Loloish languages

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Yi, Ngwi, Nisoic
Ethnicity Yi people
Southern China and Southeast Asia
Linguistic classification Sino-Tibetan
Proto-language Proto-Loloish
Glottolog lolo1267[1]

The Loloish languages, also known as Yi in China and occasionally Ngwi (Bradley 1997) or Nisoic (Lama 2012), are a family of fifty to a hundred Sino-Tibetan languages spoken primarily in the Yunnan province of China. They are most closely related to Burmese and its relatives. Both the Loloish and Burmish branches are well defined, as is their superior node, Lolo–Burmese. However, subclassification is more contentious.

SIL Ethnologue (2013 edition) estimated a total number of 9 million native speakers of Ngwi languages, the largest group being the speakers of Nuosu (Northern Yi) at 2 million speakers (2000 PRC census).[2]


Loloish is the traditional name for the family. Some publications avoid the term under the misapprehension that Lolo is pejorative. Lolo is the Chinese rendition of the autonym of the Yi people, and it is only pejorative when written with a particular Chinese character (one that uses a beast rather than human radical), a practice that was prohibited by the Chinese government in the 1950s.[3]

David Bradley uses the name Ngwi, which is also used by Ethnologue, and Lama (2012) uses Nisoic. Paul K. Benedict coined the term Yipho, from Yi and a common autonym element (-po or -pho), but it never gained wide usage.

Internal classification[edit]

Bradley (2007)[edit]

Loloish was traditionally divided into a northern branch, with Lisu and the numerous Yi languages, and a southern branch, with everything else. However, per Bradley (1997) and Thurgood (2003:8) there is also a central branch, with languages from both northern and southern. Bradley (2002, 2007) adds a fourth, southeastern branch.

Ugong is divergent; Bradley (1997) places it with the Burmish languages. The Tujia language is difficult to classify due to divergent vocabulary. Other unclassified Loloish languages are Gokhy (Gɔkhý), Lopi, and Ache.

Lama (2012)[edit]

Lama (2012) classified 36 Lolo–Burmese languages based on a computational analysis of shared phonological and lexical innovations. He finds the Mondzish languages to be a separate branch of Lolo-Burmese, which Lama considers to have split off before Burmish did. The rest of the Loloish languages are as follows:


Hanoish: Jino, Akha–Hani languages, Bisoid languages, etc. (See)

Lahoish: Lahu, Kucong

Naxish: Naxi, Namuyi

Nusoish: Nusu, Zauzou (Rouruo)


Kazhuoish: Katso (Kazhuo), Samu (Samatao), Sanie, Sadu[4], Meuma[5]

Lisoish: Lisu, Lolopo, etc. (See)

Nisoish: Nisoid languages, Axi-Puoid languages

The Nisoish, Lisoish, and Kazhuoish clusters are closely related, forming a clade ("Ni-Li-Ka") at about the same level as the other five branches of Loloish. Lama's Naxish clade has been classified as Qiangic rather than Loloish by Guillaume Jacques & Alexis Michaud (2011)[6] (see Qiangic languages).

A Lawoish (Lawu) branch has also been recently proposed.[7]

Satterthwaite-Phillips' (2011) computational phylogenetic analysis of the Lolo-Burmese languages does support the inclusion of Naxish (Naic) within Lolo-Burmese, but recognizes Lahoish and Nusoish as coherent language groups that form independent branches of Loloish.[8]

Lesser-known languages[edit]


