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Northern Qiang language

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Northern Qiang
Rma Script from Qiang Language
Rma Script used in Qiang Language
Native toChina
RegionSichuan Province
EthnicityQiang people
Native speakers
(58,000 cited 1999)[1]
Latin, Rma
Language codes
ISO 639-3cng
Glottolognort2722  Northern Qiang
sout3257  Southeast Maoxian Qiang
ELPNorthern Qiang
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.

Northern Qiang is a Sino-Tibetan language of the Qiangic branch, more specifically falling under the Tibeto-Burman family. It is spoken by approximately 60,000 people in East Tibet, and in north-central Sichuan Province, China.

Unlike its close relative Southern Qiang, Northern Qiang is not a tonal language.

Northern Qiang dialects[edit]

Northern Qiang is composed of several different dialects, many of which are easily mutually intelligible. Sun Hongkai in his book on Qiang in 1981 divides Northern Qiang into the following dialects: Luhua, Mawo, Zhimulin, Weigu, and Yadu. These dialects are located in Heishui County as well as the northern part of Mao County. The Luhua, Mawo, Zhimulin, and Weigu varieties of Northern Qiang are spoken by the Heishui Tibetans. The Mawo dialect is considered to be the prestige dialect by the Heishui Tibetans.

Names seen in the older literature for Northern Qiang dialects include Dzorgai (Sifan), Kortsè (Sifan), Krehchuh, and Thóchú/Thotcu/Thotśu. The last is a place name.[2]

Sims (2016)[3] characterizes Northern (Upstream) Qiang as the *nu- innovation group. Individual dialects are highlighted in italics.

Northern Qiang
  • NW Heishui: Luhua 芦花镇
  • Central Heishui
    • Qinglang 晴朗乡
    • Zhawo 扎窝乡
    • Ciba 慈坝乡
    • Shuangliusuo 双溜索乡
    • uvular V's innovation group: Zhimulin 知木林乡, Hongyan 红岩乡, Mawo 麻窝乡
  • SE Heishui: Luoduo 洛多乡, Longba 龙坝乡, Musu 木苏乡, Shidiaolou 石碉楼乡
  • North Maoxian: Taiping 太平乡, Songpinggou 松坪沟乡
  • South Songpan: Xiaoxing 小姓乡, Zhenjiangguan 镇江关乡, Zhenping 镇坪乡
  • West Maoxian / South Heishui: Weigu 维古乡, Waboliangzi 瓦钵乡梁子, Se'ergu 色尔古镇, Ekou, Weicheng 维城乡, Ronghong, Chibusu, Qugu 曲谷乡, Wadi 洼底乡, Baixi 白溪乡, Huilong 回龙乡, Sanlong 三龙乡
  • Central Maoxian: Heihu 黑虎乡
  • SE Maoxian (reflexive marker innovation): Goukou 沟口乡, Yonghe 永和乡


The phonemic inventory of the Northern Qiang of Ronghong village consists of 37 consonants, and eight basic vowel qualities.[4]: 22, 25  The syllable structure of Northern Qiang allows up to six sounds.[4]: 30 


Labial Dental Retroflex Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
plain sibilant
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
voiceless p t ts ʈʂ k q
aspirated tsʰ ʈʂʰ tɕʰ
voiced b d dz ɖʐ ɡ
Fricative voiceless ɸ ɬ s ʂ ɕ x χ h
voiced z ʐ ʁ ɦ
Approximant l [j] [w]
  • A glottal stop [ʔ] may be heard in word-initial position when preceding vowels.
  • /ɸ/ can also be heard as a labio-dental [f].
  • /ʐ/ can also be heard as an alveolar [ɹ].
  • /ɕ x/ can have voiced allophones of [ʑ ɣ].
  • Approximants [w j] are not distinct from /i u/ but are transcribed in intervocalic position, and initially /i u/, to clarify syllable division.


