Nuosu language

Northern Yi, Liangshan Yi, Sichuan Yi
ꆈꌠꉙ Nuosuhxop
Native toChina
RegionSouthern Sichuan, northern Yunnan
EthnicityYi people
Native speakers
2 million (2000 census)[1]
Standard forms
Liangshan (Cool Mountain) dialect
Yi syllabary, formerly Yi logograms
Language codes
ISO 639-1ii Sichuan Yi, Nuosu
ISO 639-2iii Sichuan Yi, Nuosu
ISO 639-3iii Nuosu, Sichuan Yi
Glottologsich1238  Sichuan Yi[2]
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Nuosu or Nosu (ꆈꌠꉙ, pronunciation: Nuosuhxop), also known as Northern Yi, Liangshan Yi, and Sichuan Yi, is the prestige language of the Yi people; it has been chosen by the Chinese government as the standard Yi language (in Mandarin: Yí yǔ, 彝語/彝语) and, as such, is the only one taught in schools, both in its oral and written forms. It was spoken by two million people and was increasing as of (PRC census); 60% were monolingual (1994 estimate). Nuosu is the native Nuosu/Yi name for their own language and is not used in Mandarin Chinese; although it may sometimes be spelled out for pronunciation (nuòsū yǔ 诺苏语/諾蘇語), the Chinese characters for nuòsū have no meaning.[3]

The occasional terms 'Black Yi' (Mandarin: hēi Yí 黑彝) and 'White Yi' (bái Yí 白彝) are castes of the Nuosu people, not dialects.[citation needed]

Nuosu is one of several often mutually unintelligible varieties known as Yi, Lolo, Moso, or Noso; the six Yi languages recognized by the Chinese government hold only 25% to 50% of their vocabulary in common. They share a common traditional writing system, though this is used for shamanism rather than daily accounting.[citation needed]

Dialects of Nuosu[edit]

Lama (2012)[edit]

Lama (2012) gives the following classification for Nuosu dialects.

  • Nuosu
    • Qumusu (Tianba)
    • Nuosu proper
      • Nuosu
        • Muhisu
        • Nuosu (nɔ˧su˧)
          • Yinuo
          • Shengzha
      • Niesu (nie˧su˧)
        • Suondi
        • Adu

The Qumusu 曲木苏 (Tianba 田坝) dialect is the most divergent. The other dialects group as Niesu 聂苏 (Suondi and Adu) and as Nuosu proper (Muhisu 米西苏, Yinuo 义诺, and Shengzha 圣乍). Niesu has lost voiceless nasals and has developed diphthongs.[4]

Adu 阿都话, characterized by its labial–velar consonants, is spoken in Butuo County 布拖县 and Ningnan County 宁南县 of Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, and also in parts of Puge County 普格, Zhaojue County 昭觉, Dechang County 德昌, and Jinyang County 金阳 (Pan 2001).[5]

Nyisu or Yellow Yi 黄彝 of Fumin County, Yunnan may either be a Suondi Yi (Nuosu) dialect or Nisu dialect.

Zhu & Zhang (2005)[6] reports that the Shuitian people (水田人) reside mostly in the lowlands of the Anning River drainage basin, in Xichang, Xide, and Mianning counties of Liangshan Prefecture in Sichuan. They are called Muhisu (mu33 hi44 su33) by the neighboring Yi highland people. Shuitian is spoken in the following locations. Shuitian belongs to the Shengzha dialect (圣乍次土语) of Northern Yi.

  • Mianning County: Jionglong 迥龙, Lugu 泸沽, Hebian 河边; Manshuiwan 漫水湾[7]
  • Xichang: Lizhou 礼州, Yuehua 月华
  • Xide County: Mianshan 冕山镇 (including Shitoushan Village 石头山村[7]), Lake 拉克

Bradley (1997)[edit]

According to Bradley (1997),[8] there are 3 main dialects of Nosu, of which the Southeastern one (Sondi) is most divergent.

