Yi, Ngwi, Nisoic
EthnicityYi people
Southern China and Southeast Asia
Linguistic classificationSino-Tibetan

The Loloish languages, also known as Yi and occasionally Ngwi[1] or Nisoic,[2] are a family of fifty to a hundred Sino-Tibetan languages spoken primarily in Yunnan province of China. They are most closely related to Burmese and its relatives. Both the Loloish and Burmish branches are well defined, as is their superior node, Lolo-Burmese. However, subclassification is more contentious.

SIL Ethnologue (2013 edition) estimated a total number of 9 million native speakers of Loloish ("Ngwi") languages, the largest group being the speakers of Nuosu (Northern Yi) at 2 million speakers (2000 PRC census).[a]


Loloish is the traditional name for the family in English. Some publications avoid the term under the misapprehension that Lolo is pejorative, but it is the Chinese rendition of the autonym of the Yi people and is pejorative only in writing when it is written with a particular Chinese character (one that uses a beast, rather than a human, radical), a practice that was prohibited by the Chinese government in the 1950s.[3]

David Bradley uses the term Ngwi, and Lama (2012) uses Nisoic. Ethnologue has adopted 'Ngwi', but Glottolog retains 'Loloish'. Paul K. Benedict coined the term Yipho, from Chinese Yi and a common autonymic element (-po or -pho), but it never gained wide usage.

Internal classification

Bradley (2007)

Loloish was traditionally divided into a northern branch, with Lisu and the numerous Yi languages and a southern branch, with everything else. However, per Bradley[1] and Thurgood[4] there is also a central branch, with languages from both northern and southern. Bradley[5][6] adds a fourth, southeastern branch.

Ugong is divergent; Bradley (1997) places it with the Burmish languages. The Tujia language is difficult to classify due to divergent vocabulary. Other unclassified Loloish languages are Gokhy (Gɔkhý), Lopi and Ache.

Lama (2012)

Lama (2012) classified 36 Lolo–Burmese languages based on a computational analysis of shared phonological and lexical innovations. He finds the Mondzish languages to be a separate branch of Lolo-Burmese, which Lama considers to have split off before Burmish did. The rest of the Loloish languages are as follows:


Hanoish: Jino, Akha–Hani languages, Bisoid languages, etc. (See)

Lahoish: Lahu, Kucong

Naxish: Naxi, Namuyi

Nusoish: Nusu, Zauzou (Rouruo)

 Ni ‑ Li ‑ Ka 

Kazhuoish: Katso (Kazhuo), Samu (Samatao), Sanie, Sadu,[7] Meuma[8]

Lisoish: Lisu, Lolopo, etc. (See)

Nisoish: Nisoid languages, Axi-Puoid languages

The Nisoish, Lisoish, and Kazhuoish clusters are closely related, forming a clade ("Ni-Li-Ka") at about the same level as the other five branches of Loloish. Lama's Naxish clade has been classified as Qiangic rather than Loloish by Guillaume Jacques and Alexis Michaud[9] (see Qiangic languages).

A Lawoish (Lawu) branch has also been recently proposed.[10]

Satterthwaite-Phillips' (2011) computational phylogenetic analysis of the Lolo-Burmese languages does support the inclusion of Naxish (Naic) within Lolo-Burmese, but recognizes Lahoish and Nusoish as coherent language groups that form independent branches of Loloish.[11]

