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Bouyei language

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Title: Bouyei language  
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Subject: Northern Tai languages, Tai languages, Languages of China, Ai-Cham language, Yei Zhuang language
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Bouyei language

Giay (Yay)
Native to China (Guizhou, Yunnan, and Sichuan Provinces)
Ethnicity Bouyei, Giay
Native speakers
2.6 million  (2000 census)[1]
Latin, Sawndip
Language codes
ISO 639-3 pcc
Glottolog bouy1240[2]

The Bouyei language (autonym: Haausqyaix also spelled Buyi, Buyei, or Puyi;[3] Chinese: 布依语; pinyin: bùyī yǔ, Vietnamese: tiếng Bố Y or tiếng Giáy), is a language spoken by the Bouyei ethnic group[4] of southern Guizhou Province in mainland China. Classified as a member of the Northern Tai group in the Tai languages branch of the Tai–Kadai language family, the language has over 2.5 million native speakers and is also used by the Giay people (Vietnamese: Giáy) in some parts of Vietnam. There are native speakers living in France or the United States as well, which immigrated from China or Vietnam. About 98% of the native speakers are in China.[3]

Bouyei's characteristics are similar to the other members of its language branch. It is generally monosyllabic, and word order and particles are the main forms of grammar. Bouyei's syllable initials match up closely to the other Northern Tai languages, with relatively fast simplification and merging. Bouyei sentences can be shown to contain many different levels of phrasing.

The contemporary Bouyei script was developed after the abandonment of the Bouyei-Zhuang Script Alliance Policy in 1981, and was designed from 1981 to 1985. It is focused and phonologically representative, and takes the Wangmo County dialect as its foundation.

Subdivisions and distribution


According to a 1950's survey performed by the Chinese government, the Bouyei language as spoken in Guizhou can be divided into three general dialect groups (Snyder 2008). Note that Qián (黔) is an archaic Chinese designation for Guizhou.

  1. The Southern Qian group - the largest of the three - from the Qianxinan Bouyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, which is partially intelligible with the Guibian and Guibei Zhuang dialects. This vernacular is spoken in the counties of Wangmo, Ceheng, Luodian, Dushan, Libo, Duyun, Pingtang, Zhenfeng, Anlong, Xingren, and Xinyi.
  2. The Central Qian group - next most spoken of the three - which is spread throughout Qianxinan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture and the suburbs of Guiyang, and is partially intelligible with the Southern Qian dialects (it is very similar to the Zhuang dialects of northern Guangxi). This vernacular is spoken in the counties of Longli, Guiding, Qingzhen, Pingba, Kaiyang, Guiyang, and Anshun.
  3. The Western Qian dialects - the least spoken of the three - which is spoken in the counties of Zhenning, Guanling, Ziyun, Qinglong, Pu'an, Liuzhi, Panxian, Shuicheng, Bijie, and Weining. The western dialects show more unique features than the other two groups. Some western dialects have aspirated stops, which is an uncommon feature in northern Tai languages (Snyder 2008).

Wu, Snyder, & Liang (2007) is the most comprehensive Bouyei survey to date, and covers the following data points.

Qiannan Bouyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture
  • Chángshùn Gǔyáng (长顺县鼓扬镇)
  • Dúshān Nánzhài (独山县难寨村)
  • Dúshān Shuǐyán (独山县水岩乡)
  • Dūyún Fùxi (都匀县富溪村)
  • Guìdìng Gǒnggù (贵定县巩固乡)
  • Huìshuǐ Dǎnggǔ (惠水县党古村)
  • Líbō Fúcūn (荔波县福村)
  • Lónglǐ Yángchǎng (龙里县羊场镇)
  • Luódiàn Luókǔn (罗甸县罗悃)
  • Luódiàn Pōqiú (罗甸县坡球)
  • Píngtáng Xīliáng (平塘县西凉乡)
  • Píngtáng Zhǎngbù (平塘县掌布乡)
Qianxinan Bouyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture
  • Ānlóng Pínglè (安龙县平乐乡)
  • Cèhéng Huārǒng (册亨县花冗)
  • Qínglóng Zǐtáng (晴隆县紫塘村)
  • Wàngmó Fùxīng (望谟县复兴镇)
  • Xīngyì Bājié (兴义县巴结镇)
  • Zhēnfēng Míngǔ (贞丰县珉谷镇)
Anshun City
  • Ānshùn Huánglà (安顺黄腊布依族苗族乡)
  • Zhènníng Bǎnlè (镇宁县板乐)
  • Zhènníng Shítóuzhài (镇宁县石头寨)
  • Zǐyún Huǒhuā (紫云县火花乡)
  • Zǐyún Nònghé (紫云县弄河村)
Liuzhi Special District
  • Shuǐchéng Fā'ér (水城县发耳布依族苗族彝族乡)

The Yei Zhuang varieties of Wenshan Prefecture, Yunnan are closely related to the Bouyei varieties of Guizhou. Many other languages outside China with the names "Yei", "Yay", "Yoy", are also closely related.