Northern Qiang distinguishes between unstressed and long vowels (signified by two small dots, "ː") for all of its vowels except for /ə/ . In addition, there exist 15 diphthongs and one triphthong in the language of Northern Qiang.[4]: 25–26 

Northern Qiang Vowel Inventory[4]: 25 
Front Mid Back
High i, iː y, yː u, uː
Mid e, eː ə o, oː
Low a, aː ɑ, ɑː

There may not be a significant phonetic difference in sound between /i/ and /e/, and /u/ and /o/, respectively. In fact, they are often used in place of one another without changing the meaning.

Diphthongs and triphthongs[edit]

Diphthongs: ia, iɑ, ie, ye, eu, əu, ei, əi, oi, uɑ, ua, uə, ue, ui, ya

Triphthong: uəi[4]: 26 


As the Northern Qiang language becomes more endangered, the use of r-coloring is not being passed down to younger generations of the Northern Qiang people. As a result, there is great variation in its use. R-coloring is not considered its own phoneme because it is a vowel feature and only used to produce vowel harmony (see below), most commonly signifying a first person plural marking.[4]: 28 

  • Example: miʴwu [person (<mi):all] 'all the people'[4]: 28 

Syllable structure[edit]

The following is the Northern Qiang Syllable prototype structure. All are optional apart from the central vowel (underlined):[4]: 30 


(The final 'fricative' may be a fricative F, an affricate ᴾF, or /l/.)

All consonants occur as initials, though /ŋ/ only before /u/, and /ɦ/ only in a directional prefix and in a filler interjection. Almost all apart from the aspirated consonants occur as finals. These do not preserve Proto-Tibeto-Burman finals, which have all been lost, but are the result of the reduction of unstressed syllables (e.g. [səf] 'tree' from /sə/ 'wood' + /pʰə/ 'forest').

Initial FC clusters may be:

/ʂ/ + /p t tɕ k q b d dʑ ɡ m/,
/x/ + /tɕ tʂ k s ʂ ɬ l dʑ dʐ z ʐ/,
/χ/ + /tʂ q s ʂ ɬ l d dʑ dʐ z ʐ n/

The fricatives are voiced to [ʐ ɣ ʁ] before a voiced consonant. In addition, /ʂ/ > [s z] before /t d/ and > [ɕ ʑ] before /pi pe bi tɕ dʑ/.

In final CᴾF clusters, the C is a fricative. Clusters include /ɕtɕ xʂ xtʂ xɬ ɣz ɣl χs/.

Examples of syllables permitted in Northern Qiang[4]: 30 
Template Qiang Word Translation
V ɑ 'one'
VG ɑu 'one pile'
GV 'bird'
VC ɑs 'one day'
VCF əχʂ 'tight'
CV 'buy'
CGV kʰuə 'dog'
CGVG kuɑi-tʰɑ 'strange'
CVC pɑq 'intererst'
CVCF bəxʂ 'honey'
CGVC duɑp 'thigh'
FCV xtʂe 'louse'
FCGV ʂkue 'roast'
FCGVG ʂkuəi 'mt. goat'
FCVC ʂpəl 'kidney'
FCVCF ʂpəχs 'Chibusu'
FCGVC ʂquɑp 'quiet'
FCGVCF ɕpiexɬ 'scar'

Phonological processes[edit]

Initial weakening[edit]

When a compound or a directional prefix is added before an aspirated initial, the latter becomes the final of the preceding syllable in the new word. This typically causes it to lose its aspiration.[4]: 31–32 

  • Example: tə- DIR + ba 'big' > wa 'become big'[4]: 32 

Vowel harmony[edit]

Vowel harmony exists in the Mawo (麻窝) dialect. Typically, vowel harmony is used to match a preceding syllable's vowel with the succeeding vowel or its height. In some cases, however, the vowel of a succeeding syllable will harmonize in the opposite way, matching with the preceding vowel. This process occurs across syllables in compounds or in prefix + root combinations. Vowel harmony can also occur for r-coloring on the first syllable if the second syllable of a compound or prefix + root combination already has r-coloring.[4]: 35–36 

