Bouyei language

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Giay (Yay)
Native toChina (Guizhou, Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces)
EthnicityBouyei, Giay
Native speakers
2.7 million (2000 census)[1]
Latin, Sawndip
Language codes
ISO 639-3pcc
Geographic distribution of Bouyei language
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

The Bouyei language (autonym: Haausqyaix, also spelled Buyi, Buyei or Puyi;[3] Chinese: 布依语; pinyin: bùyī yǔ, Vietnamese: tiếng Bố Y or tiếng Giáy) is a language spoken by the Bouyei ethnic group[4] of Southern Guizhou Province, China. Classified as a member of the Northern Tai group in the Tai language branch of the Tai–Kadai language family, the language has over 2.5 million native speakers and is also used by the Giay people (Vietnamese: Giáy) in some parts of Vietnam. There are native speakers living in France or the United States as well, which emigrated from China or Vietnam. About 98% of the native speakers are in China.[3]

Bouyei's characteristics are similar to the other members of its language branch. It is generally monosyllabic and word order and particles are the main forms of grammar. Bouyei's syllable initials match up closely to the other Northern Tai languages, with relatively fast simplification and merging. Bouyei sentences can be shown to contain many different levels of phrasing.

The contemporary Bouyei script was developed after the abandonment of the Bouyei-Zhuang Script Alliance Policy in 1981 and was designed from 1981 to 1985. It is focused and phonologically representative and takes the Wangmo County dialect as its foundation.

Subdivisions and distribution[edit]


According to a 1950s survey performed by the Chinese government, the Bouyei language as spoken in Guizhou can be divided into three general dialect groups (Snyder 2008). Note that (Qián) is an abbreviation for Guizhou.

  1. The Southern Qian group - the largest of the three - from the Qianxinan Bouyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, which is mostly intelligible with the Guibian and Guibei Zhuang dialects. This vernacular is spoken in the counties of Wangmo, Ceheng, Luodian, Dushan, Libo, Duyun, Pingtang, Zhenfeng, Anlong, Xingren, and Xinyi.
  2. The Central Qian group - next most spoken of the three - which is spread throughout Qiannan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture and the suburbs of Guiyang, and is partially intelligible with the Southern Qian dialects (it is very similar to the Zhuang dialects of northern Guangxi). This vernacular is spoken in the counties of Longli, Guiding, Qingzhen, Pingba, Kaiyang, Guiyang, and Anshun.
  3. The Western Qian dialects - the least spoken of the three - which is spoken in the counties of Zhenning, Guanling, Ziyun, Qinglong, Pu'an, Liuzhi, Panxian, Shuicheng, Bijie, and Weining. The western dialects show more unique features than the other two groups. Some western dialects have aspirated stops, which is an uncommon feature in northern Tai languages (Snyder 2008).

Wu, Snyder, & Liang (2007) is the most comprehensive Bouyei survey to date, and covers the following data points.

Qiannan Bouyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture
Qianxinan Bouyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture
Anshun City
Liuzhi Special District

The Yei Zhuang varieties of Wenshan Prefecture, Yunnan are closely related to the Bouyei varieties of Guizhou. Many other languages outside China with the names "Yei", "Yay", "Yoy", are also closely related.


Bouyei is also spoken in northern Vietnam, where it is known as Giáy.[5] Edmondson and Gregerson (2001) has determined their language to be most similar to the Bouyei dialects of southwest Guizhou. The Giáy are an officially recognized group in Vietnam who now number nearly 50,000. Some household registries of the Giáy of Vietnam indicate that their ancestors had left Guizhou 160 years ago during the Qing Dynasty, and traveled overland to southern Yunnan and then Vietnam (Edmondson & Gregerson 2001). This coincides with the Miao Rebellion (1854–73) of Guizhou. The Giáy are found in the following locations of Vietnam.[6]

The Giáy of Mường Khương District who call themselves Tudì [thu zi] can only speak a form of Chinese, and no Giáy. Their autonym comes from their ancestral place of origin, which is Duyun of Guizhou province, China. According to their household records, they had arrived in Maguan County and in Honghe Prefecture about 200 years ago. Similarly, some Giáy of Vietnam report that they have relatives still living in Hekou, Yunnan province, China (Edmondson & Gregerson 2001).

The Pu Nả people of Tam Đường District, Lai Châu Province, Vietnam call themselves the Vần Nả (with vần meaning 'people'), and number about 5,000 individuals (Lò 2012:11-20).[7] They are also called Quý Châu (Guizhou 贵州), Sa Quý Châu, Củi Chu, Pu Y, or Pâu Thìn. The Pu Nả live in the following villages of Tam Đường District (Lò 2012:18).

