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Naxi language

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Title: Naxi language  
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Subject: Naic languages, Languages of China, Tibeto-Burman languages, Naxi script, Namuyi language
Collection: Languages of China, Naxi Language, World Digital Library Related
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Naxi language

Native to China
Region Yunnan and Tibet
Ethnicity Nakhi, Mosuo
Native speakers
350,000 (2000 census – 2010)[1]
Geba script, or Dongba augmented with Geba
Official status
Official language in
People's Republic of China
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
nxq – Naxi
nru – Narua (Yongning Na)
Glottolog naxi1245  (Naxi)[2]
naxi1246  (additional bibliography)[3]
yong1270  (Narua)[4]

Naxi (autonym: IPA: ), also known as Nakhi, Nasi, Lomi, Moso, Mo-su, is a Sino-Tibetan language or group of languages spoken by some 310,000 people most of whom live in or around Lijiang City Yulong Naxi Autonomous County (Yùlóng Nàxīzú Zìzhìxiàn 玉龍納西族自治縣) of the province of Yunnan, China. Nakhi is also the ethnic group that speaks it, although in detail, officially defined ethnicity and linguistic reality do not coincide neatly: there are speakers of Naxi who are not registered as "Naxi", and citizens who are officially "Naxi" but do not speak it.[5]


  • Classification 1
  • Dialects 2
  • Usage 3
  • Naxi phonemes 4
    • Consonants 4.1
    • Vowels 4.2
    • Tones 4.3
  • Bibliography 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


There are at least two Naxi languages. Western Naxi (or Naxi proper) is fairly homogeneous, whereas Eastern Naxi (or Na) consists of several mutually unintelligible varieties.

The syntactic structure of Naxi is similar to other non-Chinese Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in Yunnan.

It is commonly proposed in Chinese scholarship that the Naic languages are Lolo-Burmese languages: Ziwo Lama (2012) classifies Naxi as part of the Naxish branch of Loloish.

However, as early as 1975, Sino-Tibetan linguist David Bradley stated that Naxi was in fact a Qiangic language.[6] Thurgood and La Polla (2003) state that "The position of Naxi ... is still unclear despite much speculation", and leave it unclassified within Sino-Tibetan.[7] Guillaume Jacques & Alexis Michaud (2011)[8] classify Naxi within the "Naic" group of a proposed "Na-Qiangic" branch.


Naxi can be split into two major clusters, Western Naxi and Eastern Naxi (Naxiyu Jianzhi p.752).

Western Naxi (纳西语西部方言) is spoken mainly in Lijiang, Zhongdian (Shangri-La), Weixi, and Yongsheng counties. Smaller populations of Western Naxi speakers are found in Heqing, Jianchuan, Lanping, Deqin, Gongshan, Ninglang (in Bapijiang village 坝皮匠村, Yongning Township 永宁乡) Muli (in Eya 俄亚), Yanbian (Daoju 道咀), and Tibet (in Mangkang 芒康). There over 240,000 speakers total. Western Naxi consists of the Dayan, Lijiangba, and Baoshanzhou dialects (Naxiyu Jianzhi p.752).

  • Dayan 大研镇: Within Lijiang County, this dialect is spoken in Dayan Town 大研镇, and also in Baishajie 白沙街, Shuhejie 束河街, Axi 阿喜, Daoxin 道新, Daoguzhai, 道古宅, and Guangzhai 光宅 by just over 50,000 people.
  • Lijiangba 丽江坝: spoken mostly within Lijiang County, and in the counties of Zhongdian, Weixi, Yongsheng, Deqin, Gongshan, etc. by 180,000 people.
  • Baoshanzhou 宝山州: spoken in Baoshan 宝山 and Guoluo 果洛 in Lijiang County by just over 10,000 people.

Eastern Naxi (纳西语东部方言) is spoken mainly in Yanyuan, Muli, and Yanbian counties. Eastern Naxi is also spoken by smaller populations in Yongsheng (in Zhangzidan 獐子旦), Weixi (in Qizong 其宗), and Lijiang (in Hailong 海龙 and Fengke 奉科) counties. There is a total of over 40,000 speakers (Naxiyu Jianzhi p.754).

