Naxi language

Naxi (also known as Nakhi, Nasi, Lomi, Moso, or Mo-su) is a Sino-Tibetan language spoken by some 300,000 people mostly concentrated in the Lijiang Naxi Autonomous County (Lìjiāng Nàxīzú Zìzhìxiàn 丽江纳西族自治县) of the province of Yunnan, China. Nakhi is also the name of the ethnic group that speaks it.


That the language is closely related to the Burmese-Yi languages is largely undisputed; however views vary on whether to include it within this group, or to make it a sibling to the group (constituting the Burmese-Yi-Naxi languages. No matter which view is taken, it is clearly a Tibeto-Burman language.

The syntactic structure is similar to other Tibeto-Burmese languages spoken in Yunnan.


According to the 2000 Chinese census, 308,839 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 Myanmar. Usage of the language is strong and the language is in little danger of dying out soon. Approximately 75,000 people are literate in the language, and it is taught in public schools and spoken in local government offices and markets. Much of the media in Lijiang Naxi Autonomous County is in Naxi. It can be written in the Dongba script, the Naxi script, the Latin alphabet, or the Geba script.

The three most common dialects are Lijian, Lapao, and Lutien. Lijiang, which is spoken in the western parts of the language's range, is the most uniform of the three. The eastern dialects, which are much more unstable, have many internal differences.

Nakhi is also the name of an official nationality that speaks Naxi. They generally resent usage of the old term "Moso".

Naxi phonemes


Labial Labiodental Dental Retroflex Alveolo-palatal Palatal Velar Glottal
Voiceless stop p t c k ʔ
Aspirated stop
Voiced stop b d ɟ g
Prenasalized stop mb nd ɲɟ ŋg
Voiceless affricate ʦ ʨ
Aspirated affricate ʦʰ tʂʰ ʨʰ
Voiced affricate ʣ ʥ
Prenasalized affricate nʣ n nʥ
Voiceless fricative f s ʂ ɕ x
Voiced fricative v z ʐ ʑ ɣ
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Lateral l
Flap or trill r
Semivowel w, ɥ j


In the Lijiang dialect, there are nine vowels. They are: . There are four tones: high level, mid-level, low level, and low rising.


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  • Fang Guoyu 方国瑜 and He Zhiwu 和志武. 1995. Nàxī Xiàngxíng Wénź Pǔ (A dictionary of Naxi pictographic characters) (纳西象形文字谱). Kunming: Yunnan Renmin Chubanshe.
  • Fu Maoji 傅懋勣. 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.
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  • Michaud, A. (2006). Tonal reassociation and rising tonal contours in Naxi. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 29, 61-94. 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.


  • 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.
  • Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.), 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Online version:

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