Northern Yi, Liangshan Yi, Sichuan Yi
ꆈꌠꉙ Nuosuhxop
Native toChina
RegionSouthern Sichuan, northern Yunnan
Native speakers
2 million (2000 census)[1]
Standard forms
  • Liangshan (Cool Mountain) dialect
Yi syllabary, formerly Yi logograms
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
 China (Yunnan province)
Language codes
ISO 639-1ii Sichuan Yi, Nuosu
ISO 639-2iii Sichuan Yi, Nuosu
ISO 639-3iii Nuosu, Sichuan Yi
Glottologsich1238  Sichuan Yi
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Nuosu or Nosu (ꆈꌠꉙ, transcribed as Nuo su hxop), also known as Northern Yi, Liangshan Yi, and Sichuan Yi, is the prestige language of the Yi people; it has been chosen by the Chinese government as the standard Yi language (Chinese: 彝语) and, as such, is the only one taught in schools, both in its oral and written forms. It was spoken by two million people and was increasing (as of PRC census); 60% were monolingual (1994 estimate). Nuosu is the native Nuosu name for their own language and is not used in Mandarin Chinese, though it may sometimes be translated as Nuòsūyǔ (simplified Chinese: 诺苏语; traditional Chinese: 諾蘇語).[2]

The occasional terms "Black Yi" (黑彝; hēi Yí) and 'White Yi' (白彝; bái Yí) are castes of the Nuosu people, not dialects.[citation needed]

Nuosu is one of several often mutually unintelligible varieties known as Yi, Lolo, Moso, or Noso; the six Yi languages recognized by the Chinese government hold only 25% to 50% of their vocabulary in common. They share a common traditional writing system, though this is used for shamanism rather than daily accounting.[citation needed]


Liangshan Yi (Nuosu) is mostly spoken in southern Sichuan (mainly Liangshan). In places of Sichuan in which there are only Nuosu speakers, it is also simply referred to as Yi, and the other Sichuanese Yi language is Nasu.

Northern Yi (Nuosu) in northern Yunnan is spoken mainly in the northern part of Yunnan, including Kunming and Chuxiong. It is also called Black Yi or White Yi.

In Vietnam, Nuosu (usually known as Northern Lô Lô) is spoken in Ha Giang Province and Lao Cai Province, and speakers are classified as Lô Lô people. The number of Nuosu speakers in Vietnam is not known.

In Laos, Nuosu is spoken in Phongsaly Province in 3 villages near the Chinese border. Speakers are classified separately as Lolo.

In Myanmar, Nuosu is possibly spoken in Shan State or Kachin State, and it is usually known as Northeastern Yi or simply Yi, and speakers are classified as Lisu people which form the Kachin people.

In Thailand, Nuosu (usually referred to as Lolo), is spoken in Chiang Rai Province. Speakers are classified as Lolo subgroup of Lisu people. The Lolo of Thailand migrated from Myanmar.[citation needed]


Lama (2012)

Lama (2012) gives the following classification for Nuosu dialects.

The Qumusu (曲木苏, Tianba 田坝) dialect is the most divergent one. The other dialects group as Niesu (聂苏, Suondi and Adu) and as Nuosu proper (Muhisu 米西苏, Yinuo 义诺, and Shengzha 圣乍). Niesu has both lost voiceless nasals and developed diphthongs.[3]

Adu (阿都话), characterized by its labial–velar consonants, is spoken in the Butuo and Ningnan counties of Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, and also in parts of Puge, Zhaojue, Dechang, and Jinyang counties.[4]

Nyisu or Yellow Yi (黄彝) of Fumin County, Yunnan may either be a Soundi Yi (Nuosu) dialect or Nisu dialect.

Zhu and Zhang (2005)[5] reports that the Shuitian people (水田人) reside mostly in the lowlands of the Anning River drainage basin, in Xichang, Xide, and Mianning counties of Liangshan Prefecture in Sichuan. They are called Muhisu (mu33 hi44 su33) by the neighboring Yi highland people. Shuitian is spoken in the following locations. Shuitian belongs to the Shengzha dialect (圣乍次土语) of Northern Yi.

Bradley (1997)

According to Bradley (1997),[7] there are three main dialects of Nosu, of which the Southeastern one (Sondi) is most divergent.

Chen (2010)

Chen (2010) lists the following dialects of Nosu. Also listed are the counties where each respective dialect is spoken.