  • Yongningba 永宁坝 (autonym: nɑ13 纳): spoken in Ninglang (in Yongningba 永宁坝) and Yanyuan. There is also a group of about 100 Naxi households in Weixi County who have the autonym mɑ33 li55 mɑ33 sɑ33.
  • Beiquba 北渠坝 (autonym: nɑ33 xi33 纳恒): spoken in Ninglang (in Beiquba 北渠坝) and Yongsheng (in Xiaoping 哨平 and Zhangzidan 獐子旦).
  • Guabie 瓜别 (autonym: nɑ33 zɯ33 纳汝): spoken in Yanbian (in Guabie 瓜别) and Muli (in Bo'ao 博凹 and Lie'ao 列凹).


According to the 2000 Chinese census, 310,000 people speak Nakhi, and 100,000 of those are monolingual. Approximately 170,000 speak Chinese, Tibetan, Bai, or English as a second language. Almost all speakers live in Yunnan, but some are in Tibet, and it is possible that some live in Burma.

The language is commonly spoken among Nakhi people in everyday life and the language is in little danger of dying out soon, although the written literacy is still a rare skill. The language can be written in the Geba syllabary or the Latin script, but they are rarely used in everyday life and few people are able to read Naxi.

The three most common dialects are Lijiang, Lapao, and Lutien. Lijiang, which is spoken in the western parts of the language's range, is the most uniform of the three and it is heavily influenced by Standard Chinese and Yunnanese dialects, proved by its huge volume of loan words from Chinese. The eastern dialects, which are much more native and have many dialectal differences.

Naxi phonemes

The alphabet used here is the 1957 pinyin alphabet.


IPA and Naxi Pinyin orthography
Labial Dental/
Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive voiceless /p/ b /t/ d /c/ ? /k/ g /ʔ/
aspirated /pʰ/ p /tʰ/ t /cʰ/ ? /kʰ/ k
voiced /b/ bb /d/ dd /ɟ/ ? /ɡ/ gg
prenasalized /ᵐb/ nb /ⁿd/ nd /ᶮɟ/ ? /ᵑɡ/ mg
Affricate voiceless /ts/ z /tʂ/ zh /tɕ/ j
aspirated /tsʰ/ c /tʂʰ/ ch /tɕʰ/ q
voiced /dz/ zz /dʐ/ rh /dʑ/ jj
prenasalized /ⁿdz/ nz /ⁿdʐ/ nr /ⁿdʑ/ nj
Fricative voiceless /f/ f /s/ s /ʂ/ sh /ɕ/ x /x/ h
voiced /v/ v /z/ ss /ʐ/ r /ʑ/ y /ɣ/ w
Nasal /m/ m /n/ n /ɲ/ ni /ŋ/ ng
Flap or trill /r/ ?
Approximant /w/ u, /ɥ/ iu /l/ l /j/ i


In the Lijiang dialect, there are nine vowels, plus syllabic /v̩/. They are: /i, e, æ, ɑ, y, ɨ, ə, o, u/ written i, ee, ai, a, iu, ee, e, o, u. There is also a final /əɹ/, written er.


There are four tones: high level, mid-level, low level (or falling), and, in a few words, high rising. They are written -l, -, -q, -f.


