There are almost eight million Yi people in China.1 In one respect, since the Yi language group encompasses many regional variations, with wide differences in sounds, vocabulary, and grammar, there is a need for reference books that serve the entire group. On the other hand, since in recent years the breadth and depth of Yi culture have emerged on the international scene, bringing Chinese and foreign specialists to do language and cultural research, there is a need for multilingual reference materials that focus on a single dialect and include Yi, Chinese, and English, as well as International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) transcription. Also, in accord with China’s ongoing reforms of increasing openness, the hopes of Chinese people of every ethnicity—and especially those of Yi people—for interacting with the world, are more and more pressing. Yet, Nuosu Yi and the Scheme for Yi Language Standardization were authorized by the State Council in 1979 as representing the single orthography-in-practice for the Yi group. This has been used in publications under grants from the National Foundation for Social Sciences and the Sichuan Provincial Foundation for Social Sciences, such as the Scheme for Yi Language Standardization, Han Yi Cidian (Chengdu: Sichuan Minzu Chubanshe, 1989), Yiyu Da Cidian (Chengdu: Sichuan Minzu Chubanshe, 1997) and similar reference books. However, these works did not include such things as IPA transcriptions, part of speech labels, and three way vocabulary indexes. As a result these works are only useful to people who understand Nuosu Yi.

For these reasons, we in SIL International, the Southwest University for Nationalities, and the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs are providing support and funding to edit and publish this Nuosu Yi – Chinese – English Glossary to fill this gap and to facilitate the interaction between Chinese and foreign scholars as well as the general public.

Cooperative editing of the Nuosu Yi – Chinese – English Glossary was begun in April 2003, by Dennis Walters and Susan Walters of the East Asia Group of SIL International and Ma Linying of the Southwest Instititute for Ethnology of the Southwest University for Nationalities. In January 2003, the editors began to pursue a cooperative project to edit and publish this glossary. In April 2003, the Chinese partner applied for approval at the Southwest Institute of Ethnology of the Southwest University for Nationalities. In May 2003, the Chinese partner applied for approval at the Office for International Cooperation and Exchange of the Southwest University for Nationalities. In October 2004, the Chinese partner applied to the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs for permission to invite foreign partners to China to participate in the project, and received approval in September 2005. On September 22, 2005, the cooperating work units signed a formal cooperation agreement. On July 30, 2006, an initial draft was completed. In June 2007, the final draft was submitted to the publisher.

The words in this glossary represent the Nuosu Yi language, which belongs to the Northern Ngwi sub-branch of Burmic languages of the Tibeto-Burman language family.2 Liangshan Yi people call themselves Nuosu (in Yiyu Pinyin). Their language is referred to variously as Nuosu Yi, Nosu Yi, Northern Yi, Sichuan Yi, or Liangshan Yi. It is spoken by more than two million people living in the Liangshan region of southern Sichuan and northern Yunnan provinces.3

Nuosu Yi has 43 syllable initials. A distinction is made between sets of prenasalized, voiced, voiceless, and aspirated initial consonants. There are ten vowels, including a contrasting tense and lax set, and no dipthongs. There are four contrastive tones. There are no closed syllables. The lexicon includes one, two, three, and four syllable words, as well as many compounds. Most loan words in Nuosu Yi come from Chinese.

Nuosu Yi uses reduplication to form questions and to add emphasis to modifiers. Function words follow content words to indicate direction, time, manner, location, reason, reference, comparison, and means. In a clause, subject and object come before the verb. Nouns and pronouns acting as modifiers are placed before the head noun. Adjectives and numbers acting as modifiers are placed after the head noun.

This glossary includes words from the Yi – Chinese Glossary (Sichuan Minority Affairs Commission Yi Language Work Group and Liangshan Language Affairs Guiding Committee, unpublished 1978) and the Yi – Chinese Character Dictionary (Chengdu: Sichuan Minzu Chubanshe 1988). The Chinese and English definitions were compiled and checked through interviews, glossing of texts, conversation, and personal observation.

The main glossary lists approximately 6,200 frequently used words, along with more than 300 four syllable expressions and more than 100 three syllable forms as subentries, totaling approximately 6,600 words. Main entries are printed in Yi characters and followed by Yiyu Pinyin, IPA transcription, part of speech, Chinese definition, and English definition, with some entries including antonym references and/or subentries for related three or four syllable expressions.

This book is mainly for three kinds of people: Nuosu Yi people studying Chinese and/or English; linguists and anthropologists both inside and outside China; and development workers who work in the Liangshan region. The editors are pleased to offer the benefits of a concise, multi-functional, and multilingual reference work, in print and electronic formats, yet our abilities and time constraints leave this volume imperfect in many ways. Accordingly, we welcome correspondence and feedback to improve the materials. Send email to: MA Linying; Dennis Walters; Susan Walters.

The Editors of

Nuosu Yi – Chinese – English Glossary

June 2008

Chengdu, Sichuan

1 In the year 2000 there were 7.90 million Yi people in China. (The Tabulation on Nationalities of 2000 Population Census of China. Beijing: Minzu Chubanshe, 2003)

2 David Bradley proposes “Ngwi” as the most probable autonym of the ancestors of the speakers of Burmic languages. (“East and South East Asia” in Atlas of World Languages, ed. by R. E. Asher and Christopher Moseley. London: Routledge, 2006)

3 The year 2000 China census shows 2.16 million Yi people in Sichuan province.

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