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Tai Nuea language

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Tai Nuea
ᥖᥭᥰ ᥘᥫᥴ
Tai Le
Native toChina, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos
RegionSouthwest China
EthnicityTai Nua
Native speakers
(720,000 cited 1983–2007)[1]
Tai Le script
Official status
Official language in
China (Dehong, co-official)
Language codes
ISO 639-3tdd
Glottologtain1252  Tai Nua
ELPTai Neua
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.
Buddhist scriptures in Tai Nuea

Tai Nuea or Tai Nüa (Chinese: 傣那语; pinyin: Dǎinàyǔ; Thai: ภาษาไทเหนือ, pronounced [pʰāːsǎː tʰāj nɯ̌a]), also called Dehong Tai (Chinese: 德宏傣语; pinyin: Déhóng Dǎiyǔ; Thai: ภาษาไทใต้คง, pronounced [pʰāːsǎː tʰāj tâːj.kʰōŋ]) and Chinese Shan, is one of the languages spoken by the Dai people in China, especially in the Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture in the southwest of Yunnan Province. It is closely related to the other Tai languages and could be considered a dialect of Shan. It should not be confused with Tai Lü (Xishuangbanna Dai).


Most Tai Nuea people call themselves Tai Le (ᥖᥭᥰ ᥘᥫᥴ, IPA: [tai˥.lə˧]), which means 'Upper Tai' or 'Northern Tai'. Note that this is different from Tai Lue, which is pronounced [tai˥.lɪ˦˧] in Tai Nuea.

Another autonym is [tai˥ taɯ˧˩ xoŋ˥] (ᥖᥭᥰ ᥖᥬᥲ ᥑᥨᥒᥰ), where [taɯ˧˩] means 'bottom, under, the lower part (of)' and [xoŋ˥] means 'the Hong River' (Luo 1998). Dehong is a transliteration of the term [taɯ˧˩ xoŋ˥].

The language is also known as Tai Mau, Tai Kong and Tai Na.[2]


Zhou (2001:13) classifies Tai Nuea into the Dehong (德宏) and Menggeng (孟耿) dialects. Together, they add up to a total of 541,000 speakers.


Tai Nuea is a tonal language with a very limited inventory of syllables with no consonant clusters. 16 syllable-initial consonants can be combined with 84 syllable finals and six tones.



Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain sibilant
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive tenuis p t t͡s k ʔ
aspirated (t͡sʰ)* ()*
Fricative f s x h
Approximant l j w

*(kʰ) and (tsʰ) occur in loanwords


Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive p t k
Approximant w j

Vowels and diphthongs[edit]

Tai Nuea has ten vowels and 13 diphthongs:

Front Central-Back Back
High i ɯ u
Mid e ə o
Low ɛ a
Tai Nuea's diphthongs are iu, eu, ɛu; ui, oi, ɔi; əi, əu; ai, aɯ, au; aːi, aːu


Tai Nuea has six tones:

  1. rising [˨˦] (24)
  2. high falling [˥˧] (53) or high level [˥] (55)
  3. low level [˩] (11)
  4. low falling [˧˩] (31)
  5. mid falling [˦˧] (43) or high falling [˥˧] (53)
  6. mid level [˧] (33)

Syllables with p, t, k as final consonants can have only one of three tones (1., 3., or 5.).

Writing system[edit]

The Tai Le script is closely related to other Southeast-Asian writing systems such as the Thai script and is thought to date back to the 14th century.

The original Tai Nuea spelling did not generally mark tones and failed to distinguish several vowels. It was reformed to make these distinctions, and diacritics were introduced to mark tones. The resulting writing system was officially introduced in 1956. In 1988, the spelling of tones was reformed; special tone letters were introduced instead of the earlier Latin diacritics.

The modern script has a total of 35 letters, including the five tone letters.

The transcription below is given according to the Unicode tables.


Letter Transcription IPA Letter Transcription IPA Letter Transcription IPA
k [k] x [x] ng [ŋ]
ts [ts] s [s] y [j]
t [t] th [tʰ] l [l]
p [p] ph [pʰ] m [m]
f [f] v [w]
h [h] q [ʔ]
kh [kʰ] tsh [tsʰ] n [n]

Vowels and diphthongs[edit]

Consonants that are not followed by a vowel letter are pronounced with the inherent vowel [a]. Other vowels are indicated with the following letters:

Letter Transcription IPA Letter Transcription IPA
a [aː]
i [i] u [u]
ee [e] oo [o]
eh [ɛ] o [ɔ]
ue [ɯ] e [ə]
aue [aɯ] ai [ai]

Diphthongs are formed by combining some vowel letters with the consonant [w] and some vowel letters with ᥭ [ai]/[j].


