Na (endonym: /nɑ˩-ʐwɤ˧/, i.e. "Na language") is spoken in an area straddling the boundary between the Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan, in the vicinity of lake Lugu (lo˧ʂv̩˩-hi˩nɑ˧mi˧): see map. The total number of speakers was estimated at about 40,000 on the basis of early surveys (He Jiren & Jiang Zhuyi 1985:107); the same figure is taken up by Yang Zhenhong (2009).

Na is a member of the Naish group of languages, a lower-level grouping within Sino-Tibetan that also includes Naxi and Laze: see the tentative family tree at the bottom of this page, reproduced from a historical study of Na, Naxi and Laze. In Chinese, the Na language is commonly referred to as Mos(u)o (摩梭). Book-length linguistic analyses include Lidz (2010) and Michaud (2017), both available online.

In 2010, Na was granted an entry of its own, under the romanized name Narua, in the inventory of languages maintained by the Summer Institute of Linguistics (code: NRU), whereas it used to be classified as a dialect of Naxi. The former language code NBF is now split into Naxi proper (new code: NXQ), on the one hand, and Narua (code: NRU), on the other.

Most of the documents presented here are from the plain of Yongning 永宁 (Na name: /ɬi˧di˩-di˩mi˩/; click here to read a blog about fieldwork in Yongning). Some recordings from the village of Labai 拉伯 are also presented. 

Here is the table of contents of this page.


Dialect of the Yongning plain

1. Narratives

Transcribed and translated narratives

As of 2017, about twenty transcribed narratives are available. Eight of them have word-level, sentence-level and text-level translations into Chinese and French; to date, only one of these ("The sister's wedding", version 1) has English glosses. The others have word-level, sentence-level and text-level translations into French; some also have Chinese translations. 

If you have suggestions for improvements, or if you are willing to contribute a translation of one (or more) of the texts into another language (either English, or another language), you are most welcome to get in touch . A number of narratives have not yet been transcribed; they are nonetheless made available for people who have a command of the language, from native speakers to motivated students.

All of these narratives were told by Ms. Latami Dashilame. Some explanations about the process of collecting these texts are provided further down, below the list of narratives

In the narratives, the surface-phonological tones are indicated in the transcription at the sentence level, and lexical (underlying) tones in the word-by-word glosses. This makes it possible to study the numerous tonal processes at play in Na.

The explanation of the icons used here is as follows:
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Click on this icon to access the text, with synchronized access to the sound file.
Note that you should wait until the entire sound file has been loaded before clicking the 'Play/Stop' buttons for individual sentences. 
This icon indicates that an electroglottographic signal was recorded together with the audio. Click to access, right-click to download.

aThe sister's wedding (version 1)
Date recorded: 2006.
aThe sister's wedding (version 2)
Date recorded: 2007.
aThe sister's wedding (version 3)
Date recorded: 2008.

This myth narrates the origin of the ritual called "sɯ˧kʰɯ˩", which is conducted after the decease of a woman who got married and therefore left the house where she was born. Marriage stands in contradiction to the earlier Na family structure: traditionally, children spent their entire lives in their mother's home, together with their relatives on the mother's side (their brothers and sisters, their mother's brothers and sisters, their cousins on the mother's side, and so on). The ritual "sɯ˧kʰɯ˩" reflects the pain that Chinese-style (virilocal) marriage represents for the bride's family, as it loosens the ties between a woman and her original home. Three versions recorded over three years are presented here. The first version has translations into English and French at the levels of the word, the sentence and the entire text. The second has not yet been transcribed. The third has translations into Chinese and French at the sentence and text levels, and word glosses in French. From a technical (acoustical) point of view, the third recording is the best.
aHow the Lake was created (version 1)
Date recorded: 2006.
aHow the Lake was created (version 2)
Date recorded: 2007.
aHow the Lake was created (version 3)
Date recorded: 2008.
aHow the Lake was created (version 4)
Date recorded: 2011.

