Native toChina
Native speakers
(667,000 cited 1999)[1]
Early form
Proto-Hlai (reconstructed)
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
lic – Hlai
cuq – Cun
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The Hlai languages (Chinese: 黎语; pinyin: Líyǔ) are a primary branch of the Kra–Dai language family spoken in the mountains of central and south-central Hainan in China by the Hlai people, not to be confused with the colloquial name for the Leizhou branch of Min Chinese (Chinese: 黎话; pinyin: Líhuà). They include Cun, whose speakers are ethnically distinct.[2] A quarter of Hlai speakers are monolingual. None of the Hlai languages had a writing system until the 1950s, when the Latin script was adopted for Ha.


Norquest (2007) classifies the Hlai languages as follows.[3] Individual languages are highlighted in bold. There are some 750,000 Hlai speakers.

Nadou is spoken by approximately 4,000 people in the two villages of Nàdòu 那斗村 (in Xīnlóng Town 新龙镇) and Yuè 月村 (in Bāsuǒ Town 八所镇), in Dongfang, Hainan. Speakers refer to themselves as lai¹¹ and are officially classified by the Chinese government as ethnic Han Chinese.[4]

Jiāmào 加茂 (52,000 speakers) is a divergent Kra-Dai language with a Hlai superstratum and a non-Hlai substratum.[3]


Main article: Proto-Hlai language

The Proto-Hlai language is the reconstructed ancestor of the Hlai languages. Proto-Hlai reconstructions include those of Matisoff (1988), Thurgood (1991), Ostapirat (2004), and Norquest (2007).


The following displays the phonological features of the modern Hlai dialects:[5][6][7]


Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Alveolo-
Velar Glottal
plain lab. plain lab. pal.
Plosive voiceless p t ȶ k ʔ
aspirated kʰʷ
voiced ɡ ɡʷ
implosive ɓ ɗ
Affricate voiceless t͡s
aspirated t͡sʰ
Fricative voiceless f s x h
voiced v z ɣ
lateral ɬ
Nasal m (ɱ) n ȵ ŋ ŋʷ
Trill r
Approximant l ˀj ˀw


Front Central Back
High i ɯ u
Mid e ə o
ɛ ɔ
Low a


Liang & Zhang (1996:18–21)[9] conclude that the original homeland of the Hlai languages was the Leizhou Peninsula, and estimate that the Hlai had migrated across the Hainan Strait to Hainan Island about 4,000 years before present.[9]

See also


  1. ^ Hlai at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Cun at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Ethnologue mistakenly lists Cun among the Kra languages.
  3. ^ a b Norquest, Peter K. (2007). A Phonological Reconstruction of Proto-Hlai (Ph.D. thesis). University of Arizona. hdl:10150/194203.
  4. ^ Fu, Changzhong 符昌忠 (2020). Nadouyu yanjiu 那斗语研究. Beijing: Minzu chubanshe 民族出版社. OCLC 1294545717.
  5. ^ Ostapirat, Weera (2008). "The Hlai Language". In Diller, Anthony V. N.; Edmondson, Jerold A.; Luo, Yongxian (eds.). The Tai-Kadai Languages. London & New York: Routledge. pp. 623–652.
  6. ^ Yuan, Zhongshu 苑中树, ed. (1994). Líyǔ yǔfǎ gāngyào 黎语语法纲要 [An Outline of Li Grammar] (in Chinese). Beijing: Zhongyang minzu daxue chubanshe. pp. 1–10.
  7. ^ Ouyang, Jueya 欧阳觉亚 (1980). Líyǔ jiǎnzhì 黎语简志 [Description of the Li language] (in Chinese). Beijing: Minzu chubanshe.
  8. ^ Norquest (2007), p. 106
  9. ^ a b Liang, Min 梁敏; Zhang, Junru 张均如 (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 9787500416814.


  • Ostapirat, Weera (2005). "The Cun Language, by Ouyang Jueya. Shanghai Far East Publishers. 1998" (PDF). Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area. 28 (1): 99–105.
  • Ouyang, Jueya 欧阳觉亚; Zheng, Yiqing 郑贻青 (1983). Líyǔ diàochá yánjiū 黎语调查研究 [Li Language Investigation and Research] (in Chinese). Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe.

Further reading