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Tai Nuea
ᥖᥭᥰ ᥖᥬᥲ ᥑᥨᥒᥰ
Tai Le
Pronunciation[tai˥ taɯ˧˩ xoŋ˥]
Native toChina, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos
RegionSouthwest China
EthnicityTai Nua
Native speakers
(720,000 cited 1983–2007)[1]
Tai Le script
Official status
Official language in
 China (Dehong) co-official
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
tdd – Tai Nüa
thi – Tai Long
Glottologtain1252  Tai Nua
tail1247  Tai Long
ELPTai Neua
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.

Tai Nuea or Tai Nüa (Tai Nüa: ᥖᥭᥰ ᥖᥬᥲ ᥑᥨᥒᥰ; also called Tai Le, Dehong Dai or Chinese Shan; own name: Tai2 Lə6, which means "Upper Tai" or "Northern Tai" or ᥖᥭᥰᥖᥬᥳᥑᥨᥒᥰ, [tai taɯ xoŋ]; Chinese: Dǎinàyǔ, 傣那语 or Déhóng Dǎiyǔ, 德宏傣语; Thai: ภาษาไทเหนือ, pronounced [pʰāːsǎː tʰāj nɯ̌a] or ภาษาไทใต้คง, pronounced [pʰāːsǎː tʰāj tâːj.kʰōŋ]) is one of the languages spoken by the Dai people in China, especially in the Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture in the southwest of Yunnan Province. It is closely related to the other Tai languages. Speakers of this language across the border in Myanmar are known as Shan.[citation needed] It should not be confused with Tai Lü (Xishuangbanna Dai).


The language is also known as Tai Mau, Tai Kong and Tai Na.[2]

Most Tai Nuea people call themselves tai˥lə˧, which means 'Upper Tai' or 'Northern Tai'. Note that this is different from Tai Lue, which is pronounced tai˥lɪ˦˧ in Tai Nuea.

Dehong is a transliteration of the term taɨ˧˩xoŋ˥, where taɨ˧˩ means 'bottom, under, the lower part (of)' and xoŋ˥ means 'the Hong River' (more widely known as the Salween River or Nujiang 怒江 in Chinese) (Luo 1998).


Zhou (2001:13) classifies Tai Nuea into the Dehong (德宏) and Menggeng (孟耿) dialects. Together, they add up to a total of 541,000 speakers.

Ethnologue also recognizes Tai Long of Laos as a separate language. It is spoken by 4,800 people (as of 2004) in Luang Prabang Province, Laos.


Tai Nuea is a tonal language with a very limited inventory of syllables with no consonant clusters. 16 syllable-initial consonants can be combined with 84 syllable finals and six tones.



Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain sibilant
Nasal [m] [n] [ŋ]
Plosive tenuis [p] [t] [t͡s] [k] [ʔ]
aspirated [pʰ] [tʰ] (t͡sʰ)* (kʰ)*
Fricative [f] [s] [x] [h]
Approximant [l] [j] [w]

*(kʰ) and (tsʰ) occur in loanwords


Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal [m] [n] [ŋ]
Plosive [p] [t] [k]
Approximant [w] [j]

Vowels and diphthongs

Tai Nuea has ten vowels and 13 diphthongs:

Front Central-Back Back
High /i/ /ɯ/ /u/
Mid /e/ /ə/ /o/
Low / ɛ/ /a/
Tai Nuea's diphthongs are iu, eu, ɛu; ui, oi, ɔi; əi, əu; ai, aɯ, au; aːi, aːu


Tai Nuea has six tones:

  1. rising [˨˦] (24)
  2. high falling [˥˧] (53) or high level [˥] (55)
  3. low level [˩] (11)
  4. low falling [˧˩] (31)
  5. mid falling [˦˧] (43) or high falling [˥˧] (53)
  6. mid level [˧] (33)

Syllables with p, t, k as final consonants can have only one of three tones (1., 3., or 5.).

Writing system

Main article: Tai Le script

The Tai Le script is closely related to other Southeast-Asian writing systems such as the Thai script and is thought to date back to the 14th century.