The lake of /lo˧ʂv̩˩/, called "Lugu lake" (泸沽湖) in Chinese, is simply referred to in Na as 'the Lake', /hi˩nɑ˧mi˧/. It has a central place in the geography of the Na territory, and is one of the main symbolic places of Na/Mosuo culture. This legend tells how the Lake results from a flood caused by the greed of men. It also explains the origin of the boats traditionally used on the lake. Three versions of this story were recorded in 2006, 2007 and 2008; the speaker selected the third as the most satisfactory, hence the choice of this version for transcription. The fourth version is longer and more detailed.

aAgriculture (version 1)
Date recorded: 2007.
aAgriculture (version 2)
Date recorded: 2012.

This is an explanation about the agricultural activities that follow one another in the course of one year.

aTiger (version 1)
Date recorded: 2011.
aTiger (version 2)
Date recorded: 2012.

This is a tale about the dangers of the forests high up on the mountains, where wild beasts are the mysterious instruments of heavenly justice.

aDog (version 1) 
Date recorded: 2011.

aDog (version 2)
Date recorded: 2012.

Once upon a time, dogs and men exchanged their lifespan. This tale explains the symbolic ties between dog and man in Na culture.

Date recorded: 2011.
This is the story of a poor family. The mother urges the father to go and steal some food but he cannot reconcile himself to the thought of acting badly. In the end the heavens reward him for his undeviating honesty.

aHousebuilding: the process of building a house (version 1)  (date recorded: 2011)

aHousebuilding: the process of building a house (version 2)
Date recorded: 2012.

This is a narrative, in conversational mode, about the process of building a house.


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Transcribed narratives for which only sentence- and text-level translations are currently available:

aBuried alive (version 1)
Date recorded: 2011. 
aBuried alive (version 2) 
Date recorded: 2012. [Only French translations have been provided so far.]
aBuried alive (version 3) 
Date recorded: 2012. (Note: this is the narrator's preferred version.)

This story tells how a young woman ran into great trouble because of her greed: as she was eating boiled eggs, one got stuck in her throat; she was thought dead, and buried. This tale is widely spread in the area; a Laze version was also transcribed. The Na version is not simply intended for children, to teach them that one should not tuck into the family's food stocks when alone at home. It goes into details about the network of relationships around the young woman: her unhappy marriage, and how the two families came to the rescue.

Date recorded: 2011. [Only French translations have been provided so far.]
This is a long narrative, in conversational mode, about the horse trade, which flourished in the second quarter of the twentieth century. 


Date recorded: 2011. [Only French translations have been provided so far.]
In the old times, when a newborn child wept constantly, this was interpreted as meaning that it was unhappy with its lot. The family looked for a new name to give to the child, to reconcile it with life and give it a better start in life. The person who gave the new name sometimes became like a new parent--a role comparable to that of stepfather or stepmother.


aSeeds (version 1)
Date recorded: August 2011.
aSeeds (version 2)
Date recorded: November 2011. [Only French translations have been provided so far.]

This story tells how mankind learnt to plant crops.

Date recorded: 2011. [Only French translations have been provided so far.]
This is an account of ways of curing disease, mostly through rituals, in traditional Na society.

aElders (version 1)
Date recorded: 2006.
aElders (version 2)
Date recorded: 2007.
aElders (version 3)
Date recorded: 2011. [Only French translations have been provided so far.]
aElders (version 4)
Date recorded: 2011.
aElders (version 5)
Date recorded: 2012.

The title "Elders" was given to a set of narratives relating to the consultant's elders and ancestors: how the narrator's ancestors settled in the plain of Yongning, the growth of the family, and life in the traditional extended family.


aFood shortage
Date recorded: 2011. 
aFood shortage, version 2.
Date recorded: 2012. 
Once upon a time, there was a shortage of food; parents set out to sell children, and then changed their mind.


Date recorded: 2012. 
How funeral rites used to be conducted.


Date recorded: 2011. 
Some beliefs and practices associated to the mountains around Yongning.