Lesser-known languages

Main article: List of lesser-known Loloish languages


  1. ^ [hle] 15,000; [jiy] 1,000; [jiu] 10,000; [lkc] 46,870; [lhu] 530,350; [lhi] 196,200; [ywt] 213,000; [yik] 30,000; [yit] 38,000; [ywl] 38,000; [llh] 120; [yne] 2,000; [lwu] 50; [ylm] 29,000; [lpo] 250,000; [lis] 942,700; [ycl] 380,000; [ysp] 190,000; [ymh] 23,000; [yiq] 30,000; [nuf] 12,670; [ysn] 100,000; [yta] 13,600; [ytl] 950; [zal] 2,100; [yna] 25,000; [yiu] 20,000; [yyz] 50; [ych] 3,300; [ygp] 100,000; [kaf] 4,000; [ylo] 15,000; [ywu] 150,000; [yig] 500,000; [iii] 2,000,000; [ysd] 400; [smh] 20,000; [ysy] 8,000; [ywq] 250,000; [yif] 35,000; [aub] 3,500; [yix] 100,000; [aza] 53,000; [yiz] 54,000; [ybk] 10,000; [ykt] 5,000; [ykl] 21,000; [ykn] 5,000; [yku] 1,000; [lgh] 300; [nty] 1,100; [ymi] 2,000; [ymx] 9,000; [ymq] 1,500; [ymc] 26,000; [ymz] 10,000; [yso] 36,000; [nos] 75,000; [yiv] 160,000; [nsf] 24,000; [nsd] 210,000; [nsv] 15,000; [ypa] 12,000; [ypg] 13,000; [ypo] 500; [yip] 30,000; [ypn] 10,000; [yhl] 36,000; [ypb] 17,000; [phh] 10,000; [ypm] 8,000; [ypp] 3,000; [yph] 1,300; [ypz] 6,000; [ysg] 2,000; [ytp] 200; [yzk] 13,000; [qeu] 12,400; [ahk] 563,960; [bzi] 240; [byo] 120,000; [ycp] 2,000; [cnc] 2,030; [enu] 30,000; [hni] 758,620; [how] 140,000; [ktp] 185,000; [lwm] 1,600; [lov] ? (not included); [mpz] 900; [ymd] 2,000; [phq] 350; [pho] 35,600; [pyy] 700; [sgk] 1,500; [slt] 2,480; [lbg] 9,550; [ugo] 80; Total: 9,078,770


  1. ^ a b Bradley 1997.
  2. ^ Lama 2012.
  3. ^ Benedict, Paul K. (1987). "Autonyms: ought or ought not" (PDF). Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area. 10: 188..
  4. ^ Thurgood 2003, p. 8.
  5. ^ Bradley 2002.
  6. ^ Bradley 2007.
  7. ^ Fang Lifen [方利芬]. 2013. A genetic study on the Sadu language of Bai people in Yuxi [玉溪白族撒都话系属研究]. M.A. dissertation. Beijing: Minzu University.
  8. ^ Hsiu, Andrew (August 7–10, 2013). New Endangered Tibeto-Burman Languages of Southwestern China: Mondzish, Longjia, Pherbu, and Others. 46th International Conference on Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics (ICSTLL 46). Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, US. doi:10.5281/zenodo.1127796. S2CID 135404293.
  9. ^ Jacques, Guillaume & Michaud, Alexis (2011). "Approaching the historical phonology of three highly eroded Sino-Tibetan languages" (PDF). Diachronica. 28 (4): 468–498. doi:10.1075/dia.28.4.02jac. S2CID 54013956.
  10. ^ Hsiu, Andrew (2017), The Lawu languages: footprints along the Red River valley corridor
  11. ^ Satterthwaite-Phillips 2011.
  • Bradley, David (1997). "Tibeto-Burman languages and classification". Tibeto-Burman languages of the Himalayas, Papers in South East Asian linguistics (PDF). Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-10-11.
  • Bradley, David (2002). "The subgrouping of Tibeto-Burman". In Beckwith, Christopher & Blezer, Henk (eds.). Medieval Tibeto-Burman languages. International Association for Tibetan Studies Proceedings 9 (2000) and Brill Tibetan Studies Library 2. Leiden: Brill. pp. 73–112.
  • Bradley, David (2007). "East and Southeast Asia". In Moseley, Christopher (ed.). Encyclopedia of the World's Endangered Languages. London & New York: Routledge. pp. 349–424.
  • Lama, Ziwo Qiu-Fuyuan (2012). Subgrouping of Nisoic (Yi) Languages (PDF) (Ph.D). University of Texas at Arlington.
  • Satterthwaite-Phillips, Damian (2011). Phylogenetic inference of the Tibeto-Burman languages or On the usefulness of lexicostatistics (and "Megalo"-comparison) for the subgrouping of Tibeto-Burman (Ph.D. dissertation). Stanford University.
  • Thurgood, Graham (2003), "A subgrouping of the Sino-Tibetan languages", in Thurgood, Graham; LaPolla, Randy J. (eds.), Sino-Tibetan Languages, London: Routledge, pp. 3–21, ISBN 978-0-7007-1129-1.
  • Driem, George van (2001). Languages of the Himalayas: An Ethnolinguistic Handbook of the Greater Himalayan Region. Leiden: Brill.