The original Tai Nuea spelling did not generally mark tones and failed to distinguish several vowels. It was reformed to make these distinctions, and diacritics were introduced to mark tones. The resulting writing system was officially introduced in 1956. In 1988, the spelling of tones was reformed; special tone letters were introduced instead of the earlier Latin diacritics.

The modern script has a total of 35 letters, including the five tone letters.

The transcription below is given according to the Unicode tables.


Letter Transcription IPA Letter Transcription IPA Letter Transcription IPA
k [k] x [x] ng [ŋ]
ts [ts] s [s] y [j]
t [t] th [tʰ] l [l]
p [p] ph [pʰ] m [m]
f [f] v [w]
h [h] q [ʔ]
kh [kʰ] tsh [tsʰ] n [n]

Vowels and diphthongs

Consonants that are not followed by a vowel letter are pronounced with the inherent vowel [a]. Other vowels are indicated with the following letters:

Letter Transcription IPA Letter Transcription IPA
a [aː]
i [i] u [u]
ee [e] oo [o]
eh [ɛ] o [ɔ]
ue [ɯ] e [ə]
aue [aɯ] ai [ai]

Diphthongs are formed by combining some vowel letters with the consonant [w] and some vowel letters with ᥭ [ai]/[j].


In the Thai and Tai Lü writing systems, the tone value in the pronunciation of a written syllable depends on the tone class of the initial consonant, vowel length and syllable structure. In contrast, the Tai Nuea writing system has a very straightforward spelling of tones, with one letter (or diacritic) for each tone.

A tone mark is put at the end of syllable whatever it is consonant or vowel. Examples in the table show the syllable [ta] in different tones, in old (1956) and new (1988) spellings.

Number New Old Pitch
1. ᥖᥴ ᥖ́ 35
2. ᥖᥰ ᥖ̈ 55
3. ᥖᥱ ᥖ̌ 11
4. ᥖᥲ ᥖ̀ 42
5. ᥖᥳ ᥖ̇ 54
6. 33

The sixth tone (mid level) is not marked. And if a checked syllable[clarification needed] having the fifth tone, it is also not marked.



Meaning Plural
1st person exclusive ᥐᥝ (kau33) ᥖᥧ (tu33)
inclusive ᥞᥝᥰ (hau55)
2nd person ᥛᥬᥰ (maɯ55) ᥔᥧᥴ (su35)
3rd person ᥛᥢᥰ (man55) ᥑᥝᥴ (xau35)


Tai Nuea uses an SVO word order.


Word Meaning
ᥔᥒᥴ (sang35) What
ᥐᥤᥱ (ki11) How many
ᥚᥬᥴ (phaɯ35) Who
ᥗᥬᥴ (thaɯ35) Where

Text sample
















ᥛᥬᥰ ᥐᥤᥢ ᥑᥝᥲ ᥕᥝᥳ ᥞᥪᥴ?

maɯ55 kin33 xau42 jau54 hi35

you eat rice PERF.PTC INTERR.PTC

Have you eaten? (a common greeting)






















ᥐᥝ ᥛᥨᥝ ᥖᥣᥢᥲ ᥑᥣᥛᥰ ᥖᥭᥰ ᥖᥬᥲ ᥑᥨᥒᥰ

kau33 mou35 tan42 xam55 tai55 taɯ42 xong55

I can speak language Tai De hong

I can speak Dehong Tai/ Tai Nuea.

Language use

Tai Nuea has official status in some parts of Yunnan (China), where it is used on signs and in education. Yunnan People's Radio Station (Yúnnán rénmín guǎngbō diàntái 云南人民广播电台) broadcasts in Tai Nuea. On the other hand, however, very little printed material is published in Tai Nuea in China. However, many signs of roads and stores in Mangshi are in Tai Nuea.

In Thailand, a collection of 108 proverbs was published with translations into Thai and English.[3]


  1. ^ Tai Nüa at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Tai Long at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ "Revised Proposal for Encoding the Tai Le script in the BMP of the UCS" (PDF). 2001-10-06 – via
  3. ^ Thawi Swangpanyangkoon and Edward Robinson. 1994. (2537 Thai). Dehong Tai proverbs. Sathaban Thai Suksa, Chulalankorn Mahawitayalai.