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Untranscribed narratives

A funeral custom
Adopting pets: dogs and cats
Ashes: How the ashes are collected...
Belief in ghosts: a conversational...
Boundaries: an account of boundari...
Chicken divination: Fortune-tellin...
Children: Customs and rites surrou...
Choosing a Daba: on preferences in...
Coming of age: the ritual performe...
Coming of age: the ritual performe...
Conversations of yore: an account ...
Cooking habits: A humorous saying ...
Daba: the priest of the local reli...
Daba: the priest of the local reli...
Dancing Demon
Demise of preserved pig: A story o...
Demon: a brief presentation of bel...
Demon, version 2: a very short add...
Domestic animals, part 1: Horses a...
Domestic animals, part 2: Chicken ...
Domestic animals, part 3: Dogs
Domestic animals, part 4: Water bu...
Dumb children: how people used to ...
Folk etymology: Yongning as 'the r...
Founding New Home: How families ha...
Ghosts: an expanded version of the...
Ghosts and spirits: Types of ghost...
How I learnt: an account of how th...
Life story: the narrator's life st...
Lonesome elders
Mongolian visit: the time when a t...
Mushrooms: which ones are collecte...
Na society
Names: how names are given to chil...
Naxi discussions: about conversati...
Rice: the introduction of rice as ...
Singing: a conversational account ...
Spirits: about two spirits in a sa...
Streamers: a description of the Bu...
Swinging: a leisure activity of the old times
Sword: the symbolic value of sword...
Taboos: an account of prohibitions...
Taking charge of rituals: how the ...
Terrestrial branches: properties a...
Tooth: how a fake relic became a r...
Tooth: how a fake relic... (version 2)
Trader and his son: how a trader t...
Vampire: an expanded version of th...


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How the data collection process unfolded over time, with a note about "Unrecorded Tales"

Throughout the course of collaboration with language consultant F4, since 2006, I was keen to collect new narratives, especially folk stories and tales about Na society in the old times: times which the speaker did not experience herself, but knew about from living with witnesses of the times that preceded the demise of the Yongning feudal lord and the direct integration of Yongning under Chinese administration in the 1950s. She was initially reluctant to record narratives, considering that, on the one hand, she did not have the authority or talent to do so, and on the other hand, she was wary of possible misinterpretations and misuses of the recorded data. She nonetheless accepted to record two narratives during the first field trip (2006): "The Sister's Wedding" and "How the Lake was created", presenting them as the only two stories that she knew. 

After these two narratives had been transcribed, and as confidence built up over the years, more materials were recorded. The way the collection of texts grew was the following: when one of the topics that came up in our conversations, or in one of the narratives already recorded, seemed to me to be interesting subject-matter for a recording, I would ask the teacher/consultant, F4, whether she could speak about it in a recording session. For instance, I mentioned to her a story recorded in Muli (by a speaker of the Laze language), "Buried Alive". F4 remembered hearing a similar story from her grandmother, and agreed to record it (in August 2011). A second version of this story was elicited (in February 2012) to improve the record: having different versions of the same story sometimes brings out variants that are useful in linguistic studies, e.g. full forms vs. reduced forms of certain morphemes. Midway through this second version, the narrator realized that the names given to the characters in this story happened to correspond with the names of some of her own family members. This she felt to be highly inappropriate, as it associates these real people with some characters involved in tangled family problems. The narrator changed the names at once (midway through the narrative) and completed the tale as best she could, with some hesitations and lapses back into the unappropriate set of names. After the recording was over, she decided that the story should be recorded anew, and a third version was produced in May 2012.

The "Buried Alive" story brought up the topic of ghosts. Later, I elicited some vocabulary in this semantic fields, and suggested making a recording of explanations about different types of ghosts. This resulted in a set of eight recordings about ghosts, spirits and vampires recorded in July 2012.

