Native toMyanmar, China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam
Native speakers
ca. 600,000 (2007)[1]
  • Akha (Thailand Akha)
  • Hani Akha (Chinese Akha) Xishuangbanna Hani (Vietnamese Akha)
  • Lao Sung (Laotian Akha)
  • Kaw (Burmese Akha)
Language codes
ISO 639-3ahk

Akha is the language spoken by the Akha people of southern China (Yunnan Province), eastern Burma (Shan State), northern Laos, and northern Thailand.

Western scholars group Akha, Hani and Honi into the Hani languages, treating all three as separate mutually unintelligible, but closely related, languages. The Hani languages are, in turn, classified in the Southern Loloish subgroup of Loloish. Loloish and the Mru languages are closely related and are grouped within Tibeto-Burman as the Lolo-Burmese languages.

In accordance with China's official classification of ethnic groups, which groups all speakers of Hani languages into one ethnicity, Chinese linguists consider all Hani languages, including Akha, to be dialects of a single language.

Speakers of Akha live in remote mountainous areas where it has developed into a wide-ranging dialect continuum. Dialects from villages separated by as little as ten kilometers may show marked differences. The isolated nature of Akha communities has also resulted in several villages with divergent dialects. Dialects from extreme ends of the continuum and the more divergent dialects are mutually unintelligible.[2]


The Akha language, along with the dialect spoken in Alu village, 55 kilometers northwest of Chiang Rai city in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand is described below. Katsura conducted his study during the late 1960s. With a population of 400 it was, at the time, one of the largest Akha villages in Northern Thailand and was still growing as a result of cross-border migration from Burma. The Akha in Alu spoke no Standard Thai and communicated with outsiders using either Lahu Na or Shan.

Standard Akha has 25 or 26 consonants, and the Alu dialect has 23 or 24 consonants depending on how the syllabic nasal is analyzed. The /m̩/, realized variously as [ˀm] or [m̥], can be analyzed as a separate single consonant or as sequences of /ʔm/ and /hm/. Katsura chose the latter but listed the /m/ component of the syllabic consonant with the vowels.[2]

Consonant phonemes[3]
Labial Alveolar Alveolo-
Velar Glottal
plain pal. plain pal.
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop tenuis p t k ʔ[a]
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate tenuis ts
voiced dz
Fricative tenuis s ɕ x h
voiced z ʑ ɣ
Approximant l
  1. ^ /ʔ/ is only heard initially within the absence of a consonant before a vowel
Consonant phonemes in the Alu dialect[2]
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Stop tenuis p t c k ʔ[a]
voiced b d ɟ ɡ
Fricative tenuis s x h
voiced ɣ
Approximant l j
  1. ^ Akha /ʔ/ is often described as glottal "tension" rather than a true stop

Any consonant may begin a syllable, but native Akha syllables which don't end in a vowel may only end in either -m or -ɔŋ. A few loan words have been noted that end in -aŋ or -aj. In the case of a nasal coda, some vowels become nasalized. Alu Akha distinguishes ten vowel qualities, contrasting rounded and unrounded back vowels at three heights while only the mid front vowels contrast roundness.

Vowel phonemes[3]
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close i y ɯ u
Mid e ø ə o
Open ɛ a ɑ ɔ
Vowel phonemes in the Alu dialect[2]
Front Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close i ɯ u
Mid e ø ə o
Open ɛ a ɔ

Three vowels, /u/, /ɔ/ and /ɯ/, show marked nasalization when followed by a nasal consonant becoming /ũ/, /ɔ̃/ and /ɯ̃/, respectively.

Tone phonemes[4]

There are three tones: high, mid and low. Laryngealized vowels[clarification needed] commonly occur with mid and low tone, but only rarely with high tone (mostly in loan words and personal names). There are no contour tones. Syllabic [m̩] occurs with all three plain tones and laryngealized with the two common tones.[4]



The table below lists the Akha varieties surveyed in Kingsada (1999), Shintani (2001), and Kato (2008), with autonyms and informant birth places given as well. All locations are in Phongsaly Province, northern Laos.

