Yi script: Wikis


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Yi manuscript 452.jpg
Type Syllabary in modern form; Logographic in archaic variations
Spoken languages Yi language
Time period At least 500 years old, syllabic version established in 1974
ISO 15924 Yiii
Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.

The Yi script, also historically known as Cuan Wen (Chinese: 爨文) or Wei Shu (Chinese: 違書), is used to write the Yi languages.


Classical Yi

A classical Yi manuscript.

Classical Yi is a syllabic logographic system that was reputedly devised during the Tang dynasty (618-907) by someone called Aki (Chinese: 阿畸pinyin: aqi).[1] However, the earliest surviving examples of the Yi script only date back to the late 15th century and early 16th century, the earliest dated example being an inscription on a bronze bell dated to 1485.[2] There are tens of thousands of manuscripts in the Yi script, dating back several centuries, although most are undated. In recent years a number of Yi manuscript texts written in traditional Yi script have been published.

The original script is said to have comprised 1,840 characters, but over the centuries widely divergent glyph forms have developed in different Yi-speaking areas, an extreme example being the character for "stomach" which exists in some forty glyph variants. Due to this regional variation as many as 90,000 different Yi glyphs known from manuscripts and inscriptions. Although similar to Chinese in function, the glyphs are independent in form, with little to suggest that they are directly related. However, there are some borrowings from Chinese, such as the characters for numbers used in some Yi script traditions.

Modern Yi

The Modern Yi script (ꆈꌠꁱꂷ nuosu bburma IPA: [nɔ̄sū bū̱mā] 'Nosu script') is a standardized syllabary derived from the classic script in 1974 by the local Chinese government. It was made the official script of the Liangshan (Cool Mountain) dialect of the Yi language in 1980. Other dialects of Yi do not yet have a standardized script. There are 756 basic glyphs based on the Liangshan dialect, plus 63 for syllables only found in Chinese borrowings.

The native syllabary represents vowel and consonant-vowel syllables, formed of 43 consonants and 8 vowels that can occur with any of three tones, plus two "buzzing" vowels that can only occur as mid tone. Not all combinations are possible.

Although the Liangshan dialect has four tones (and others have more), only three tones (high, mid, low) have separate glyphs. The fourth tone (rising) may sometimes occur as a grammatical inflection of the mid tone, so it is written with the mid-tone glyph plus a diacritic mark (a superscript arc). Counting syllables with this diacritic, the script represents 1,164 syllables. In addition there is a syllable iteration mark, ꀕ (represented as w in Yi pinyin) that is used to reduplicate a preceding syllable.


The syllabary of standard modern Yi is as follows:[3]

  - b p bb nb hm m f v d t dd nd hn n hl l g k gg mg hx ng h w z c zz nz s ss zh ch rr nr sh r j q jj nj ny x y
  [p] [pʰ] [b] [m͡b] [m̥] [m] [f] [v] [t] [tʰ] [d] [n͡d] [n̥] [n] [ɬ] [l] [k] [kʰ] [ɡ] [ŋ͡ɡ] [h] [ŋ] [x] [ɣ] [t͡s] [t͡sʰ] [d͡z] [nd͡z] [s] [z] [t͡ʂ] [t͡ʂʰ] [d͡ʐ] [nd͡ʐ] [ʂ] [ʐ] [t͡ɕ] [t͡ɕʰ] [d͡ʑ] [nd͡ʑ] [ȵ] [ɕ] [ʑ]
it [i̋] ꀀ                  
ix [ǐ]                    
i [ī]                    
ip [î]                      
iet [ɛ̋]                                                      
iex [ɛ̌]                
ie [ɛ̄]                
iep [ɛ̂]                      
at [a̋]                  
ax [ǎ]              
a [ā]              
ap [â]                
uot [ɔ̋]                                                                
uox [ɔ̌]              
uo [ɔ̄]              
uop [ɔ̂]                            
ot [ő]            
ox [ǒ]
o [ō]    
op [ô]
et [ɯ̋]                                                                        
ex [ɯ̌]                      
e [ɯ̄]                        
ep [ɯ̂]                            
ut [ű]                    
ux [ǔ]              
u [ū]              
up [û]              
urx [ǔ̱]                  
ur [ū̱]                  
yt [ɿ̋]                                  
yx [ɿ̌]                                
y [ɿ̄]                                
yp [ɿ̂]                                
yrx [ɿ̱̌]                                        
yr [ɿ̱̄]                                        
    [p] [pʰ] [b] [m͡b] [m̥] [m] [f] [v] [t] [tʰ] [d] [n͡d] [n̥] [n] [ɬ] [l] [k] [kʰ] [ɡ] [ŋ͡ɡ] [h] [ŋ] [x] [ɣ] [t͡s] [t͡sʰ] [d͡z] [nd͡z] [s] [z] [t͡ʂ] [t͡ʂʰ] [d͡ʐ] [nd͡ʐ] [ʂ] [ʐ] [t͡ɕ] [t͡ɕʰ] [d͡ʑ] [nd͡ʑ] [ȵ] [ɕ] [ʑ]
- b p bb nb hm m f v d t dd nd hn n hl l g k gg mg hx ng h w z c zz nz s ss zh ch rr nr sh r j q jj nj ny x y