  • Example: wə 'bird' + ʂpu 'flock' > wuʂpu '(wild) pigeon'[4]: 35 
  • Example: Chinese zhàogù + Qiang pə 'to do' > tʂɑuku-pu 'take care of'[4]: 36 
  • Example: me 'not' + w 'reduce' > m-w 'unceasingly'[4]: 35 
  • Example: The realization of the word "one" (a) is influenced by the classifiers:[5]
  • e si (a day)
  • a qep (a can)
  • ɑ pɑu (a packet)
  • o ʁu (a barrel)
  • ɘ ʑu (a pile)
  • ø dy (a mouth)

Epenthetic vowel[edit]

The vowel /ə/ can be embedded within a collection of consonants that are restricted by the syllable canon. The epenthetic vowel is used to combine sounds that would typically be impermissible.[4]: 36 

  • Example: bəl-əs-je [do-NOM (< -s)-good to eat] 'advantageous'[4]: 36 

Free variation[edit]

For some words, changing or adding consonants produces no phonological difference in meaning. The most common consonant interchange is between /ʂ/ and /χ/.[4]: 37 

  • Example: ʂqu ~ χqu 'mouth'[4]: 37 
  • Example: kɑp ~ kɑpətʂ 'orphan'[4]: 37 


Northern Qiang Orthography
Letter a ae b bb c ch d dd dh e ea f g gg gv h hh hv i iu j jj k kv l
IPA a æ p b t͡sʰ ʈ͡ʂʰ t d ɖ͡ʐ ə e f k g q x ɣ h i y t͡ɕ d͡ʑ l
Letter lh m n ng ny o p ph q rr s sh ss t u v vh vv w x xx y z zh zz
IPA ɬ m n ŋ ȵ o ɸ t͡ɕʰ ʐ s ʂ z u χ ɦ ʁ w, ɕ ʑ j t͡s ʈ͡ʂ d͡z

Nasalized vowels are indicated with trailing nn, rhotacized vowels are indicated with trailing r, long vowels are indicated by doubling the vowel letter.


Northern Qiang uses affixes in the form of prefixes and suffixes to describe or modify the meaning of nouns and verbs.[4]: 39, 43, 120  Other morphological processes that are affixed include gender marking, marking of genitive case, compounding, and nominalization. Northern Qiang also uses non-affixational processes such as reduplication.[4]: 39 

Noun phrase[edit]

In Northern Qiang, any combination of the following order is allowed as long as it follows this flow.[clarification needed] Some of the items found below, such as adjectives, may be used twice within the same noun phrase.[4]: 39 

Northern Qiang noun phrase structure[edit]

GEN phrase + Rel. clause + Noun + ADJ + DEM/DEF + (NUM + CL)/PL[4]: 39 

Gender marking[edit]

Gender marking only occurs in animals. Typically, /mi/ is the suffix for females, while /zdu/ is the suffix for males.[4]: 48 

  • wə-mi 'mare'[4]: 48 
  • puɳu-zdu 'male cat'[4]: 48 


Northern Qiang pronouns can be represented from the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person, and can refer to one, two, or more than two people.[4]: 50 

Northern Qiang Personal Pronouns[4]: 50 
Singular Dual Plural
1 tɕi-zzi tɕi-le
2 ʔũ ʔi-zzi ʔi-le
3 theː / qupu thi-zzi them-le

Genitive case[edit]

The genitive marker /-tɕ(ə)/ is placed on the modifying noun; this modifying noun will precede the noun it modifies.[4]: 99–100 





qɑ-tɕ ləɣz

1sg-GEN book

'my book'[4]: 100 

Verbal morphology[edit]

The meaning of verbs can be changed using prefixes and suffixes, or by using reduplication.[4]: 120, 123 

