Tujia language

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Native toNorthwestern Hunan province, China
Ethnicity8.0 million Tujia (2000 census)[1]
Native speakers
70,000 (2005)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
tjs – Southern
tji – Northern
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The Tujia language (Northern Tujia: Bifzivsar, IPA: /pi˧˥ ʦi˥ sa˨˩/; Southern Tujia: Mongrzzirhof, IPA: /mõ˨˩ ʣi˨˩ ho˧˥/; simplified Chinese: 土家语; traditional Chinese: 土家語; pinyin: Tǔjiāyǔ) is a language spoken natively by the Tujia people in Hunan province, China. It is unclassified within the Sino-Tibetan language family, due to pervasive influence from neighboring languages. There are two dialects, Northern and Southern. Both dialects are tonal languages with the tone contours of ˥ ˥˧ ˧˥ ˨˩. The northern dialect has 21 initials, whereas the southern dialect has 26 (with 5 additional aspirated initials). As for the finals, the northern dialect has 25 and the southern 30, 12 of which are used exclusively in loanwords from Chinese. Its verbs make a distinction of active and passive voices. Its pronouns distinguish the singular and plural numbers along with the basic and possessive cases. As of 2005, the number of speakers was estimated at roughly 70,000 for the northern dialect (of which merely ca. 100 are monolingual),[3] and 1,500 for the southern dialect,[4] out of an ethnic population of 8 million.[3][4]


Tujia autonyms include pi˧˥ tsi˥ kʰa˨˩ [毕孜卡] (pi˨˩ tsi˨˩ kʰa˨˩ in Ye 1995) and mi˧˥ tɕi˥ kʰa˧/˥ (Dai 2005). The Tujia people call their language "pi˧˥ tsi˥ sa˨˩" (Ye 1995).

"Tujia" (土家) literally means 'native people', which is the appellation that the Han Chinese had given to them due to their aboriginal status in the Hunan-Hubei-Chongqing area. The Tujia, on the other hand, call the Han Chinese "Kejia" (客家), a designation also given to the Hakka people, which means 'guest people' (Dai 2005).


Tujia is clearly a Sino-Tibetan language, but its position within that family is unclear, due to massive borrowing from other Sino-Tibetan languages. It has been placed with Loloish and Qiangic, but many leave it unclassified.


Tujia is divided into two major dialects. The Northern dialect has the vast majority of speakers, while the Southern dialect is spoken in only 3 villages of Tanxi Township 潭溪镇 in Luxi County. Almost all Tujia speakers are located in Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture.

The Tujia-speaking areas of Longshan County are mostly located around the Xiche River 洗车河. The variety studied by Tian (1986) is that of Dianfang Township 靛房乡, Longshan County. Ye (1995) focuses on the Northern variety of Xinghuo Village 星火村, Miao'ertan Township 苗儿滩镇 (formerly Miaoshi 苗市}}), Longshan County 龙山县. Peng (1998) covers the Northern variety of Yongshun County. Brassett (2006) based their Tujia data primarily on the variety of Tasha Township 他砂乡, Longshan County, and also partly from Pojiao Township 坡脚乡 and Dianfang Township 靛房乡. Dai (2005) focuses on the variety of Xianren Township 仙仁乡, Baojing County. Zhang (2006) covers the Northern Tujia dialect of Duogu village 多谷村, Longshan County and the Southern Tujia dialect of Poluozhai 婆落寨, Luxi County.

Chen (2006)[edit]

Chen Kang (2006:152) divides Tujia as follows.[5]