  • Bản Giang commune
    • bản Coc Pa
    • bản Giang
    • bản Nà Bỏ
    • bản Nà Sài
    • bản Nà Cơ
    • bản Tẩn Phủ Nhiêu
  • Thèn Xin commune
    • bản Lở Thàng
    • Thèn Xin
  • San Thàng commune
    • bản Tả Xin Chải
    • Xéo Xin Chải
    • Phan Lỉn

The Yay language described by William J. Gedney is in fact the Giáy dialect of Mường Hum, Bát Xát District, Lào Cai (Edmondson & Gregerson 2001). There are also other related Northern Tai languages spoken in Vietnam as well, such Bố Y, Nhang, and Quy Châu (possibly closely related to Tai Mène of Laos). The Bố Y had originally came from around Wangmo County in southwestern Guizhou. Some subgroups of Bố Y call themselves the Pu Na or Pu Thin, meaning 'people of the paddy field'.



The Bouyei script recognizes 32 consonants, with names formed by the consonant in an initial position followed by a long "a" vowel.

Labials b /p/ p /pʰ/ mb /ɓ/ m /m/ f /f/ v /v/~[w]
Apicals d /t/ t /tʰ/ nd /ɗ/ n /n/ sl /ɬ/ l /l/
Velars g /k/ k /kʰ/ ng /ŋ/ h /x/ hr /ɣ/
Palatals j /tɕ/ q /tɕʰ/ ny /ɲ/ x /ɕ/ y /j/
Affricates z /ts/ c /tsʰ/ s /s/~[θ] r /z/~[ð]
Palatalized by /pʲ/ my /mʲ/ qy /ˀj/
Labialized gv /kʷ/ ngv /ŋʷ/ qv /ˀv/~[ˀw]

Pink: p, t, k, q, z, and c are used only to write Chinese loanwords.

Beige: sl and hr are used for sounds that occur only in certain dialects.

V is pronounced as a [w] before a "u". Absent consonant also produces /ʔ/.

Vowels and diphthongs[edit]

Bouyei has 77 vowels and diphthongs.

"Level" syllables a /a/ o /o/ ee /e/ i /i/ u /u/ e /ɯ/
aai /aːi/ ai /ɐi/ oi /oi/ ei /ɯi/
aau /aːu/ au /ɐu/ eeu /eu/ iu /iu/
ae /ɐɯ/ ie /iə/ ue /uə/ ea /ɯə/
aam /aːm/ am /ɐm/ oom /om/ om /ɔm/ eem /em/ iam /iəm/ im /im/ uam /uəm/ um /um/ eam /ɯəm/
aan /aːn/ an /ɐn/ oon /on/ on /ɔn/ een /en/ ian /iən/ in /in/ uan /uən/ un /un/ ean /ɯən/ en /ɯn/~[ən]
aang /aːŋ/ ang /ɐŋ/ oong /oŋ/ ong /ɔŋ/ eeng /eŋ/ iang /iəŋ/ ing /iŋ/ uang /uəŋ/ ung /uŋ/ eang /ɯəŋ/ eng /ɯŋ/~[əŋ]
"Entering" syllables aab /aːp/ ab /ɐp/ oob /op/ ob /ɔp/ eeb /ep/ iab /iəp/ ib /ip/ uab /uəp/ ub /up/ eab /ɯəp/
aad /aːt/ ad /ɐt/ ood /ot/ od /ɔt/ eed /et/ iad /iət/ id /it/ uad /uət/ ud /ut/ ead /ɯət/ ed /ɯt/~[ət]
ag /ɐk/ og /ɔk/ eeg /ek/ ig /ik/ ug /uk/ eg /ɯk/~[ək]

The endings er /ɚ/, ao /au/, ou /əu/, ia /ia/, io /io/, iao /iɐu/, ua /ua/, uai /uɐi/, and ui /ui/ are used in writing Chinese loanwords.


Bouyei has six tones, corresponding to the eight sheng of Middle Chinese: all six in open syllables or with a final /n/ or /ŋ/, reduced to two "entering" tones with a final stop.

# Name Contour Marking letter Corresponding Southwest Mandarin Tone Loanword Marking letter
1 Dark level ˨˦ l Departing q
2 Light level ˩ z
3 Dark rising ˥˧ c Rising j
4 Light rising ˧˩ x Light level f
5 Dark departing ˧˥ s
6 Light departing ˧ h Dark level y
7 Dark entering ˧˥ t
8 Light entering ˧ none

Marking letters are placed at the end of syllables to indicate tone. Loanword marking letters y, f, j, and q match with Mandarin tones 1, 2, 3, and 4 respectively.

Language shift[edit]

Bouyei shows de-voicing of Proto-Tai–Kadai's voiced consonants (*b/p/, *d/t/, /k/), and loss of aspiration.

