 武昌華中大學﹐中華民國三十七年.
  • Fu Maoji. 1984. Nàxīyǔ Túhuà-wénzì "Bái biānfú qǔ jīng jì" yánjiū 纳西语图画文字 "白蝙蝠取经记" 研究 (A study of a Naxi pictographic manuscript, "White Bat’s Search for Sacred Books"), Vol. 2. Tokyo: CAAAL.
  • Guo Dalie 郭大烈 and He Zhiwu 和志武. 1999. Nàxīzú Shǐ 纳西族史 (A History of the Naxi people): Sichuan Minzu Chubanshe.
  • He Jiren 和即仁 and Jiang Zhuyi 姜竹仪. 1985. Nàxīyǔ Jiǎnzh́ 纳西语简志 (A Presentation of the Naxi Language). Beijing: Minzu Chubanshe.
  • He Zhiwu 和志武. 1987. Nàxīyǔ Jīchǔ Yǔfǎ 纳西语基础语法 (A Basic Grammar of Naxi). Kunming: Yunnan Minzu Chubanshe.
  • Li Lincan 李霖灿, Zhang Kun 张琨 and HE Cai 和才. 1953. Móxiē Xiàngxíng Wénzì zìdiǎn 麽些象形文字字典 (A dictionary of Naxi pictographs). Hong Kong: Shuowenshe. (New edition published by Yunnan Minzu Chubanshe in 2001 as "纳西象形标音文字字典".)
  • Michailovsky, Boyd; Michaud, Alexis (2006). "Syllabic inventory of a Western Naxi dialect, and correspondence with Joseph F. Rock’s transcriptions". Cahiers de Linguistique - Asie Orientale 35 (1): 3–21. doi:10.3406/clao.2006.1745. 
  • Michaud, Alexis. 2006. "Replicating in Naxi (Tibeto-Burman) an experiment designed for Yorùbá: An approach to ‘prominence-sensitive prosody’ vs. ‘calculated prosody’", Proceedings of Speech Prosody 2006, Dresden. Available online.
  • Michaud, Alexis. (2006). Three extreme cases of neutralisation: nasality, retroflexion and lip-rounding in Naxi. Cahiers de linguistique Asie Orientale 35, 23-55. Available online.
  • Michaud, Alexis (2006). "Three extreme cases of neutralisation: nasality, retroflexion and lip-rounding in Naxi". Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale 35 (1): 23–55. doi:10.3406/clao.2006.1746. 
  • Michaud, Alexis (2006). Tonal reassociation and rising tonal contours in Naxi. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 29, 61-94. Available online.
  • Michaud, Alexis (2006) and He Xueguang. Reassociated tones and coalescent syllables in Naxi (Tibeto-Burman). Journal of the International Phonetic Association 37(3): 237-255 (2007). Available online.
  • Ramsey, S. Robert (1987). The Languages of China. Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey ISBN 0-691-06694-9
  • Rock, Joseph. 1963-1972. A Na-Khi — English encyclopedic dictionary. Roma: Instituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente.
  • Matisoff, James A. 2003. Handbook of Proto-Tibeto-Burman: system and philosophy of Sino-Tibetan reconstruction. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  • Thurgood, Graham. 2003. "A subgrouping of the Sino-Tibetan languages: The interaction between language contact, change, and inheritance." The Sino-Tibetan languages ed. by G. Thurgood and R. LaPolla, 3-21. London: Routledge.


  1. ^ Naxi at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Naxi at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Narua (Yongning Na) at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ The Sino-Tibetan Languages, pp. 19–20
  3. ^ Jacques, Guillaume, and Alexis Michaud. 2011. "Approaching the historical phonology of three highly eroded Sino-Tibetan languages: Naxi, Na and Laze." Diachronica 28:468-498.
  • Chen Jia-Ying. 1994. "The Naxi language." In Stuart R. Milliken (ed.), SIL occasional papers on the minority languages of China 1, 25-35: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Lidz, Liberty A. 2010. A Descriptive Grammar of Yongning Na (Mosuo). Ph.D. dissertation. Austin: University of Texas, Austin.

External links[edit]