Writing system

Main article: Yi script

Classic Yi is a syllabic logographic system of 8,000–10,000 glyphs. Although similar to Chinese characters in function, the glyphs are independent in form, with little to suggest a direct relation.

In 1958 the Chinese government had introduced a Roman-based alphabet based on the romanized script of Gladstone Porteous of Sayingpan.[8] This was later replaced by the Modern Yi script.

The Modern Yi script (ꆈꌠꁱꂷ nuosu bburma [nɔ̄sū bʙ̝̄mā] 'Nosu script') is a standardized syllabary derived from the classic script in 1974. It was made the official script of the Yi languages in 1980. There are 756 basic glyphs based on the Liangshan dialect, plus 63 for syllables only found in Chinese borrowings. The government requires the use of the script for signs in some designated public places.[9]

A signpost in a public park in Xichang, Sichuan, China, showing Modern Yi, Chinese and English text.



Consonants in Nuosu
Labial Alveolar Retroflex (Alveolo-)
Velar Glottal
plain sibilant
Nasal unvoiced ⟨hm⟩ ⟨hn⟩
voiced m ⟨m⟩ n ⟨n⟩ ɲ ⟨ny⟩ ŋ ⟨ng⟩
unvoiced p ⟨b⟩ t ⟨d⟩ ts ⟨z⟩ ʈʂ ⟨zh⟩ ⟨j⟩ k ⟨g⟩
aspirated ⟨p⟩ ⟨t⟩ tsʰ ⟨c⟩ ʈʂʰ ⟨ch⟩ tɕʰ ⟨q⟩ ⟨k⟩
voiced b ⟨bb⟩ d ⟨dd⟩ dz ⟨zz⟩ ɖʐ ⟨rr⟩ ⟨jj⟩ ɡ ⟨gg⟩
prenasalized ᵐb ⟨nb⟩ ⁿd ⟨nd⟩ ⁿdz ⟨nz⟩ ᶯɖʐ ⟨nr⟩ ᶮdʑ ⟨nj⟩ ᵑɡ ⟨mg⟩
Continuant unvoiced f ⟨f⟩ ⟨hl⟩ s ⟨s⟩ ʂ ⟨sh⟩ ɕ ⟨x⟩ x ⟨h⟩ h ⟨hx⟩
voiced v ⟨v⟩ l ⟨l⟩ z ⟨ss⟩ ʐ ⟨r⟩ ʑ ⟨y⟩ ɣ ⟨w⟩


Vowels in Nuosu
Front Non-front
unrounded rounded
loose ⟨y⟩ v̩ʷ ⟨u⟩
tight z̠̩ ⟨yr⟩ v̠̩ʷ ⟨ur⟩
Close loose ⟨i⟩ ɤ̝ ⟨e⟩ ⟨o⟩
Open-mid tight ɛ ⟨ie⟩ ɔ ⟨uo⟩
Open a ⟨a⟩

Nuosu has five pairs of phonemic vowels, contrasting in a feature Andy Eatough calls loose throat vs. tight throat. Underlining is used as an ad-hoc symbol for tight throat; phonetically, these vowels are laryngealized and/or show a retracted tongue root. Loose vs. tight throat is the only distinction in the two pairs of syllabic consonants, but in the vocoids it is reinforced by a height difference.

The syllabic consonants y(r) u(r) are essentially the usual Sinological vowels ɿ ʮ, so ⟨y⟩ can be identified with the vowel of the Mandarin "four", but they have diverse realizations. Y(r) completely assimilates to a preceding coronal except in voice, e.g. /ɕz̩˨˩/ [ɕʑ̩˨˩] xyp "to marry", and is [m͡l̩] after a labial nasal, e.g. /m̥z̩˧sz̩˧/ [m̥m͡l̩˧sɹ̩˧] ꂪꌦ hmy sy "cloth". U(r) assimilates similarly after laterals, retaining its rounding, e.g. /l̥v̩ʷ˧/ [l̥l̩ʷ˧] hlu "to stir-fry", and is [m̩ʷ] after a labial nasal, e.g. /m̥v̩ʷ˧/ [m̥m̩ʷ˧] hmu "mushroom"; moreover it induces a labially trilled release of preceding labial or alveolar stops, e.g. /ⁿdv̩ʷ˨˩/ [ⁿdʙβ̩˨˩] ndup "to hit".

The tight-throat phone [ɤ̝] occurs as the realization of /ɤ̝/ in the high tone. That it is phonemically loose-throat is shown by its behaviour in tightness harmony in compound words.