  • Northern
    • Tianba 田坝 AKA Northwestern
    • Yinuo 义诺 AKA Northeastern
  • Central (Shengzha 圣乍)
  • Southeastern (Sondi)
    • Sondi
    • Adur

Chen (2010)[edit]

Chen (2010) lists the following dialects of Nosu. Also listed are the counties where each respective dialect is spoken.

  • Nosu 诺苏方言
    • Senza, Shèngzhà 圣乍次方言
      • Senza, Shèngzhà 圣乍 (no̠˧su˧): 1,200,000 speakers primarily in Xide, Yuexi, Ganluo, Jinyang, Puge, Leibo, Xichang, Dechang, Mianning, Yanyuan, Yanbian, Muli, Shimian, Jiulong, and Luding; also in Huaping, Yongsheng, Ninglang, Lijiang, Jianchuan, Yongshan, and Qiaojia
      • Yino, Yìnuò 义诺 (no̠˨su˨): 600,000 speakers primarily in Meigu, Mabian, Leibo, and Ebian, Ganluo; also in Yuexi, Zhaojue, and Jinyang
      • Lidim, Tiánbà 田坝 (no̠˧su˧): 100,000 speakers primarily in Ganluo, Yuexi, and Ebian; also in Hanyuan
    • Sodi, Suǒdì 所地次方言 (no̠˧su˧): 600,000 speakers primarily in Tuoxian, Huili, Huidong, Ningnan, Miyi, Dechang, and Puge

Writing system[edit]

Classic Yi is a syllabic logographic system of 8,000–10,000 glyphs. Although similar to Chinese characters in function, the glyphs are independent in form, with little to suggest a direct relation.

The Modern Yi script (ꆈꌠꁱꂷ nuosu bburma [nɔ̄sū bʙ̝̄mā] 'Nosu script') is a standardized syllabary derived from the classic script in 1974 by the local government of China. It was made the official script of the Yi languages in 1980. There are 756 basic glyphs based on the Liangshan dialect, plus 63 for syllables only found in Chinese borrowings.

In 1958 the Chinese government had introduced a Roman-based alphabet based on the romanized script of Gladstone Porteous of Sayingpan.[9] (This was later replaced by the Yi script.)

A signpost in a public park in Xichang, Sichuan, China, showing Modern Yi, Chinese and English text.


The written equivalents of the phonemes listed here are "Yi Pinyin". For information about the actual script used see the section above entitled Writing System.


Labial Alveolar Retroflex Alveolopalatal Velar Glottal
Nasal voiced m /m/ n /n/ ny /ȵ/ ng /ŋ/
unvoiced hm /m̥/ hn /n̥/
Plosive prenasalized nb /ᵐb/ nd /ⁿd/ mg /ᵑɡ/
voiced bb /b/ dd /d/ gg /ɡ/
unvoiced b /p/ d /t/ g /k/
aspirated p /pʰ/ t /tʰ/ k /kʰ/
Affricate prenasalized nz /ⁿdz/ nr /ᶯɖʐ/ nj /ⁿȡʑ/
voiced zz /dz/ rr /ɖʐ/ jj /ȡʑ/
unvoiced z /ts/ zh /ʈʂ/ j /ȶɕ/
aspirated c /tsʰ/ ch /ʈʂʰ/ q /ȶɕʰ/
Fricative unvoiced f /f/ s /s/ sh /ʂ/ x /ɕ/ h /x/ hx /h/
voiced v /v/ ss /z/ r /ʐ/ y /ʑ/ w /ɣ/
Lateral voiced l /l/
unvoiced hl /l̥/


  Front Non-front
  unrounded rounded
loose y /z̩/ u /v̩ʷ/
tight yr // ur /ʷ/
Near-close loose i /e̝/ e /ɤ̝/ o /o̝/
Open-mid tight ie /ɛ/ uo /ɔ/
Open tight a /a/

Nuosu has five pairs of phonemic vowels, contrasting in a feature Eatough calls loose throat vs. tight throat. Underlining is used as an ad-hoc symbol for tight throat; phonetically, these vowels are laryngealized and/or show a retracted tongue root. Loose vs. tight throat is the only distinction in the two pairs of syllabic consonants, but in the vocoids it is reinforced by a height difference.

