A language of China

Alternate Names
Black Yi, Liangshan Yi, Northern Yi, Nosu Yi, Sichuan Yi

2,000,000 (2000 census), increasing. 1,200,000 monolinguals (Jiafa 1994).


Sichuan and Yunnan provinces: over 40 counties mainly in Greater and Lesser Liangshan mountains.

Language Maps
Language Status

4 (Educational). Language of recognized nationality: Yi.


Northern Shypnra, Southern Shypnra, Yynuo, Suondi (Adu). Chinese linguists recognize 3 primary dialects: Shengzha (standard), Northern (Lindimu-Yinuo), and Southern (Adur-Suondi) (Bradley 2007b). Some dialects, such as Lindimu, are likely distinct languages.

Language Use

Many Chinese loan words are appearing. All domains. Used by all. Positive attitudes. Some also use Mandarin Chinese [cmn]. Also use Narua [nru], Naxi [nxq]. Used as L2 by Narua [nru].

Language Development

Literacy rate in L1: Moderate in central Liangshan. Low elsewhere. Literacy rate in L2: Moderate. Nearly all literate Nuosu are literate in Chinese; some are also literate in Nuosu. Written Nuosu is used in rituals by shamans in every community. Some educated Nuosu use standardized syllabary in academic contexts. The culture is orally oriented so most would not think of writing a letter or a set of procedures in Nuosu, nor would they think of reading written instructions. The educated prefer to write in Chinese for these tasks. Taught in primary and secondary schools. Literature. Newspapers. Periodicals. Dictionary. Grammar. Bible: 2016.


Latin script [Latn], 1951–1957, 1958–1960, and from 1975. Yi script [Yiii], standardized, used since 1975, official (1980), primary usage.

Other Comments

When applied to the Nuosu, terms Black Yi (Hei Yi) and White Yi (Bai Yi) refer to caste distinctions rather than to ethnic or linguistic distinctions. However, the same terms often do refer to ethnic and linguistic distinctions when applied to Yi groups in Yunnan. Also, some outsiders refer to Nuosu as Black Yi. Traditional religion, Christian.

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