Nuosu syllable structure is (C)V.


The high-mid tone is only marginally contrastive. Its two main sources are from tone sandhi rules, as the outcome of a mid tone before another mid tone, and the outcome of a low-falling tone after a mid tone. However, these changes do not occur in all compounds where they might: for instance wo "bear" + mop "mother" regularly forms ꊈꂾ wo mox "female bear", but vi "jackal" + mop "mother" forms ꃤꃀ vi mop "female jackal" without sandhi. The syntax creates other contrasts: tone sandhi applies across the boundary between object and verb, so is present in SOV clauses like ꃅꏸꇐꄜꎷ mu jy lu ti shex "Mujy looks for Luti", but is absent in OSV clauses like ꃅꏸꇐꄜꎹ mu jy lu ti shep "Luti looks for Mujy". A few words, like xix "what?", have underlying high-mid tone.

Vocabulary and grammar

Nuosu is an analytic language, the basic word order is Subject–object–verb. Vocabularies of Nuosu can be divided into content words and function words. Among content words, nouns in Nuosu do not perform inflections for grammatical gender, number, and cases, classifiers are required when the noun is being counted; verbs do not perform conjugations for its persons and tenses; adjectives are usually placed after the word being fixed with a structural particle and do not perform inflections for comparison. Function words, especially grammatical particles, have a significant role in terms of sentence constructions in Nuosu. Nuosu does not have article words, but conjunctions and postposition words are used.[10]


Classifiers are required when numbers are used for fixing nouns.

Number 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Yi script ꊰꋍ ꊰꑋ
IPA t͡sʰẑ̩ ɲê̝ sɔ̠̄ lz̩̄ ŋɤ̝̄ fv̩̋ʷ ʂʐ̩̄ he̝̋ ɡv̩̄ʷ t͡sʰz̩̄ t͡sʰẑ̩ t͡sʰz̩̄ t͡sʰē̝ ɲê̝
Yi Pinyin cyp nyip suo ly nge fut shyp hxit ggu cy cyp cy ci nyip

See also


  1. ^ Nuosu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Zhu, Wenxu 朱文旭; Munai, Reha 木乃热哈; Chen, Guoguang 陈国光 (2006). Yíyǔ jīchǔ jiàochéng 彝语基础教程 (in Chinese) (4th ed.). Beijing: Zhongyang minzu daxue chubanshe.
  3. ^ Lama, Ziwo Qiu-Fuyuan (2012). Subgrouping of Nisoic (Yi) Languages: A Study From the Perspectives of Shared Innovation and Phylogenetic Estimation (PhD thesis). University of Texas at Arlington. hdl:10106/11161.
  4. ^ Pan, Zhengyun 潘正云 (2001). "Yíyǔ Ādōuhuà chúnruǎn'è fùfǔyīn shēngmǔ bǐjiào yánjiū" 彝语阿都话唇软腭复辅音声母比较研究 [A Comparative Study of Labiovelar Cluster Initials in the Adu Patois of the Yi Language]. Mínzú yǔwén 民族语文. 2001 (2): 17–22.
  5. ^ Zhu, Wenxu 朱文旭; Zhang (2005). "Yíyǔ Shuǐtiánhuà gàikuàng" 彝语水田话概况 [A Brief Introduction of Shuitian Speech Yi Language]. Mínzú yǔwén 民族语文. 2005 (4): 67–80.
  6. ^ a b Main datapoint used in Zhu & Zhang (2005)
  7. ^ Bradley, David (1997). "Tibeto-Burman Languages and Classification" (PDF). In Bradley, D. (ed.). Papers in South East Asian Linguistics No. 14: Tibeto-Burman Languages of the Himalayas. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp. 1–72. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-10-11.
  8. ^ "Yi". Retrieved 2021-11-05.
  9. ^ Susan Gary Walters (2022): Nuosu script in the linguistic landscape of Xichang, China: a sociocultural subtext, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, DOI:10.1080/01434632.2022.2094388
  10. ^ Xiang, Xiaohong 向晓红; Cao, Younan 曹幼南 (2006). "Yīngyǔ hé Yíyǔ de yǔfǎ bǐjiào yánjiū" 英语和彝语的语法比较研究. Xīnán mínzú dàxué xuébào (Rénwén shè kē bǎn) 西南民族大学学报 (人文社科版) (in Chinese). 29 (8): 62–65. doi:10.3969/j.issn.1004-3926.2006.08.014.

Further reading