Verbal Prefixes[4]: 120 
Marking in Qiang Purpose/Meaning
1 intensifying adverb
2 "various" direction/orientation, or 3rd person indirect directive
3 /mə-/, or /tɕə-/ simple negation, or prohibitive
4 /tɕi/ continuative aspect
Verbal Suffixes[4]: 120 
Marking in Qiang Purpose/Meaning
5 /-ʐ/ causative
6 /-ɑː/ prospective aspect
7 /kə/ or /lə/ '(to) go', or '(to) come' (auxiliary directional verbs)
8 /-jə/ repetition
9 /-ji/ change of state
10 /-l-/ 1st person indirect directive
11 /-k/ inferential evidential, mirative
12 /-u/ visual evidential
13 /-ʂɑ/, /-sɑn/, /-ʂəʴ/, /-sɑi/, [-wu/ ~ -u] non-actor person (1sg, 2sg, 1pl, 2pl, 3sg/pl)
14 /-ɑ/, /-n/, /-əʴ/, /-i/, /-tɕi/ actor person (1sg, 2sg, 1pl, 2pl, 3pl)
15 /-i/ hearsay evidential


Repetition of the same root verb signifies a reciprocal action upon one actors, or an ongoing action.[4]: 52, 123 

  • Example: 'plaster (a wall)' > mə 'be plastering'[4]: 123 

Other morphological processes[edit]


In Northern Qiang, the modifying noun of the compound must precede the modified noun.[4]: 43 





'puppy'[4]: 48, 49 


Nouns are created from adjectives or verbs using clitics /-s/, /-m/, or /-tɕ/, the indefinite markers /le/ or /te/, or the definite marker /ke/.[4]: 59, 223 





tɑwə-tɑ-m le-ze

hat-wear-NOM DEF-CL

'the person wearing a hat'[4]: 224 


The Northern Qiang language has quite a predictable syntax without many variations. The typical basic word order is subject–object–verb (SOV).[4]: 221  Northern Qiang borrows some Mandarin Chinese words and phrases.[4]: 222 

Clause structure[edit]



(TEMP = temporal phrase; UG = undergoer; VC = verb complex; PART = clause-final particle)

A sentence in Northern Qiang may be as short as a verb complex, which may just be a predicate noun.[4]: 222 

As shown from the order stated above, Northern Qiang is a language with a SOV sentence structure.











χumtʂi ʐətɕʰaq-e-ze ɦɑ-tʂ

Xumtʂi rabbit-one-CL DIR-pierce(kill)

'Xumtʂi killed a rabbit.'[4]: 77 

Code mixing[edit]

Many loan words or loan phrases from Mandarin are borrowed, but the word order of these phrases is rearranged to fit the grammatical structure of Northern Qiang.[4]: 222 













pəs-ŋuəɳi ʐmətʂi-sətsim-leː tɕiutɕin ʂə mi-leː ŋuə-ŋuɑ?

today-TOP emperor-wife-DEF:CL (after.all be) person-DEF:CL COP-Q

'Today, is the emperor's wife a human?'[4]: 222 

In this sentence, the words "tɕiutɕin" and "ʂə" are borrowed from Mandarin.


As with many Qiangic languages, Northern Qiang is becoming increasingly threatened.[6] Because the education system largely uses Standard Chinese as a medium of instruction for the Qiang people, and as a result of the universal access to schooling and television, most Qiang children are fluent or even monolingual in Chinese while an increasing percentage cannot speak Qiang.[7] Much of the population marry people from other parts of China who only speak Mandarin.[4]: 12 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Northern Qiang at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Sun, Jackson T.-S. (1992). "Review of Zangmianyu Yuyin He Cihui "Tibeto-Burman Phonology and Lexicon"" (PDF). Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area. 15 (2): 76–77.
  3. ^ Sims, Nathaniel (2016). "Towards a More Comprehensive Understanding of Qiang Dialectology" (PDF). Language and Linguistics. 17 (3): 351–381. doi:10.1177/1606822X15586685.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av LaPolla (2003)
  5. ^ Sun, Hongkai 孙宏开 (1981). Qiāngyǔ jiǎnzhì 羌语简志 (in Chinese). Minzu chubanshe.
  6. ^ "Qiang, Southern". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2019-03-17.
  7. ^ LaPolla (2003), p. 5