  • Northern
    • Longshan dialect 龙山土语 (autonym: pi˧˥tsi˥ kʰa˨˩ or Bifzivkar) - spoken in:
      • Longshan County: Jiashi 贾市, Zan'guo 咱果, Miaoshi 苗市, Pojiao 坡脚, Mengxi 猛西, Tasha 他砂, Shuiba 水坝, Guanping 官平, Neixi 内溪, Ganxi 干溪, Dianfang 靛房
      • Laifeng County, Hubei: Maodong 卯洞
      • Yongshun County: Shaoha 勺哈, Liexi 列夕, Duishan 对山, Gaoping 高坪, Taiping 太平
      • Guzhang County: Qietong 茄通, Tianjiadong 田家洞
    • Baojing dialect 保靖土语 (autonym: mi˧˥tɕi˥ kʰa˨˩ or Mifqivkar) - spoken in:
  • Southern - spoken in the following villages of Tanxi Township 潭溪乡, Luxi County:[6]
    • Xiadu 下都 (Tujia: tsʰie˨˩ bu˨˩ or Cirbur)
    • Puzhu 铺竹 (Tujia: pʰu˧ dzɯ˧ or Puzzu)
    • Boluozhai 波洛寨 (Tujia: bo˧ lo˧ tsai˩˧ or Bolozaif)
    • Qieji 且己 (Tujia: tsʰa˧ dʑi˧˥ or Ciejif)
    • Xiaqieji 下且己 (Tujia: tsʰa˧ dʑi˧˥ a˨˩ di˧˥ or Ciajifafdif)
    • Daboliu 大波流 (Tujia: tsʰie˨˩ dɯ˥ pʰo˨˩ or Cierduovpor)
    • Xiaolingzhai 小零寨 (Tujia: tsʰie˥ ȵĩ˧˥ sa˧ or Ciernifsa)
    • Limuzhai 梨木寨 (Tujia: li˨˩ mu˨˩ tsai˩˧ or Livmuvzaif)
    • Tumazhai 土麻寨 (Tujia: tʰɯ˩˧ ma˨˩ tsai˩˧ or Tufmavzaiv)
    • Tanxi Town 潭溪镇 (Tujia: hu˧ dɯ˧ or Huduo)

Yang (2011)[edit]

Yang Zaibiao (2011:4) reports that Tujia is spoken in over 500 natural villages comprising about 200 administrative villages and 34 townships.[7] The Northern Tujia autonym is pi˧˥ tsɿ˥ kʰa˨˩, and the Southern Tujia autonym is mõ˨˩ dzɿ˨˩ (Yang 2011:15). Yang covers the two Northern Tujia dialects of Dianfang 靛房 and Xiaolongre 小龙热, and the Southern Tujia dialect of Qieji 且己.

  • Longshan County (southeastern; 15 townships): Xichehe 洗车河镇, Longtou 隆头镇, Miao'ertan 苗儿滩镇, Dianfang 靛房镇, Luota 洛塔乡, Ganxi 干溪乡, Mengxi 猛西乡, Fengxi 凤溪镇, Pojiao 坡脚乡, Tasha 他砂乡, Neixi 内溪乡, Jiashi 贾市乡, Yanchong 岩冲乡, Changxi 长潭乡, Liye 里耶镇
  • Yongshun County (western; 5 townships): Duishan 对山乡, Heping 和平乡, Xiqi 西歧乡, Shouche 首车镇, Shaoha 勺哈乡
  • Baojing County (western and southeastern; 10 townships):
    • Western Baojing County: Longtou 隆头乡, Bi'er 比耳乡, Mawang 马王乡, Bamao 拔茅镇, Purong 普戎镇, Angdong 昂洞乡, Longxi 龙溪乡, Boji 簸箕乡
    • Southeastern Baojing County: Tuzha 涂乍乡, Xianren 仙人乡
  • Guzhang County (northwestern; 2 townships): Qietong 茄通 (including in Xiaolongre 小龙热村 ɕiao˥ lũ˨˩ ze˥), Duanlong 断龙乡
  • Luxi County (1 township): Tanxi 潭溪镇 (including in Qieji 且己村 tsʰa˧ dʑi˧˥ / tsʰe˥˧ dʑi˨˩)
  • Laifeng County (1 township): Hedong 河东乡 (Cancun 残存)

Phonology and orthography[edit]

Ye (1995)[edit]

One system of writing Tujia in Latin script is based on Hanyu Pinyin and uses letters as tone markers, namely, x, r, v, f.[8][9]

Brassett, Brassett, & Lu (2006)[edit]

Brassett, Brassett, & Lu (2006) have proposed an experimental Pinyin orthography for the Tujia language, as follows.

