Yunnan Province of China, Burma
Linguistic classificationSino-Tibetan
  • Nungish

The Nung or Nungish languages are a poorly described family of uncertain affiliation within the Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in Yunnan, China and Burma. They include:

The Chinese name Ālóng 阿龙, sometimes misread Ayi, refers to Nung (Anong). Two other languages were formerly included under Nungish in the Ethnologue, namely Nor(r)a and Lama; however, they have recently been removed, as Nora is another name for the moribund Khamyang Tai language of Assam,[1] and Lama (or Laemae) is a northern Bai variety that has been subsumed into the Lisu ethnic group in China.[2]

History of classification

Grierson (1928:24) tentatively put Nung (referring to the whole Nungish family, based on what was probably a Waqdamkong Rawang wordlist from J.T.O. Barnard) in the Lolo subgroup of Lolo-Mos'o, remarking, "The language appears to form a bridge between Lolo and Kachin".[3]

Luo (2000:325 [1954]) placed Gongshan Qiu (Dulongjiang Dulong) and Gongshan Nu (Nujiang Dulong) in the Tibetan language branch (along with Tibetan, Jiarong, Qiang, and Xibo), but also stated that the person-marking in Qiu and Nu resembles that of languages in Nepal, and suggested that Qiu and Nu might form their own separate branch. Sun (1982:2) postulated a close relationship between Dulong, Jingpho, and Deng; elsewhere (2007:567) he limits this to Dulong and Jingpho. In a more extensive passage (1983:234-247), he still maintains that Dulong and Deng should be included in the Jingpho branch (1983:243), but also concludes that based on the unique characteristics of Dulong, it arguably deserve its own branch of Sino-Tibetan, but it has more similarities with Jingpho than with any other branch (1983:247). Nishida (1987) places Dulong and Nung (a supergroup including Rawang and Anong) together into a group called Lolo-Burmese-Dulong, alongside the Loloish and Burmese branches, but places Nu (Nusu?) directly under the Burmese branch.

In her PhD dissertation, Cui Xia (2009) compares Dulong with Tibetan, Qiangic (Pumi), Burmese-Yi (Zaiwa and Hani), and Jingpho, concluding that Dulong is on a separate branch. The results pertaining to Jingpho are summarized in Dai & Cui 2009.

Matisoff (various places, e.g. 2003:692) likewise postulated a relationship between Nungish and Jingpho, and a grouping called Jingpho-Nung-Luish, but neither van Driem (2001) nor LaPolla (2003) have been able to find substantiating evidence. Thurgood (2003) and LaPolla (2003) propose that Nungish may be part of a larger "Rung" group. Matisoff (2013) now agrees that the relationship between Nungish and Jingpho-Luish is due to contact, not a close genetic relationship. He also reiterates a relatively close relationship between Nungish and Lolo-Burmese, particularly the Burmish branch (Matisoff 2013:5). DeLancey (2009) includes Nungish in the Rung group along with rGyalrong, Qiang, Primi, and Tangut, and places Rung tentatively under Burmic, on the same level as Lolo-Burmese-Naxi.

Recently, LaPolla has proposed a group of features that are characteristic of Rawang (LaPolla 2012:126), and also offered a reconstruction of person-marking in Proto-Dulong-Rawang (LaPolla 2013:470).

Scott DeLancey (2015)[4] suggests that Nungish may be part of a wider Central Tibeto-Burman group.


  1. ^[bare URL PDF]
  2. ^[bare URL PDF]
  3. ^ Grierson, George Abraham. 1928. Linguistic survey of India, vol. 1, pt. 2, Comparative vocabulary. Calcutta: Government of India Central Publication Branch. [1]
  4. ^ DeLancey, Scott. 2015. "Morphological Evidence for a Central Branch of Trans-Himalayan (Sino-Tibetan)." Cahiers de linguistique - Asie oriental 44(2):122-149. December 2015. doi:10.1163/19606028-00442p02


Further reading