The syllabic consonants y(r) u(r) are essentially the usual Sinological vowels ɿ ʮ, so y can be identified with the vowel of the Mandarin 四 "four", but they have diverse realizations. Y(r) completely assimilates to a preceding coronal except in voice, e.g. /ɕz̩˨˩/ [ɕʑ̩˨˩] "to marry", and are [m͡l̩] after a labial nasal, e.g. /m̥z̩˧sz̩˧/ [m̥m͡l̩˧sz̩˧] "cloth". U(r) assimilates similarly after laterals, retaining its rounding, e.g. /l̥v̩ʷ˧/ [l̥l̩ʷ˧] "to stir-fry", and is [m̩ʷ] after a labial nasal, e.g. /m̥v̩ʷ˧/ [m̥m̩ʷ˧] "mushroom"; moreover it induces a labially trilled release of preceding labial or alveolar stops, e.g. /ⁿdv̩ʷ˨˩/ [ⁿdʙv̩ʷ˨˩] "to hit".

The tight-throat phone [ɤ̝] occurs as the realization of /ɤ̝/ in the high tone. That it is phonemically loose-throat is shown by its behaviour in tightness harmony in compound words.


  • high [˥] – written -t
  • high-mid [˦] or mid falling [˧˨] – written -x
  • mid [˧] – unmarked
  • low falling [˨˩] – written -p

The high-mid tone is only marginally contrastive. Its two main sources are from tone sandhi rules, as the outcome of a mid tone before another mid tone, and the outcome of a low-falling tone after a mid tone. However, these changes do not occur in all compounds where they might: for instance wo "bear" + mop "mother" regularly forms wo mox "female bear", but vi "jackal" + mop "mother" forms vi mop "female jackal" without sandhi. The syntax creates other contrasts: tone sandhi applies across the boundary between object and verb, so is present in SOV clauses like mu jy lu ti shex "Mujy looks for Luti", but is absent in OSV clauses like mu jy lu ti shep "Luti looks for Mujy". A few words, like xix "what?", have underlying high-mid tone.



Number 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Yi script ꊰꊪ ꊰꑋ
Reading t͡sʰɨ̂ ɲî sɔ̄ lɨ̄ ŋɯ̄ ʂɨ̂ hi̋ ɡū t͡sʰī t͡sʰīt͡sʰɨ̂ t͡sʰīɲî


  1. ^ Nuosu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Sichuan Yi". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Zhu Wenxu etc. 朱文旭、木乃热哈、陈国光 Yi-yu basic course 彝语基础教程 Central Minorities Publishing Co. 中央民族大学出版社 (2006-04出版)
  4. ^ Lama, Ziwo Qiu-Fuyuan (2012), Subgrouping of Nisoic (Yi) Languages, thesis, University of Texas at Arlington
  5. ^ Pan Zhengyun. 2001. Yi-yu Adu-hua chunruan-e fufuyin shengmu bijiao yanjiu. [A comparative study of labiovelar cluster initials in the Adu patois of the Yi language]. Minzu Yuwen 2001.2:17-22.
  6. ^ Zhu Wenxu [朱文旭] & Zhang Jing [张静] 2005. "Yiyu Shuitianhua gaikuang" [彝语水田话概况]. Minzu Yuwen 2005:4.
  7. ^ a b Main datapoint used in Zhu & Zhang (2005)
  8. ^ *Bradley, David (1997). "Tibeto-Burman languages and classification". In Tibeto-Burman languages of the Himalayas, Papers in South East Asian linguistics. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  9. ^ Yi language

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]