  • Bradley, David. 1975. "Nahsi and Proto-Burmese–Lolo." Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 2: 1.93–150.
  • Bradley, David. 1997. "Tibeto-Burman languages and classification." Papers in Southeast Asian linguistics No.14: Tibeto-Burman languages of the Himalayas ed. by D. Bradley, 1–64. Canberra: Department of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.
  • Fang Guoyu 方国瑜 and He Zhiwu 和志武. 1995. Nàxī Xiàngxíng Wénzì Pǔ (A dictionary of Naxi pictographic characters) (纳西象形文字谱). Kunming: Yunnan Renmin Chubanshe.
  • Fu Maoji. 1944. A Study of the Moso Hieroglyphic Manuscript "The Genesis and History of Mankind", from Likiang (麗江麼些象形文’古事記’研究). Wuchang, Hubei: Wuchang University 武昌華中大學﹐中華民國三十七年.
  • Fu Maoji. 1984. Nàxīyǔ Túhuà-wénzì "Bái biānfú qǔ jīng jì" yánjiū 纳西语图画文字 "白蝙蝠取经记" 研究 (A study of a Naxi pictographic manuscript, "White Bat’s Search for Sacred Books"), Vol. 2. Tokyo: CAAAL.
  • Guo Dalie 郭大烈 and He Zhiwu 和志武. 1999. Nàxīzú Shǐ 纳西族史 (A History of the Naxi people): Sichuan Minzu Chubanshe.
  • He Jiren 和即仁 and Jiang Zhuyi 姜竹仪. 1985. Nàxīyǔ Jiǎnzh́ 纳西语简志 (A Presentation of the Naxi Language). Beijing: Minzu Chubanshe.
  • He Zhiwu 和志武. 1987. Nàxīyǔ Jīchǔ Yǔfǎ 纳西语基础语法 (A Basic Grammar of Naxi). Kunming: Yunnan Minzu Chubanshe.
  • Li Lincan 李霖灿, Zhang Kun 张琨 and HE Cai 和才. 1953. Móxiē Xiàngxíng Wénzì zìdiǎn 麽些象形文字字典 (A dictionary of Naxi pictographs). Hong Kong: Shuowenshe. (New edition published by Yunnan Minzu Chubanshe in 2001 as "纳西象形标音文字字典".)
  • Michaud, Alexis. 2006. "Replicating in Naxi (Tibeto-Burman) an experiment designed for Yorùbá: An approach to ‘prominence-sensitive prosody’ vs. ‘calculated prosody’", Proceedings of Speech Prosody 2006, Dresden. Available online.
  • Michaud, Alexis. (2006). Three extreme cases of neutralisation: nasality, retroflexion and lip-rounding in Naxi. Cahiers de linguistique Asie Orientale 35, 23-55. Available online.
  • Michaud, Alexis (2006). Tonal reassociation and rising tonal contours in Naxi. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 29, 61-94. Available online.
  • Michaud, Alexis (2006) and He Xueguang. Reassociated tones and coalescent syllables in Naxi (Tibeto-Burman). Journal of the International Phonetic Association 37(3): 237-255 (2007). Available online.
  • Ramsey, S. Robert (1987). The Languages of China. Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey ISBN 0-691-06694-9
  • Rock, Joseph. 1963-1972. A Na-Khi–English encyclopedic dictionary. Roma: Instituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente.
  • Matisoff, James A. 2003. Handbook of Proto-Tibeto-Burman: system and philosophy of Sino-Tibetan reconstruction. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  • Thurgood, Graham. 2003. "A subgrouping of the Sino-Tibetan languages: The interaction between language contact, change, and inheritance." The Sino-Tibetan languages ed. by G. Thurgood and R. LaPolla, 3-21. London: Routledge.


  1. ^ Naxi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Narua (Yongning Na) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Cited in
  7. ^ The Sino-Tibetan Languages, pp. 19–20
  8. ^ Jacques, Guillaume, and Alexis Michaud. 2011. "Approaching the historical phonology of three highly eroded Sino-Tibetan languages: Naxi, Na and Laze." Diachronica 28:468-498.
  • Chen Jia-Ying. 1994. "The Naxi language." In Stuart R. Milliken (ed.), SIL occasional papers on the minority languages of China 1, 25-35: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Lidz, Liberty A. 2010. A Descriptive Grammar of Yongning Na (Mosuo). Ph.D. dissertation. Austin: University of Texas, Austin.

External links

  • Open-access recordings of Naxi (from the Pangloss Collection).
  • World Digital Library presentation of .NZD185: Romance and Love-Related Ceremonies Library of Congress. Primary source 19th and 20th century manuscripts from the Naxi people, Yunnan Province, China; only pictographic writing system still in use anywhere in the world.
  • Mo-So manuscripts; John Rylands Library, University of Manchester
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