Proto-Tai–Kadai *ˀn, *n̥ *t *ˀd *dʱ, *d *n
Bouyei n t ɗ t n
Dark tone Light tone

Proto-Tai–Kadai's tones experienced a splitting into modern Bouyei, shown in the following table.

Proto-Tai–Kadai *ˀn, *n̥ *t *ˀd *dʱ, *d *n
PTK Level tone Dark level Light level
PTK Rising tone Dark rising Light rising
PTK Departing tone Dark departing Light departing
PTK Entering tone Dark entering Light entering


Ancient Bouyei script[edit]

Ancient Bouyei writing was created by borrowing elements from Chinese characters or by mimicking their forms, and is similar to Sawndip.

Old Modern Bouyei[edit]

In November 1956, a scientific conference was held in Guiyang to discuss the creation and implementation of a Latin-based alphabet for Bouyei. The result was a script similar some Zhuang romanizations that used the Longli County dialect as its base. The script was approved by the Chinese government and was put into use in 1957, though its use ceased in 1960.

Current Bouyei script[edit]

In 1981 a conference on Bouyei history revised the script developed in 1956 in an attempt to make it more practical and phonologically representative of Wangmo County speech. It also was approved by the Chinese government, and was adopted on an experimental basis in 1982. Feedback was largely positive, and the script was officially brought into use in March 1985 and continues to be used to the present.

Old and current Bouyei Romanization comparisons

Old Current IPA Old Current IPA Old Current IPA Old Current IPA Old Current IPA
b b /p/ ƃ mb /ɓ/ m m /m/ f f /f/ v v, qv /v, ˀv/
c z /ts/ s s /s/ r r /z/
d d /t/ ƌ nd /ɗ/ n n /n/ l l /l/
g g /k/ gv gv /kʷ/ ŋ ng /ŋ/ ŋv ngv /ŋʷ/ h h /x/
gy j /tɕ/ ny ny /nʲ/ x x /ɕ/ y y, qy /j, ˀj/
by by /pʲ/ my my /mʲ/

Old Zhuang Bouyei IPA Old Zhuang Bouyei IPA Old Zhuang Bouyei IPA Old Zhuang Bouyei IPA
a a aa /aː/ ə ae a /a/ e e ee /e/ i i i /i/
o o oo /oː/ ө oe o /o/ u u u /u/ ɯ w e /ɯ/

Tone Marking Letters

# Old Zhuang Bouyei Yangchang Dialect Fuxing Dialect
1 none none l, q 35 24
2 ƨ z z 11 11
3 з j c, j 13 53
4 ч x x, f 31 11
5 ƽ q s 33 35
6 ƅ h h, y 53 33
7 (p, t, k) (p, t, k) (b, d, g)t 33 (long), 35 (short) 35
8 (b, d, g) (b, d, g) (b, d, g) 53 (long), 11 (short) 33


  1. ^ Bouyei at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Bouyei". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^
  5. ^ Chu Thái Sơn (1975). "Lịch sử di cư và sinh hoạt văn hóa của người Tu Dí ở Lào Cai". In, Ủy ban khoa học xã hội Việt Nam: Viện dân tộc học. Về vấn đề xác định thành phần các dân tộc thiểu số ở miền bắc Việt Nam, 331-364. Hà Nội: Nhà xuất bản khoa học xã hội.
  6. ^ Edmondson, J.A. and Gregerson, K.J. 2001, "Four Languages of the Vietnam-China Borderlands", in Papers from the Sixth Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society, ed. K.L. Adams and T.J. Hudak, Tempe, Arizona, pp. 101-133. Arizona State University, Program for Southeast Asian Studies.
  7. ^ Lò Văn Chiến. 2012. Dân ca người Pu Nả ở Lai Châu. Nhà xuất bản văn hóa dân tộc. ISBN 978-604-70-0107-1
  • Long Haiyan [龙海燕] (2007). 贵阳市郊布依语汉语接触研究 [Language contact between Guiyang Buyi and Chinese]. Chengdu: University of Electronic Science and Technology of China Press. ISBN 9787564710767.
  • Snyder, Wil C. (2008). "Bouyei Phonology." In Diller, Anthony, Jerold A. Edmondson, and Yongxian Luo ed. The Tai–Kadai Languages. Routledge Language Family Series. Psychology Press, 2008.
  • Wu Wenyi, Wil C. Snyder, and Liang Yongshu. 2007. Survey of the Guizhou Bouyei Language. SIL Language and Culture Documentation and Description 2007-001. Dallas: SIL International.
  • Libo Buyi Han Ying cihui =: Libo Buyi-Chinese-English glossary (Language data 18) by Yu Jiongbiao, Wil Snyder (1995). Summer Institute of Linguistics, 278 p. ISBN 1-55671-014-3.
  • Bouyei Culture Website

External links[edit]