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Documentation of the Namuyi Language


Language Namuyi
Depositor Chenglong Huang
Affiliation Institute of Ethnology and Anthropogy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Location China
Collection ID 0217
Grant ID IPF0130
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

Namuyi is an endangered Qiangic language of the Tibeto-Burman family spoken along the lower reaches of the Yalong River in south-western Sichuan Province, China. It has a reported 200 monolinguals and an ethnic population of 5,000.

The collection will include a 5,000-entry trilingual (Chinese-English-Namuyi) lexicon, a volume of annotated texts, and a bilingual (Chinese & English) web site. All of the materials will include digital audio and video documentation. A reference grammar of Namuyi will also be written.


Group represented

Namuyi (Namuzi) is a Qiangic Tibeto-Burman language spoken by a group of people residing in south-western Sichuan Province of China, along the lower reaches of the Yalong River. The Yalong River marks the demarcation between speakers of the Eastern and Western Namuyi languages. Those that reside to the west of the Yalong river in Muli Tibetan Autonomous County in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture and Jiulong (Gyaisi) County in the Ganzi (Garzê) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture speak the Western Namuyi language, while those residing to the east of the Yalong river in Mianning County, Yanyuan County, and Xichang municipality of Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture speak the Eastern Namuyi language. Though the Eastern and the Western Namuyi have always been regarded in China as two dialects spoken by the Namuyi people of different geographic areas, the two ‘dialects’ however, are not mutually intelligible.

The Namuyi speakers were classified by the Chinese authorities in the 1950’s as belonging to a sub-group of the Tibetan nationality. This project will focus on the documentation of the variety of Eastern Namuyi spoken in Mianning County, a language very much underrecorded due to the general belief that it is just one of the dialects spoken by Namuyi speakers.

Before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the speakers of Namuyi, together with speakers of Prinmi (Pumi) and Ersu, were just generally called Xifan (Western Barbarians), though Namuyi was mentioned in a book written during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD). Those who inhabit Mianning County, Yanyuan County and Xichang call themselves Namuyi, and speak not only Eastern Namuyi but also South-western Mandarin Chinese and the Yi language as well. Those who live in Muli Tibetan Autonomous County call themselves Namuzi, and speak Western Namuyi, South-western Mandarin and Khams Tibetan, but not Eastern Namuyi. And those who inhabit Jiulong County speak Western Namuyi, South-western Mandarin, and the Pumi language.

As mentioned above, after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese government officially classified Namuyi speakers as a sub-group of the Tibetan nationality. It was not until in the 1980’s that the language was identified.

To date, there are no reliable census figures for the Namuyi speakers. Based on Sun’s (2000) conjecture, Ethnologue (Gordon 2005) gives the following figures for the Namuyi population: total population of 4,000 (this figure includes both Western and Eastern Namuyi speakers), around 200 monolingual (mainly older speakers), around 2,000 bilingual in Chinese, around 500 bilingual in Yi, and around 500 bilingual in Pumi; with the rest bilingual in Khams Tibetan or Ersu. However, the number of speakers has been decreasing rapidly due to the onesided effect of intense language contact. Furthermore, due to socio-economic and political factors, Namuyi is only used in the home and local villages; in other circumstances the Namuyi people use Chinese, Tibetan or Yi. Eastern and Western Namuyi speakers even use Chinese to communicate with each other. The continuing intensity of language contact, the low social and economic status of the language speakers, the very small number of monolingual speakers, the lack of a modern writing system, and the rapid modernization in China in recent years, are all factors quite evident in the Namuyi situation which guarantee the eventual demise of the language in the not too distant future.


Language information

Qiangic language of the Tibeto-Burman family.


Special characteristics

Sun (1983a, 1983b, 2001) was the first to argue that Namuyi is a separate language, which he
placed in the Qiangic branch, along with Qiang, Tangut, and Pumi, as well as some other languages which are spoken by people classified as belonging the Zang (Tibetan) nationality, such as Ergong, Muya, Ersu, Guiqiong, Queyu, Zhaba, Namuyi and Lawurong, though Huang (1991) still considers Namuyi as unclassified within the Tibeto-Burman family. Lama (1994) compared Namuyi with core languages of the Qiangic, Lolo-Burmese, and Bodish branches, and argues that Namuyi belongs not to the Qiangic branch, but to the Lolo-Burmese branch. The exact position of Namuyi within Tibeto-Burman remains uncertain.

Namuyi has its own unique culture and linguistic features which are different from Tibetan, Chinese and other neighbouring languages (it is verb-final, dependent marking and tonal; has prenasalized and post-initial consonant cluster onsets, no consonantal codas, tense-lax vowel
distinction, nasalized and retroflexed vowels, directional prefixes, no person marking; the demonstrative occurs before the head of the NP; adjectives and the number-classifier phrase follow the head). Other than the problem of language identity and the lack of attention in formal academia, the areas the Namuyi speakers inhabit are heavily surrounded by speakers of powerful and influential languages such as Chinese, Tibetan and Yi, and also of smaller languages such as Pumi and Ersu.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Huang, Chenlong. 2010. Documentation of the Namuyi Language. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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