How to Use

Written Forms of Yi Language

The Yi characters and Yiyu Pinyin romanization used in this book follow the Standard Table of Yi Characters in the Scheme for Yi Language Standardization. The standard is based on the Shypnra dialect as spoken in Xide County. One Yi character represents one syllable. Yiyu Pinyin is used as a pronunciation and indexing guide.

In Yiyu Pinyin the syllable-final consonants /t/, /x/, and /p/ represent high, mid-high, and low falling tones respectively. Double initial consonants represent voiced sounds. /n/ or /m/ preceding an initial consonant letter represents pre-nasalization. The letter combinations /ur/ and /yr/ represent tense vowel quality on their respective vowels. A /w/ standing alone represents reduplication of the preceding syllable. The Comparative Table of Yiyu Pinyin and IPA Symbols shows the IPA equivalents for the phonemes represented by the Yiyu Pinyin symbols.

Order of Entries/Sort Order

Single Character Entries

Characters are sorted according to the Standard Table of Yi Characters, beginning at the top left with syllables that consist of a vowel and tone only. The sort order proceeds down each column of the table in succession from left to right. All the characters that have the same combination of initial consonant and vowel are listed in order from the highest tone to the lowest tone. For example:

bit [pi⁵⁵] v. 挖;掏;拿出 pull out; dig out (e.g., potatoes, ear wax)v. 释放(使动) cause (a prisoner) to be released; set free

bi [pi³³] v. 读;念 read (out loud); study

bip [pi²¹] v. 划破;伤(使动) cut; break open; injure

Multi-character Entries

Multiple character words are listed separately from their first character and are sequenced according to the succeeding characters of each word. If the first character is the same, then the entry is ordered by comparing the second character and so on. For example:

ꃅꈑmu kup [mu³³khu²¹] n. 地气 steam that rises from the earth after a heavy rain or dew

ꃅꈯmu ggur [mu³³gu̱³³] n. 高空;空中 overhead; high altitude

Glossary Entries

Homographs and Senses

Items that have the same written form but unrelated meanings (homographs) are listed in separate entries with subscript numerals to distinguish them. For example:

1 mo [mo³³] v. 耕;犁 plow; till (the soil)

2 mo [mo³³] v. see; perceive

Numbered senses in a single entry indicate related meanings of the same word.

5 vat [va⁵⁵]v.烤(火) warm up or dry by a firev. 烙(饼) roast (a bread cake) in a pan

Variants and Antonyms

Some entries include a reference to an antonym or to a variant form of the word. Antonyms are preceded by “ ↔ ”.

A variant form may be a free variant (slightly different form of a word, widely used and accepted), a dialectal variant (widely used within a given dialect, but not considered standard); or a conditioned variant (a word whose tone has changed because of the context).

ꀊꃚ a fu [a³³fu³³] ( var. ꀊꉻ a ho ) adj . 粗(指圆柱形;条形) thick, not thin (of long, cylindrical things) ꀁꃚ ix fu

ꀊꉻ a ho [a³³xo³³] ( var. of ꀊꃚ a fu ) adj . thick; fat; big around (of long, cylindrical things) ꀁꉻ ix ho

In Nuosu Yi, words often experience tone changes. In particular, a low tone or mid-level tone can change to a mid-high tone. The glossary includes entries for the most common mid-high tone variants only. In other cases, users may find the desired entry listed with its original tone, either low or mid-level.


Many two syllable adjectives have a three syllable form in which the second syllable is reduplicated. These three syllable forms have a different shade of meaning and slightly different usage. They are listed as subentries after their two syllable forms and are punctuated with the symbol “ ▴ ”. For example:

ꀉꄜax ti [a³⁴thi³³] adj. 单(衣服) thin (of clothing)

ꀉꄜꀕ ax ti w

Many two syllable Nuosu Yi words have a four syllable counterpart with a very similar meaning. Compared to two syllable words, the meaning of the four syllable forms are more vivid and are frequently the preferred forms in classical literature as well as modern colloquial speech. Four syllable forms are listed as subentries after their two syllable counterparts and are punctuated with the symbol “ ” just before the subentry. For example:

ꑱꋏyit cyr [ʑi⁵⁵ʦhɿ̱³³] v. (与父母)分居 live apart from one’s parents

ꑱꋏꑱꇱ yit cyr yit gep

Finding a Yi word

Based on Its Pronunciation (Yiyu Pinyin)
  • Find the word in the Main Glossary based on standard Yi sort order, OR

  • Find the page number where the word is located using the Yi Character Index, OR

  • Find the page number where the word is located using the ABC Yi Pinyin Index. The ABC Pinyin Index arranges Yi syllables according to English alphabetical order. This lookup method is offered for the benefit of users who are more familiar with Latin based alphabets. The ABC Pinyin Index lists every Yi syllable, with the page number where its section begins in the Main Glossary. OR

  • Find the Yi syllable in the Yi Character Table. This table lists each Yi syllable, in standard order, with the page number where its section begins in the Main Glossary.

(Characters listed without a page number do not occur as the first character of any of the words in this glossary.)

Based on Its Written Yi Character

This method of finding a Yi character utilizes a certain part of each character known as a “radical”. Often, the radical is a single brush stroke, usually the first stroke made in writing the character. There are twenty six different Yi radicals, some of them having variant forms. Each character has only one radical that is used for indexing. To look up a Yi character,

  • Find its radical in the List of Yi Radicals and note the page number next to it.

  • Use this page number to find the Yi character according to its radical and the additional number of strokes required to write it, and note the page number next to the character.

  • Use this page number in the Main Glossary to find where that Yi character’s section begins.

(Characters listed without a page number do not occur as the first character of any of the words in this glossary.)

From an Equivalent Chinese or English Word

Lookup the Chinese or English word in the appropriate index. The index will list the Yi word and its Yiyu Pinyin, which can be used to find the Yi word in the Main Glossary.

In the Chinese – Yi Index, Chinese characters are sequenced according to their pinyin spelling, then tone, then number of strokes. Chinese words with the same first character are listed together and sequenced according to the pinyin, tone, and strokes of the second character, and so on. For example:

安 慰 ānwèi ꊂꈓꄀ wa kur dit.

安 装 ānzhuāng 6 cur.

鹌 鹑 ānchún ꎭꃬꀊꂂ sha va a nbox.

The English words in the English – Yi Index are listed in alphabetical order. For example:

liberate ꁌꄝ pu tip

lichee ꌧꐻ syp njot

lichen ꒊꂱ yyp mip

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