Yi is a member of the Loloish branch of the Tibeto-Burman languages spoken by about 4 or 5 million people in Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi in southern China.
Yi, which is known as 彝 in Chinese and Lolo in English, has six main dialects: Northern Yi (ꆈꌠ - Nuosu), Western Yi (Lalu), Central Yi (Lolopo), Southern Yi (Nisu), Southeastern Yi (Nasu) and Eastern Yi (Nasu). There is limited mutual intelligibility between them.
Northern Yi has the most speakers - about 2 million - and is spoken south-western Sichuan, mainly in the Liangshan Yi Nationality Autonomous Region (凉山彝族自治州), and in Northern Yunnan.
A method of writing the Liangshang dialect of Yi with the Latin alphabet was proposed in 1956, and a standardised version of the Yi script was devised in 1974. It was used experimentally from 1975, and offically from 1980.
The origins of the Yi script are unknown, though it is believed that it was invented during the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) by Aki (阿畸 or 阿〇). The earliest known examples of Yi writing date from 1485 but some of the numerous manuscripts and monumental inscriptions in the Yi script might be older than that.
The syllabary was used for religious, magical and medical texts for many centuries mainly by priests, or pimu. Until 1975 there was no standardised Yi script and there was considerable regional variation in how the characters were written.
The standardized Yi script uses a total of 1,165 characters to represent Liangshang Yi. 819 of those characters are used to write all the possible syllable/tone combinations for the three basic tones (high level, mid level and low falling), while another 345 represent syllables with the secondary high tone.
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Hear how to pronounce Yi:
Muxhlie : Comrade, where do you come from?
Muxrryr : I am originally from Xide.
Muxhlie : Are you Yi or Han nationality?
Muxrryr : I am Yi.
Muxhlie : Your hometown is a peaceful place I suppose.
Muxrryr : Quiet and peaceful.
Muxhlie : Have you had a good harvest there this year?
Muxrryr : We had a bumper harvest.
Nbo ma mu viex jjux jjo, nzy ddu i qix jjy yyx mu jjo sat. Nbo wox ngop mge si nip bbop hxie nyi jjo, ddix ap bbop hmap zyt hnip mop mu jjo tat xi.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with
reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Free Yi fonts
Information about the Yi people (in Chinese)
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