Tai Nuea language

Tai Nuea (Tai Nüa: ᥖᥭᥰᥖᥬᥳᥑᥨᥒᥰ) (also called Tai Nɯa, Tai Nüa, Dehong Dai, or Chinese Shan; own name: Tai2 Lə6, which means "upper Tai" or "northern Tai", or ᥖᥭᥰᥖᥬᥳᥑᥨᥒᥰ [tai taɯ xoŋ]; Chinese: Dǎinàyǔ 傣那语 or Déhóng Dǎiyǔ 德宏傣语; Thai: ภาษาไทเหนือ, pronounced [pʰāːsǎː tʰāj nɯ̌a] or ภาษาไทใต้คง, pronounced [pʰāːsǎː tʰāj tâːj.kʰōŋ]) is one of the languages spoken by the Dai people in China, especially in the Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture in the southwest of Yunnan province. It is closely related to the other Tai languages. Speakers of this language across the border in Myanmar are known as Shan.[citation needed] It should not be confused with Tai Lü (Xishuangbanna Dai). There are also Tai Nuea speakers in Thailand.

Tai Nuea
Pronunciation[tai taɯ xoŋ][need tone]
Native toChina, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos
RegionSouthwest China
Native speakers
(720,000 cited 1983–2007)[1]
Tai Le alphabet
Official status
Official language in
co-official in Dehong, China
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
tdd – Tai Nüa
thi – Tai Long
Glottologtain1252  Tai Nua[2]
tail1247  Tai Long[3]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.


Most Tai Nuea people call themselves tai˥lə˧, which means 'upper Tai' or 'northern Tai'. Note that this is different from Tai Lue, which is pronounced tai˥lɪ˦˧ in Tai Nuea.

Dehong is a transliteration of the term taɨ˧˩xoŋ˥, where taɨ˧˩ means 'bottom, under, the lower part (of)', and xoŋ˥ means 'the Hong River' (more widely known as the Salween River or Nujiang 怒江 in Chinese) (Luo 1998).


Zhou (2001:13) classifies Tai Nuea into the Dehong (德宏) and Menggeng (孟耿) dialects. Together, they add up to a total of 541,000 speakers.

Ethnologue also recognizes Tai Long of Laos as a separate language. It is spoken by 4,800 people (as of 2004) in Luang Prabang Province, Laos.


Tai Nuea is a tonal language with a very limited inventory of syllables with no consonant clusters. 16 syllable-initial consonants can be combined with 84 syllable finals and six tones.



Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain sibilant
Nasal [m] [n] [ŋ]
Plosive tenuis [p] [t] [t͡s] [k] [ʔ]
aspirated [pʰ] [tʰ] (t͡sʰ)* (kʰ)*
Fricative [f] [s] [x] [h]
Approximant [l] [j] [w]

*(kʰ) and (tsʰ) occur in loanwords


Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal [m] [n] [ŋ]
Plosive [p] [t] [k]
Approximant [w] [j]

Vowels and diphthongsEdit

Tai Nuea has ten vowels and 13 diphthongs:

Front Central-Back Back
High /i/ /ɯ/ /u/
Mid /e/ /ə/ /o/
Low / ɛ/ /a/
Tai Nuea's dipthongs are iu, eu, ɛu; ui, oi, ɔi; əi, əu; ai, aɯ, au; aːi, aːu


Tai Nuea has six tones:

  • 1. rising [˨˦] (24)
  • 2. high falling [˥˧] (53) or high level [˥] (55)
  • 3. low level [˩] (11)
  • 4. low falling [˧˩] (31)
  • 5. mid falling [˦˧] (43) or high falling [˥˧] (53)
  • 6. mid level [˧] (33)

Syllables with p, t, k as final consonants can have only one of three tones (1., 3., or 5.).

Writing systemEdit

The Tai Le script is closely related to other Southeast-Asian writing systems such as the Thai alphabet and is thought to date back to the 14th century.

The original Tai Nuea spelling did not generally mark tones and failed to distinguish several vowels. It was reformed to make these distinctions, and diacritics were introduced to mark tones. The resulting writing system was officially introduced in 1956. In 1988, the spelling of tones was reformed; special tone letters were introduced instead of the earlier Latin diacritics.

The modern alphabet has a total of 35 letters, including the five tone letters. It is encoded under the name "Tai Le" in the Basic Multilingual Plane of Unicode at U+1950-U+1974.