Tujia Pinyin Consonants
Symbol IPA Symbol IPA
b p ng ŋ
c tsʰ p
d t q tɕʰ
g k r z
h x s s
hh ɣ t
j w w
k x ɕ
l l, n y j
m m z ts
n ȵ zz dz
Tujia Pinyin Vowels
Symbol IPA Symbol IPA
a a ing
ai ai iong iɔŋ
an ɛn iu iu
ang o ɔ
ao au ong ɔŋ
e ɤ ou ou
ei ei u u
eng ɜŋ ua ua
i i, ɨ uai uai
ia ia uan uɛn
ian iɛn ui uei
iao iau un un
i.e. uo
Tujia Pinyin Tones
Symbol Pitch Name of tone Letters
1 ˥ or ˦ High level -v
2 ˨˦ or ˧˥ Low rising -f
3 ˨˩ Low falling -r
4 ˥˩ or ˥˧ High falling -x

Tujia numerals[edit]

Tujia Pinyin Tones
Number Tujia words (with tone letters)
1 La
2 Niev
3 Sov
4 Riev
5 Uv
6 Wor
7 Nier
8 Yer
9 Kiev
10 Laxiv

Possible Ancient Tujia script[edit]

The Tujia have been known as an ethnic minority (historically) without a written language. However, a succession of ancient undeciphered books with glosses presented in Chinese characters have been found in the Youyang Tujia habitation straddling the borders of Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou Province, and Chongqing City. Modern Tujia is written in Latin script.

Language preservation[edit]

Although only a small percentage of Tujia people speak the Tujia language, Tujia language enthusiasts work hard on to preserve it, both in Hunan and Hubei. According to news reports, two Tujia language instruction books have been published, and work continues on a Tujia dictionary. The Tujia language scholar Chu Yongming (储永明) works with children at the Baifusi Ethnic Minorities School (百福司民族小学) in Baifusi Town, Laifeng County, Hubei to promote the language use.[10]


  1. ^ a b Southern at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Northern at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Tujia". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b Tujia, Northern
  4. ^ a b Tujia, Southern
  5. ^ Chen Kang [陈康]. 2006. A study of Tujia [土家语研究]. Beijing: Minzu University Press.
  6. ^ Li Jingzhong [李敬忠]. 2000. The Luxi Tujia language [泸溪土家语]. Beijing: Minzu University Press.
  7. ^ Yang Zaibiao [杨再彪] (2011). Four endangered languages of Hunan province [湖南西部四种濒危语言调查]. Beijing: Ethnic Publishing House [民族出版社].
  8. ^ Zhou, Minglang. Multilingualism in China: The Politics of Writing Reforms for Minority. De Gruyter.
  9. ^ https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=__9-bh3L9Mg
  10. ^ Bruce Humes, Rejuvenating the Tujia Language No Easy Feat, Archived 2012-06-10 at the Wayback Machine based on 王功尚,蒲哲,孙文振 (2012-04-17), 大山深处的土家语传承与坚守CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)


  • Brassett, Philip, Cecilia Brassett, and Meiyan Lu. 2006. The Tujia language. Languages of the World/Materials 455. Munich: Lincom Europa.
  • Chen Kang [陈康]. 2006. A Study of Tujia [土家语研究]. Beijing: Minzu University.
  • Dai Qinxia [戴庆厦]. 2005. A Study of Xianren Tujia [仙仁土家语研究]. Beijing: Minzu University.
  • Tian Desheng [田德生]. 1986. A sketch of Tujia [Tujiayu jianzhi 土家语简志]. Beijing: Ethnic Publishing House [民族出版社].
  • Ye Deshu [叶德书]. 1995. A Study of Tujia [土家语研究].
  • Yao Yuanshen 姚元森. 2013. Muyu cunliuqu Longshan Pojiao de Tujiayu kouyu 母语存留区龙山坡脚的土家语口语. Beijing: Ethnic Publishing House [民族出版社].
  • Xiang Kuiyi 向魁益. 2012. Baojing Tujiayu shilu 保靖县土家语实录. Hunan Normal University Press 湖南师范大学出版社.
  • Peng Bo 彭勃. 1998. Tujiayu yanjiu ji shilu 土家语研究及实录. Yongshun County Ethnic Affairs Bureau 永顺县民族事务委员会.
  • Zhang, Jun [张军]. 2006. Phonological study of the Tujia language / 土家语语音硏究. Ph.D. dissertation, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

External links[edit]