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Loloish". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  2. ^ [hle] 15,000; [jiy] 1,000; [jiu] 10,000; [lkc] 46,870; [lhu] 530,350; [lhi] 196,200; [ywt] 213,000; [yik] 30,000; [yit] 38,000; [ywl] 38,000; [llh] 120; [yne] 2,000; [lwu] 50; [ylm] 29,000; [lpo] 250,000; [lis] 942,700; [ycl] 380,000; [ysp] 190,000; [ymh] 23,000; [yiq] 30,000; [nuf] 12,670; [ysn] 100,000; [yta] 13,600; [ytl] 950; [zal] 2,100; [yna] 25,000; [yiu] 20,000; [yyz] 50; [ych] 3,300; [ygp] 100,000; [kaf] 4,000; [ylo] 15,000; [ywu] 150,000; [yig] 500,000; [iii] 2,000,000; [ysd] 400; [smh] 20,000; [ysy] 8,000; [ywq] 250,000; [yif] 35,000; [aub] 3,500; [yix] 100,000; [aza] 53,000; [yiz] 54,000; [ybk] 10,000; [ykt] 5,000; [ykl] 21,000; [ykn] 5,000; [yku] 1,000; [lgh] 300; [nty] 1,100; [ymi] 2,000; [ymx] 9,000; [ymq] 1,500; [ymc] 26,000; [ymz] 10,000; [yso] 36,000; [nos] 75,000; [yiv] 160,000; [nsf] 24,000; [nsd] 210,000; [nsv] 15,000; [ypa] 12,000; [ypg] 13,000; [ypo] 500; [yip] 30,000; [ypn] 10,000; [yhl] 36,000; [ypb] 17,000; [phh] 10,000; [ypm] 8,000; [ypp] 3,000; [yph] 1,300; [ypz] 6,000; [ysg] 2,000; [ytp] 200; [yzk] 13,000; [qeu] 12,400; [ahk] 563,960; [bzi] 240; [byo] 120,000; [ycp] 2,000; [cnc] 2,030; [enu] 30,000; [hni] 758,620; [how] 140,000; [ktp] 185,000; [lwm] 1,600; [lov] ? (not included); [mpz] 900; [ymd] 2,000; [phq] 350; [pho] 35,600; [pyy] 700; [sgk] 1,500; [slt] 2,480; [lbg] 9,550; [ugo] 80; Total: 9,078,770
  3. ^ Benedict, Paul K. (1987). "Autonyms: ought or ought not." Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 10: 188. Italics in original.
  4. ^ Fang Lifen [方利芬]. 2013. A genetic study on the Sadu language of Bai people in Yuxi [玉溪白族撒都话系属研究]. M.A. dissertation. Beijing: Minzu University.
  5. ^ Hsiu, Andrew. 2013. New endangered Tibeto-Burman languages of southwestern China: Mondzish, Longjia, Pherbu, and others. Presented at ICSTLL 46, Dartmouth College.
  6. ^ Jacques, Guillaume, and Alexis Michaud. 2011. "Approaching the historical phonology of three highly eroded Sino-Tibetan languages." Diachronica 28:468-498.
  7. ^ Hsiu, Andrew. 2017. The Lawu languages: footprints along the Red River valley corridor.
  8. ^ Satterthwaite-Phillips, Damian. 2011. Phylogenetic inference of the Tibeto-Burman languages or On the usefulness of lexicostatistics (and "Megalo"-comparison) for the subgrouping of Tibeto-Burman. Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University.
  • Bradley, David. 1997. "Tibeto-Burman languages and classification". In Tibeto-Burman languages of the Himalayas, Papers in South East Asian linguistics. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Bradley, David. 2002. The subgrouping of Tibeto-Burman. In Medieval Tibeto-Burman languages, Christopher Beckwith and Henk Blezer (eds.), 73–112. (International Association for Tibetan Studies Proceedings 9 (2000) and Brill Tibetan Studies Library 2.) Leiden: Brill.
  • Bradley, David. 2007. East and Southeast Asia. In Moseley, Christopher (ed.), Encyclopedia of the World's Endangered Languages, 349-424. London & New York: Routledge.
  • Lama, Ziwo Qiu-Fuyuan. 2012. Subgrouping of Nisoic (Yi) Languages. Ph.D. thesis, University of Texas at Arlington.
  • Satterthwaite-Phillips, Damian. 2011. Phylogenetic inference of the Tibeto-Burman languages or On the usefulness of lexicostatistics (and "Megalo"-comparison) for the subgrouping of Tibeto-Burman. Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University.
  • van Driem, George. 2001. Languages of the Himalayas: An Ethnolinguistic Handbook of the Greater Himalayan Region. Leiden: Brill.