Be (native pronunciation: [ʔɑŋ˧ɓe˧]), also known as Ong Be, Bê, or Vo Limgao (Chinese: 臨高; pinyin: Lín'gāo), is a language spoken by 600,000 people, 100,000 of them monolingual, on the north-central coast of Hainan Island, including the suburbs of the provincial capital Haikou. The speakers are being counted as part of "Han Chinese" nationality in census. According to Ethnologue, it is taught in primary schools.
Be speakers refer to themselves as ʔaŋ33 vo33, with ʔaŋ33 being the prefix for persons and vo33 meaning 'village' (Liang 1997:1). Liang (1997) notes that it is similar to the autonym ŋaːu11 fɔːn11 (from ŋaːu11 'person' and fɔːn11 'village'), by which Gelong 仡隆 (Cun language) speakers refer to themselves.
Be is a Kra–Dai language, but its precise relationship to other branches within the Kra-Dai family has yet not been conclusively determined. Hansell (1988) considers Be to be a sister of the Tai branch based on shared vocabulary, and proposes a Be–Tai grouping.
Weera Ostapirat (1998), analyzing data from Zhang (1992), notes that Be and Jizhao share many lexical similarities and sound correspondences, and that Jizhao may be a remnant Be-related language on the Chinese mainland.
Be consists of the Lincheng 临城 (Western) and Qiongshan 琼山 (Eastern) dialects (Liang 1997). Liang (1997:32) documents the following varieties of Be.
- Lingao County (including Lincheng 临城镇 and Xinying 新盈镇 towns)
- Bailian 白莲, Chengmai County
- Longtang Township 龙塘镇, Qiongshan District
Be of Chengmai is intermediate between the Lincheng and Qiongshan dialects, and has features of both (Liang 1997).
Chen (2018) contains extensive comparative lexical data for the Be dialects of Changliu (長流), Yongxing (永興), Longtang (龍塘), Qiaotou (橋頭), Huangtong (皇桐), and Xinying (新盈). The Qiaotou, Huangtong, and Xinying dialects are unintelligible with the Changliu, Yongxing, Longtang, and Shishan (石山) dialects. Chen (2018) also reconstructs Proto-Ong-Be on the basis of this comparative lexical data.
Chen (2018: 82) classifies the Ong-Be dialects into two groups, which are mutually unintelligible with each other.
- Western Ong-Be
- Qiaotou 橋頭
- Huangtong 皇桐
- Maniao 馬裊
- Lincheng 臨城
- Jialai 加來
- Meiliang 美良
- Xinying 新盈
- Eastern Ong-Be
- Longtang 龍塘
- Longqiao 龍橋
- Longquan 龍泉 (formerly Shizilu 十字路)
- Yongxing 永興
- Shishan 石山
- Changliu 長流
- Laocheng 老城
Liang (1997:16) considers Be to have migrated to Hainan from the Leizhou Peninsula of Guangdong about 2,500 years ago during the Warring States Period, but not over 3,000 years ago. Liang & Zhang (1996:21-25) also believe that Be had migrated from the Leizhou Peninsula to northern Hainan about 2,500 years ago during the Warring States period.
- List of Proto-Ong-Be reconstructions (Wiktionary)
- Be at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
- Hansell, Mark. 1988. The Relation of Be to Tai: Evidence from Tones and Initials. In Comparative Kadai: Linguistic studies beyond Tai. Edited by Jerold A. Edmondson and David B. Solnit. Summer Institute of Linguistics and The University of Texas at Arlington Publications in Linguistics No. 86: 239-288.
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Western Ong-Be". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- "Lingao". Ethnologue: Languages of the World. n.d. Retrieved 2018-12-18.
- Ostapirat, W. (1998). A Mainland Bê Language? / 大陆的Bê语言？. Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 26(2), 338-344
- Zhang Zhenxing [张振兴]. 1992. "Guangdongsheng Wuchuan fangyan jilve" [广东省吴川方言记略]. In Fangyan [方言] 1992(3).
- Liang Min 梁敏 & Zhang Junru 张均如. 1996. Dongtai yuzu gailun 侗台语族概论 / An introduction to the Kam–Tai languages. Beijing: China Social Sciences Academy Press 中国社会科学出版社. ISBN 9787500416814
- Liang Min [梁敏]. 1997. A study of Lingao [临高语研究]. Shanghai: Shanghai Far Eastern Publishing House [上海远东出版].
- Chen, Yen-ling. 2018. Proto-Ong-Be. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Hawaii at Manoa.