Bouyei is also spoken in northern Vietnam, where it is known as Giáy. Edmondson and Gregerson (2001) has determined their language to be most similar to the Bouyei dialects of southwest Guizhou. The Giáy are an officially recognized group in Vietnam who now number nearly 50,000. Some household registries of the Giáy of Vietnam indicate that their ancestors had left Guizhou 160 years ago during the Qing Dynasty, and traveled overland to southern Yunnan and then Vietnam (Edmondson & Gregerson 2001). This coincides with the Miao Rebellion (1854–73) of Guizhou. The Giáy are found in the following locations of Vietnam.[5]

The Giáy of Mường Khương District who call themselves Tudì [thu zi] can only speak a form of Chinese, and no Giáy. Their autonym comes from their ancestral place of origin, which is Duyun of Guizhou province, China. According to their household records, they had arrived in Maguan County and in Honghe Prefecture about 200 years ago. Similarly, some Giáy of Vietnam report that they have relatives still living in Hekou, Yunnan province, China (Edmondson & Gregerson 2001).

The Yay language described by William J. Gedney is in fact the Giáy dialect of Mường Hum, Bát Xát District, Lào Cai (Edmondson & Gregerson 2001). There are also other related Northern Tai languages spoken in Vietnam as well, such Bố Y, Nhang, and Quy Châu (possibly closely related to Tai Mène of Laos). The Bố Y had originally came from around Wangmo County in southwestern Guizhou. Some subgroups of Bố Y call themselves the Pu Na or Pu Thin, meaning 'people of the paddy field'.



The Bouyei script recognizes 32 consonants, with names formed by the consonant in an initial position followed by a long "a" vowel.

Labials b [p] p [pʰ] mb [ɓ] m [m] f [f] v [v]
Apicals d [t] t [tʰ] nd [ɗ] n [n] sl [ɬ] l [l]
Radicals g [k] k [kʰ] ng [ŋ] h [x] hr [ɣ]
Palatals j [tɕ] q [tɕʰ] ny [ɲ] x [ɕ] y [j]
Affricates z [ts] c [tsʰ] s [s] r [z]
Palatalized by [pʲ] my [mʲ] qy [ˀj]
Labialized gv [kʷ] ngv [ŋʷ] qv [ˀv]

Pink: p, t, k, q, z, and c are used only to write Chinese loanwords.

Beige: sl and hr are used for sounds that occur only in certain dialects.

V is pronounced as a "w" before a "u".

Vowels and diphthongs

Bouyei has 77 vowels and diphthongs.

"Level" syllables a [a] o [o] ee [e] i [i] u [u] e [ɯ]
aai [aːi] ai [ai] oi [oi] ei [ɯi]
aau [aːu] au [au] eeu [eu] iu [iu]
ae [aɯ] ie [iə] ue [uə] ea [ɯə]
aam [aːm] am [am] oom [om] om [ɔm] eem [em] iam [iəm] im [im] uam [uəm] um [um] eam [ɯəm]
aan [aːn] an [an] oon [on] on [ɔn] een [en] ian [iən] in [in] uan [uən] un [un] ean [ɯən] en [ɯn]
aang [aːŋ] ang [aŋ] oong [oŋ] ong [ɔŋ] eeng [eŋ] iang [iəŋ] ing [iŋ] uang [uəŋ] ung [uŋ] eang [ɯəŋ] eng [ɯŋ]
"Entering" syllables aab [aːp] ab [ap] oob [op] ob [ɔp] eeb [ep] iab [iəp] ib [ip] uab [uəp] ub [up] eab [ɯəp]
aad [aːt] ad [at] ood [ot] od [ɔt] eed [et] iad [iət] id [it] uad [uət] ud [ut] ead [ɯət] ed [ɯt]
ag [ak] og [ɔk] eeg [ek] ig [ik] ug [uk] eg [ɯk]

The endings er [ɚ], ao [au], ou [əu], ia [ia], io [io], iao [iau], ua [ua], uai [uai], and ui [uəi] are used in writing Chinese loanwords.


Bouyei has six tones, corresponding to the eight sheng of Middle Chinese: all six in open syllables or with a final /n/ or /ŋ/, reduced to two "entering" tones with a final stop.