In the Thai and Tai Lü writing systems, the tone value in the pronunciation of a written syllable depends on the tone class of the initial consonant, vowel length and syllable structure. In contrast, the Tai Nuea writing system has a very straightforward spelling of tones, with one letter (or diacritic) for each tone.

Tone marks were presented via the third reform (1963) as diacritics. Then the fourth reform (1988) changed them into tone letters. A tone mark is put at the end of syllable whatever it is consonant or vowel. Examples in the table show the syllable [ta] in different tones.

Number New (1988) Old (1963) Pitch
1. ᥖᥴ ᥖ́ 35
2. ᥖᥰ ᥖ̈ 55
3. ᥖᥱ ᥖ̌ 11
4. ᥖᥲ ᥖ̀ 42
5. ᥖᥳ ᥖ̇ 54
6. 33

The sixth tone (mid level) is not marked. And if a syllable with -p, -t, -k finals have the fifth tone, the tone mark is not written.



Meaning Plural
1st person exclusive ᥐᥝ (kau33) ᥖᥧ (tu33)
inclusive ᥞᥝᥰ (hau55)
2nd person ᥛᥬᥰ (maɯ55) ᥔᥧᥴ (su35)
3rd person ᥛᥢᥰ (man55) ᥑᥝᥴ (xau35)


Tai Nuea uses an SVO word order.


Word Meaning
ᥔᥒᥴ (sang35) What
ᥐᥤᥱ (ki11) How many
ᥚᥬᥴ (phaɯ35) Who
ᥗᥬᥴ (thaɯ35) Where

Text sample[edit]
















ᥛᥬᥰ ᥐᥤᥢ ᥑᥝᥲ ᥕᥝᥳ ᥞᥪᥴ?

maɯ55 kin33 xau42 jau54 hi35

you eat rice PERF.PTC INTERR.PTC

Have you eaten? (a common greeting)






















ᥐᥝ ᥛᥨᥝᥴ ᥖᥣᥢᥲ ᥑᥣᥛᥰ ᥖᥭᥰ ᥖᥬᥲ ᥑᥨᥒᥰ

kau33 mou35 tan42 xam55 tai55 taɯ42 xong55

I can speak language Tai De hong

I can speak Dehong Tai/ Tai Nuea.

Language use[edit]

Tai Nuea has official status in some parts of Yunnan (China), where it is used on signs and in education. Yunnan People's Radio Station (Yúnnán rénmín guǎngbō diàntái 云南人民广播电台) broadcasts in Tai Nuea. On the other hand, however, very little printed material is published in Tai Nuea in China. However, many signs of roads and stores in Mangshi are in Tai Nuea.

In Thailand, a collection of 108 proverbs was published with translations into Thai and English.[3]


  1. ^ Tai Nuea at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ "Revised Proposal for Encoding the Tai Le script in the BMP of the UCS" (PDF). 2001-10-06 – via unicode.org.
  3. ^ Thawi Swangpanyangkoon and Edward Robinson. 1994. (2537 Thai). Dehong Tai proverbs. Sathaban Thai Suksa, Chulalankorn Mahawitayalai.


  • Chantanaroj, Apiradee (2007). A Preliminary Sociolinguistic Survey of Selected Tai Nua Speech Varieties (PDF) (Master's thesis). Payap University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-05-02.
  • Luo, Yongxian (1998). A Dictionary of Dehong, Southwest China. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. doi:10.15144/PL-C145. hdl:1885/146619. ISBN 9780858834965.
  • Teekhachunhatean, Roong-a-roon รุ่งอรุณ ทีฆชุณหเถียร (2000). "Reflections on Tai Dehong Society from Language Point of View". Phaasaa Lae Phaasaasart / Journal of Language and Linguistics. 18 (2): 71–82.
  • Zhou, Yaowen 周耀文; Fang, Bolong 方伯龙; Meng, Zunxian 孟尊贤 (1981). "Déhóng Dǎiwén" 德宏傣文 [Dehong Dai]. Mínzú yǔwén 民族语文 (in Chinese). 1981 (3).
  • Zhou, Yaowen 周耀文; Luo, Meizhen 罗美珍 (2001). Dǎiyǔ fāngyán yánjiū: Yǔyīn, cíhuì, wénzì 傣语方言硏究 : 语音, 词汇, 文字 (in Chinese). Beijing: Minzu chubanshe.
  • Zhang, Gongjin 张公瑾 (1981). "Dǎiwén jí qí wénxiàn" 傣文及其文献 [The Dai language and Dai Documents]. Zhōngguóshǐ yánjiū dòngtài 中国史研究动态 (in Chinese). 1981 (6).
  • Berlie, Jean A. (1993). Neua (Na) in Yunnan (PRC) and the LPDR: A Minority and a "Non-Minority" in the Chinese and Lao Political Systems. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

External links[edit]