Native toChina
Native speakers
600,000 (2000)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3onb

Be (native pronunciation: [ʔɑŋ˧ɓe˧]), also known as Ong Be, , or Vo Limgao (Mandarin 臨高 Lín'gāo), is a pair of languages spoken by 600,000 people, 100,000 of them monolingual, on the north-central coast of Hainan Island, including the suburbs of the provincial capital Haikou. The speakers are counted as part of the Han Chinese nationality in census. According to Ethnologue, it is taught in primary schools.[3]


Be speakers refer to themselves as ʔaŋ˧vo˧, with ʔaŋ˧ being the prefix for persons and vo˧ meaning 'village' (Liang 1997:1). Liang (1997) notes that it is similar to the autonym ŋaːu˩fɔːn˩ (from ŋaːu˩ 'person' and fɔːn˩ 'village'), by which Gelong 仡隆 (Cun language) speakers refer to themselves.


Be is a Kra–Dai language, but its precise relationship to other branches within the Kra-Dai family has yet not been conclusively determined. Hansell (1988)[2] considers Be to be a sister of the Tai branch based on shared vocabulary, and proposes a Be–Tai grouping.

Based on toponymic evidence from place names with the prefix dya- (调 diao), Jinfang Li considers Be to have originated from the Leizhou peninsula of Guangdong province.[4]

Weera Ostapirat (1998),[5] analyzing data from Zhang (1992),[6] notes that Be and Jizhao share many lexical similarities and sound correspondences, and that Jizhao may be a remnant Be-related language on the Chinese mainland.


Be consists of the Lincheng 临城 (Western) and Qiongshan 琼山 (Eastern) dialects (Liang 1997). Liang (1997:32) documents the following varieties of Be.

Be of Chengmai is intermediate between the Lincheng and Qiongshan dialects, and has features of both (Liang 1997).

Chen (2018) contains extensive comparative lexical data for the Be dialects of Changliu (長流), Yongxing (永興), Longtang (龍塘), Qiaotou (橋頭), Huangtong (皇桐), and Xinying (新盈). The Qiaotou, Huangtong, and Xinying dialects are unintelligible with the Changliu, Yongxing, Longtang, and Shishan (石山) dialects. Chen (2018) also reconstructs Proto-Ong-Be on the basis of this comparative lexical data.


Chen (2018: 82) classifies the Ong-Be dialects into two groups, which are mutually unintelligible with each other.

Western Ong-Be
Eastern Ong-Be




Be consonant initials
Labial Alveolar (Alveolo-)
Velar Glottal
Plosive voiceless (p) t k ʔ
glottalized ʔb ʔd
Affricate ts
Fricative voiceless f s (ɕ) x h
voiced v
Nasal m n ȵ ŋ
Approximant l j


Be consonant finals
Labial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Plosive p t k ʔ
Nasal m n ŋ


Be vowels
Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e ə o
(ɛ) (ɐ) ɔ
Low a


Liang (1997:16) considers Be to have migrated to Hainan from the Leizhou Peninsula of Guangdong about 2,500 years ago during the Warring States Period, but not over 3,000 years ago. Liang & Zhang (1996:21–25)[8] also believe that Be had migrated from the Leizhou Peninsula to northern Hainan about 2,500 years ago during the Warring States period.

See also


  1. ^ Be at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b Hansell, Mark (1988). "The Relation of Be to Tai: Evidence from Tones and Initials". In Edmondson, Jerold A.; Solnit, David B. (eds.). Comparative Kadai: Linguistic Studies Beyond Tai. Publications in Linguistics No. 86. Summer Institute of Linguistics and The University of Texas at Arlington. pp. 239–288.
  3. ^ "Lingao". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-12-18.
  4. ^ Tan, Xiaoshu 谭晓舒 (2015-04-22). "Lǐ Jǐnfāng jiàoshòu: "Bīnwēi yǔyán jízhào huà yánjiū"" 李锦芳教授:“濒危语言吉兆话研究”. Wén xuéyuàn 文学院. Retrieved 2021-09-01.
  5. ^ Ostapirat, Weera (1998). "A Mainland Bê Language? / Dàlù de bê yǔyán?". Journal of Chinese Linguistics. 26 (2): 338–344. JSTOR 23756759.
  6. ^ Zhang, Zhenxing 张振兴 (1992). "Guǎngdōngshěng wúchuān fāngyán jì lüè" 广东省吴川方言记略. Fāngyán 方言 (in Chinese). 1992 (3).
  7. ^ Zhang, Yuansheng; Ma, Jialin; Wen, Mingying; Wei, Xinglang (1985). Hǎinán Língāo huà 海南临高话 (in Chinese). Nanning: Guangxi minzu chubanshe.
  8. ^ Liang, Min 梁敏; Zhang, Junru 张均 (1996). Dòng-Tái yǔzú gàilùn 侗台语族概论 [An Introduction to the Kam–Tai Languages] (in Chinese). Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe. ISBN 7-5004-1681-4.

Works cited

  • Liang, Min 梁敏 (1997). Língāo yǔ yánjiū 临高语研究 [A Study of Lingao] (in Chinese). Shanghai: Shanghai yuandong chuban.
  • Chen, Yen-ling (2018). Proto-Ong-Be (PDF) (Ph.D. dissertation). University of Hawaii at Manoa.