Loloish languages

Yi, Ngwi, Nisoic
Ethnicity: Yi people
Southern China and Southeast Asia
Linguistic classification:


Proto-language: Proto-Loloish
Glottolog: lolo1267[1]
L1 speakers of Ngwi languages and other Sino-Tibetan languages according to Ethnologue

The Loloish languages, also known as Yi in China and occasionally Ngwi (Bradley 1997) or Nisoic (Lama 2012), are a family of fifty to a hundred Sino-Tibetan languages. They are most closely related to Burmese and its relatives. Both the Loloish and Burmish branches are well defined, as is their superior node, Lolo–Burmese. However, subclassification is more contentious. All Loloish languages show significant Austroasiatic influence.[2]


Loloish is the traditional name for the family. Some publications avoid the term under the misapprehension that Lolo is pejorative. Lolo is the Chinese rendition of the autonym of the Yi people, and it is only pejorative when written with a particular Chinese character (one that uses a beast rather than human radical), a practice that was prohibited by the Chinese government in the 1950s.[3]

David Bradley uses the name Ngwi, which is also used by Ethnologue, and Lama (2012) uses Nisoic. Paul K. Benedict coined the term Yipho, from Yi and a common autonym element (-po or -pho), but it never gained wide usage.

Internal classification

Loloish is traditionally divided into a northern branch, with Lisu and the numerous Yi languages, and a southern branch, with everything else. However, per Bradley (1997) and Thurgood (2003:8) there is also a central branch, with languages from both northern and southern. Bradley (2002, 2007) adds a fourth, southeastern branch:

Ugong is divergent; Bradley (1997) places it with the Burmish languages. The Tujia language is difficult to classify due to massive influence from both Yi and Chinese. Bai also has numerous connections to Loloish, but its oldest core of vocabulary appears to be Old Chinese, and so it may be a Sinitic rather than Loloish language. Other unclassified Loloish languages are Gokhy (Gɔkhý), Ayizi and Chesu ('Northern'), Lopi, Ache, Limi, and Mili.

Lama (2012)

Lama (2012) classified 36 Lolo–Burmese languages based on computational analyses of shared phonological innovations. He finds the Mondzish languages to be a separate branch of Lolo-Burmese, which Lama considers to have split off before Burmish did. The rest of the Loloish languages are as follows:


Hanoish: Jinuo, Akha–Hani, etc. (See)

Lahoish: Lahu (Kucong)

Naxish: Naxi, Namuyi

Nusoish: Nusu, Zauzou (Rouruo)


Kazhuoish: Kazhuo (Katso), Samu (Samatao), Sanie

Lisoish: Lisu, Lolopo, etc. (See)

Nisoish: Nisu, Pholo, Axi, etc. (See)

The Nisoish, Lisoish, and Kazhuoish clusters are closely related, forming a clade ("Ni-Li-Ka") at about the same level as the other five branches of Loloish. Lama's Naxish clade has been classified as Qiangic rather than Loloish by Guillaume Jacques & Alexis Michaud (2011)[4] (see Qiangic languages).

Lesser-known languages


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Loloish". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. Thurgood & LaPolla, 2003, The Sino-Tibetan languages, p. 9
  3. Benedict, Paul K. (1987). "Autonyms: ought or ought not." Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 10: 188. Italics in original.
  4. Jacques, Guillaume, and Alexis Michaud. 2011. "Approaching the historical phonology of three highly eroded Sino-Tibetan languages." Diachronica 28:468-498.
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