Akha varieties of Phongsaly Province, northern Laos
Language Autonym Locations Source
Ko-Pala pa33la33 tsʰɔ55ja11 Sen Kham village, Khua District, Phongsaly Province Kingsada (1999)
Ko-Oma kɔ33 ɔ55ma11 Nana village, Phongsaly District, Phongsaly Province Kingsada (1999)
Ko-Phuso kɔ33 pʰɯ55sɔ33 Phapung Kao village, Bun Neua District, Phongsaly Province Kingsada (1999)
Ko-Puli a11kʰa11 pu33li11 Culaosaen Kao village, Bun Tay District, Phongsaly Province Kingsada (1999)
Ko-Chipia a11kʰa11 cɛ11pja11 Sano Kao village, Bun Tay District, Phongsaly Province Kingsada (1999)
Ko-Eupa ɯ21pa21[clarification needed] Cabe village, Bun Tay District, Phongsaly Province Shintani (2001)
Ko-Nyaü a11kʰa11 ɲa11ɯ55 Huayphot village, Khua District, Phongsaly Province Shintani (2001)
Ko-Luma lu21ma21[clarification needed] Lasamay village, Samphan District, Phongsaly Province Shintani (2001)
Akha Nukui a21kʰa21, nu21ɣø21 a21kʰa21[clarification needed] Kungci village, Nyot U District, Phongsaly Province Kato (2008)
Akha Chicho - Ban Pasang village, Muang Sing district, Luang Namtha Province Hayashi (2018)[5]

Akha Chicho, spoken in Ban Pasang village, Muang Sing district, Luang Namtha Province, is documented in Hayashi (2018).[5] Hayashi (2018: 8) reports that Akha Chicho is mutually intelligible with Akha Buli.


In Jinghong City and Menghai County, the two major Hani subgroups are Jiuwei 鸠为 and Jizuo 吉坐.[6] The Jizuo 吉坐 are the largest Hani ethnic subgroup in Jinghong.

The Jiuwei claim to have migrated from Honghe and Mojiang. The Jiuwei live in various villages in Jinghong, including:

There are also ethnic Hani that are locally called Aini 爱尼 living in 7 villages on Nanlin Mountain 南林山 of southwestern Jinghong, namely Manbage 曼八阁, Manjinglong 曼景龙, Manjingnan 曼景囡, Mangudu 曼固独, Manbaqi 曼把奇, Manbasan 曼巴伞, and Manjingmai 曼景卖.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Akha at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c d Katsura, M. (1973). "Phonemes of the Alu Dialect of Akha". Papers in Southeast Asian Linguistics No.3. Pacific Linguistics, the Australian National University. 3 (3): 35–54.
  3. ^ a b Lewis, Paul (February 1968). "Akha phonology". Anthropological Linguistics. Trustees of Indiana University. 10 (2): 8–18. JSTOR 30029167.
  4. ^ a b Lewis, Paul (1973). "Tone in the Akha Language". Anthropological Linguistics. 15 (4): 183–188. ISSN 0003-5483. JSTOR 30029534.
  5. ^ a b Hayashi, Norihiko. 2018. A Phonological Sketch of Akha Chicho: A Lolo-Burmese language of Luang Namtha, Laos. Proceedings of the 51st International Conference on Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics (2018). Kyoto: Kyoto University.
  6. ^ 云南省编辑委员会编. 2009. "景洪县哈尼族社会调查." In 哈尼族社会历史调查, p.116-119. 民族出版社. ISBN 9787105087754
  7. ^ 云南省编辑委员会编. 2009. "景洪县南林山哈尼族社会调查." In 哈尼族社会历史调查, p.109-119. 民族出版社. ISBN 9787105087754

Further reading

Word lists for language varieties of Laos