Tai Le[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
1.^ As of Unicode version 13.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

The Tai Nuea numerals are similar to Myanmar numerals; they are in fact unified with Myanmar's numerals in Unicode (U+1040-U+1049) despite some glyph variations.

The transcription below is given according to the Unicode tables.


Letter Transcription IPA Letter Transcription IPA Letter Transcription IPA
k [k] x [x] ng [ŋ]
ts [ts] s [s] y [j]
t [t] th [tʰ] l [l]
p [p] ph [pʰ] m [m]
f [f] v [w]
h [h] q [ʔ]
kh [kʰ] tsh [tsʰ] n [n]

Vowels and diphthongsEdit

Consonants that are not followed by a vowel letter are pronounced with the inherent vowel [a]. Other vowels are indicated with the following letters:

Letter Transcription IPA Letter Transcription IPA
a [aː]
i [i] u [u]
ee [e] oo [o]
eh [ɛ] o [ɔ]
ue [ɯ] e [ə]
aue [aɯ] ai [ai]

Diphthongs are formed by combining some vowel letters with the consonant [w] and some vowel letters with ᥭ [ai]/[j].


In the Thai and Tai Lü writing systems, the tone value in the pronunciation of a written syllable depends on the tone class of the initial consonant, vowel length and syllable structure. In contrast, the Tai Nuea writing system has a very straightforward spelling of tones, with one letter (or diacritic) for each tone.

A tone mark is put at the end of syllable whatever it is consonant or vowel. Examples in the table show the syllable [ta] in different tones, in old (1956) and new (1988) spellings.

Number New Old
1. ᥖᥴ ᥖ́
2. ᥖᥰ ᥖ̈
3. ᥖᥱ ᥖ̌
4. ᥖᥲ ᥖ̀
5. ᥖᥳ ᥖ̇

The sixth tone (mid level) is not marked. And if a checked syllable having the fifth tone, it is also not marked.

Language useEdit

Tai Nuea has official status in some parts of Yunnan (China), where it is used on signs and in education. Yunnan People's Radio Station (Yúnnán rénmín guǎngbō diàntái 云南人民广播电台) broadcasts in Tai Nuea. On the other hand, however, very little printed material is published in Tai Nuea in China. However, many signs of roads and stores in Mangshi are in Tai Nuea.

In Thailand, a collection of 108 proverbs was published with translations into Thai and English.[4]


  1. ^ Tai Nüa at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Tai Long at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Tai Nua". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Tai Long". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Thawi Swangpanyangkoon and Edward Robinson. 1994. (2537 Thai). Dehong Tai proverbs. Sathaban Thai Suksa, Chulalankorn Mahawitayalai.
  • Chantanaroj, Apiradee. 2007. A Preliminary Sociolinguistic Survey of Selected Tai Nua Speech Varieties. Master's thesis, Payap University.
  • Luo Yongxian. 1998. A dictionary of Dehong, Southwest China. Pacific Linguistics Series C, no. 145. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Roong-a-roon Teekhachunhatean รุ่งอรุณ ทีฆชุณหเถียร: Reflections on Tai Dehong Society from Language Point of View. In: Journal of Language and Linguistics 18.2 (January–June 2000), pp. 71–82.
  • Zhōu Yàowén 周耀文, Fāng Bólóng 方伯龙, Mèng Zūnxiàn 孟尊贤: Déhóng Dǎiwén 德宏傣文 (Dehong Dai). In: Mínzú yǔwén 《民族语文》 1981.3.
  • Zhou Yaowen, Luo Meizhen / 周耀文, 罗美珍. 2001. 傣语方言硏究 : 语音, 词汇, 文字 / Dai yu fang yan yan jiu: yu yin, ci hui, wen zi. Beijing: 民族出版社 / Min zu chu ban she.
  • Zhāng Gōngjǐn 张公瑾: Dǎiwén jí qí wénxiàn 傣文及其文献 (The Dai language and Dai documents). In: Zhōngguóshǐ yánjiū dòngtài 《中国史研究动态》 1981.6.
  • Neua (Na) in Yunnan (PRC) and the LPDR: a minority and a "non-minority" in the Chinese and Lao political systems, Jean A. Berlie, School of Oriental and African Studies editor, University of London, London, United Kingdom 1993.

External linksEdit