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]
L1 speakers of Ngwi languages and other Sino-Tibetan languages according to Ethnologue

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. 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. All Loloish languages show significant Austroasiatic influence.[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]

Loloish is 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 massive influence from both Yi and Chinese. Bai also has numerous connections to Loloish, but its oldest core of vocabulary appears to be Old Chinese, and so it may be a Sinitic rather than Loloish language. Other unclassified Loloish languages are Gokhy (Gɔkhý), Ayizi and Chesu ('Northern'), Lopi, Ache, Limi, and Mili.

Lama (2012)[edit]

Lama (2012) classified 36 Lolo–Burmese languages based on computational analyses of shared phonological 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, etc. (See)

Lahoish: Lahu (Kucong)

Naic: Naxi, Namuyi

Nusoish: Nusu, Zauzou (Rouruo)


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

Lisoish: Lisu, Lolopo, etc. (See)

Nisoish: Nisu, Pholo, Axi, etc. (See)

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).

The Awu language may constitute yet another separate branch within Nisoish.

Lesser-known languages[edit]


  • van Driem, George (2001) Languages of the Himalayas: An Ethnolinguistic Handbook of the Greater Himalayan Region. Brill.
  • Lama, Ziwo Qiu-Fuyuan (2012), Subgrouping of Nisoic (Yi) Languages, thesis, University of Texas at Arlington.
  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. ^ Thurgood & LaPolla, 2003, The Sino-Tibetan languages, p. 9
  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 47, Dartmouth College.
  6. ^ Jacques, Guillaume, and Alexis Michaud. 2011. "Approaching the historical phonology of three highly eroded Sino-Tibetan languages." Diachronica 28:468-498.