# Name Contour Marking letter Corresponding Southwest Mandarin Tone Loanword Marking letter
1 Dark level ˨˦ l Departing q
2 Light level ˩ z
3 Dark rising ˥˧ c Rising j
4 Light rising ˧˩ x Light level f
5 Dark departing ˧˥ s
6 Light departing ˧ h Dark level y
7 Dark entering ˧˥ t
8 Light entering ˧ none

Marking letters are placed at the end of syllables to indicate tone.

Language shift

Bouyei shows clearing of Proto-Tai–Kadai's "muddy" consonants (*b/p/, *d/t/, /k/), and loss of aspiration.
Proto-Tai–Kadai *ˀn, *n̥ *t *ˀd *dʱ*d *n
Bouyei n t ɗ t n
Dark tone Light tone
Proto-Tai–Kadai's tones experienced a splitting into modern Bouyei, shown in the following table.
Proto-Tai–Kadai *ˀn, *n̥ *t *ˀd *dʱ, *d *n
PTK Level tone Dark level Light level
PTK Rising tone Dark rising Light rising
PTK Departing tone Dark departing Light departing
PTK Entering tone Dark entering Light entering


Ancient Bouyei script

Ancient Bouyei writing was created by borrowing elements from Chinese characters or by mimicking their forms, and is similar to Sawndip.

Old Modern Bouyei

In November 1956, a scientific conference was held in Guiyang to discuss the creation and implementation of a Latin-based alphabet for Bouyei. The result was a script similar some Zhuang romanizations that used the Longli County dialect as its base. The script was approved by the Chinese government and was put into use in 1957, though its use ceased in 1960.

Current Bouyei script

In 1981 a conference on Bouyei history revised the script developed in 1956 in an attempt to make it more practical and phonologically representative of Wangmo County speech. It also was approved by the Chinese government, and was adopted on an experimental basis in 1982. Feedback was largely positive, and the script was officially brought into use in March 1985 and continues to be used to the present.

Old and current Bouyei Romanization comparisons
Old Current IPA Old Current IPA Old Current IPA Old Current IPA Old Current IPA
b b /p/ ƃ mb /ɓ/ m m /m/ f f /f/ v v, qv /v, ˀv/
c z /ts/ s s /s/ r r /z/
d d /t/ ƌ nd /ɗ/ n n /n/ l l /l/
g g /k/ gv gv /kʷ/ ŋ ng /ŋ/ ŋv ngv /ŋʷ/ h h /x/
gy j /tɕ/ ny ny /nʲ/ x x /ɕ/ y y, qy /j, ˀj/
by by /pʲ/ my my /mʲ/

Old Zhuang Bouyei IPA Old Zhuang Bouyei IPA Old Zhuang Bouyei IPA Old Zhuang Bouyei IPA
a a aa /aː/ ə ae a /a/ e e ee /e/ i i i /i/
o o oo /oː/ ө oe o /o/ u u u /u/ ɯ w e /ɯ/

Tone Marking Letters
# Old Zhuang Bouyei Yangchang Dialect Fuxing Dialect
1 none none l, q 35 24
2 ƨ z z 11 11
3 з j c, j 13 53
4 ч x x, f 31 11
5 ƽ q s 33 35
6 ƅ h h, y 53 33
7 (p, t, k) (p, t, k) (b, d, g)t 33 (long), 35 (short) 35
8 (b, d, g) (b, d, g) (b, d, g) 53 (long), 11 (short) 33


  1. ^ Bouyei at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Bouyei". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^
  5. ^ Edmondson, J.A. and Gregerson, K.J. 2001, "Four Languages of the Vietnam-China Borderlands", in Papers from the Sixth Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society, ed. K.L. Adams and T.J. Hudak, Tempe, Arizona, pp. 101-133. Arizona State University, Program for Southeast Asian Studies.
  • Snyder, Wil C. (2008). "Bouyei Phonology." In Diller, Anthony, Jerold A. Edmondson, and Yongxian Luo ed. The Tai–Kadai Languages. Routledge Language Family Series. Psychology Press, 2008.
  • Wu Wenyi, Wil C. Snyder, and Liang Yongshu. 2007. Survey of the Guizhou Bouyei Language. SIL Language and Culture Documentation and Description 2007-001. Dallas: SIL International.
  • Libo Buyi Han Ying cihui =: Libo Buyi-Chinese-English glossary (Language data 18) by Yu Jiongbiao, Wil Snyder (1995). Summer Institute of Linguistics, 278 p. ISBN 1-55671-014-3.
  • Bouyei Culture Website

External links

  • ABVD: Bouyei (Wangmo) word list
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