Yi in pinyin

The expanded pinyin letters used to write Yi are:


The consonant series are tenuis stop, aspirate, voiced, prenasalized, voiceless nasal, voiced nasal, voiceless fricative, voiced fricative, respectively. In addition, hl, l are laterals, and hx is [h]. V, w, ss, r, y are the voiced fricatives. With stops and affricates, voicing is shown by doubling the letter.

Plosive series

Labial: b [p], p [pʰ], bb [b], nb [m͡b], hm [m̥], m [m], f [f], v [v]
Alveolar: d [t], t [tʰ], dd [d], nd [n͡d], hn [n̥], n [n], hl [ɬ], l [l]
Velar: g [k], k [kʰ], gg [ɡ], mg [ŋ͡ɡ], hx [h], ng [ŋ], h [x], w [ɣ]

Affricate series

Alveolar: z [t͡s], c [t͡sʰ], zz [d͡z], nz [nd͡z], s [s], ss [z]
Retroflex: zh [t͡ʂ], ch [t͡ʂʰ], rr [d͡ʐ], nr [nd͡ʐ], sh [ʂ], r [ʐ]
Palatal: j [t͡ɕ], q [t͡ɕʰ], jj [d͡ʑ], nj [nd͡ʑ], ny [ȵ], x [ɕ], y [ʑ]


Transliteration i ie a uo o e u ur y yr
IPA Equivalent i ɛ a ɔ o ɯ u ɿ ɿ̱


An unmarked syllable has mid level tone (33), e.g. ā (or alternatively ). Other tones are shown by a final consonant:

t : high level tone (55), e.g. (or alternatively )
x : high rising tone (34), e.g. ǎ (or alternatively a˧˦)
p : low falling tone (21), e.g. â (or alternatively a˨˩)


The Unicode range for Modern Yi is U+A000 to U+A48C, and comprises 1,164 syllables (syllables with a diacritic mark are encoded separately, and are not decomposable into syllable plus combining diacritical mark) and one syllable iteration mark (U+A015, incorrectly named YI SYLLABLE WU). In addition, a set of 55 radicals for use in dictionary classification are encoded at U+A490 to U+A4C6.

Classical Yi has not yet been encoded in Unicode, but a proposal to encode 88,613 Classical Yi characters was made in 2007.[4]

See also


  1. ^ Wu Zili 武自立, Chuantong Yiwen 传统彝文 (Traditional Yi Script); in Zhongguo Shaoshu Minzu Wenzi (Beijing, 1991)
  2. ^ Ma Xueliang 马学良, Han Zang Yu Gailun 汉藏语概论 (A General Introduction to Sino-Tibetan Languages) (Beijing, 1991) page 568
  3. ^ Liangshan Yiyu Yuyan Gailun 凉山彝语语言概论 (Chengdu, 1983)
  4. ^ Preliminary Proposal to encode Classical Yi Characters (134 MB)

External links

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