The recorded narratives as communicative acts

The first of the narratives ("The Sister's Wedding") was told in the presence of another speaker of Na: the narrator's son, Mr. Latami Dashi. For the second story, I was the only audience, and this communicative situation, in which Mrs. Latami Dashilame only faced the microphone and the investigator, was repeated in all the following recording sessions. (An exception is BuriedAlive.3, which was recorded in 2012 in the presence of a team of journalists and of a fellow linguist, Ms. He Jiezhen.) As communicative acts, these narratives can therefore be seen as the consultant's response to a pressing demand on the part of an outsider wishing to learn about Na language and culture. F4 goes by a simple principle: she will only tell about things which she knows from having heard them in her youth, from elder family members of her grandmother's and her mother's generations. When I narrated to her some tales which were reported in ethnographic reports to be part of the oral tradition in Yongning, she would indicate very clearly whether she was familiar with those or not, and it was clear that she did not want to act as spokesperson for an abstract "Na culture" that did not correspond to her own experience. The stories that she does not have a command of include:

Some stories and narratives were not recorded because the consultant felt that they were not appropriate for publication. These include memories of rites that are perceived to be related to distant episodes of conflicts between ethnic groups: for instance, the Na believe that the red-coloured dots on the cakes traditionally eaten by the Naxi on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month symbolize the blood of the Na chieftain, whom the Naxi symbolically devour to celebrate their victory over him at some grim juncture in the distant past.

A striking omission is that of any account of the custom for which traditional Na society is famous among ethnologists: its family structure, whereby one stayed in one's mother's house all life long, and the father only had a very minor social role. As ethnologists who conduct research on this topic are well aware, investigations into the private lives of people can easily be intrusive. Moreover, this topic links up with painful memories. In the 1970s the government cracked down heavily on the traditional Na family, cutting the grain supplies of people who did not adopt the Chinese-style family structure (一妻一夫: 'one wife, one husband'). Today, these forbidden practises are advertised as part of the touristic attractiveness of the area of Yongning and lake Lugu, where mass tourism developed at a staggering pace. The amount of publicization of data about 'love among the Na/Mosuo', and common misinterpretations of the facts, have created no small amount of resentment in the community. This is mentioned, for instance, in Shih Chuan-Kang's 2010 book: Quest for harmony: the Moso traditions of sexual union and family life (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press; see especially pp. 132-134). Many anecdotes are told locally about people's strategies to deal with indiscreet questions, resorting to humorous inventions to protect their private lives while catering for the visitors' expectations. In this context, I could easily understand my consultants' choice not to broach this topic, and never tried to go against what I interpreted as a deliberate avoidance of this topic. 

Other topics that were avoided because the consultant felt that they were not appropriate for publication include past conflicts between ethnic groups, and rites that are perceived to be related to these conflicts. For instance, the Na believe that the red dots on the cakes eaten by the Naxi on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month (the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival) stand for the blood of the Na chieftain, whom the Naxi symbolically devour to celebrate their victory over him at some grim juncture in the distant past. Some Naxi consultants do remember that, in their youth, mooncakes used to be dotted with red spots, and that there must be at least five such spots on each cake. But the only explanation they can offer is that it was "for decoration". Chinese-style decorations on mooncakes are now chasing this old custom out of memory.

Informed consent for data communication / ethical issues

The investigator's home institution (CNRS) did not have formal ethical guidelines at the time of the investigation. The responsibility for relating with language consultants in the best possible way is the researcher's own: adopting a culturally appropriate behaviour, respecting the consultants, valuing the knowledge that they share, explaining the process of language documentation, conservation and research, giving them a fair compensation for their time and effort, and allowing them access to the documents and to the researcher's productions.

My perception is that the researchers at my research centre, the LACITO "research laboratory", are up to this important responsibility: they are highly respectful of the individuals and communities whose language and culture they study, and have a strong commitment to helping in projects for the communities. This includes contributing to language maintenance through the creation of literacy materials and teaching. Colleagues' attitudes in the field reflect a passionate personal implication, and a strong professional sense, that go way beyond the call of duty, and beyond the application of a set of laws and regulations. Ethical guidelines stated in legal terms -- those which are enforced by universities and other institutions --, however fine-grained, cannot but be tilted towards the (culturally relative) principles that hold in the countries where they were elaborated, and prove inappropriate or inapplicable under certain cultural circumstances. (A blistering attack on ethics protocols was published by George van Driem in 2016, pointing out that "some granting agencies have (...) compelled aspiring field linguists to engage in absurd and even unethical exercises in laying the groundwork for their linguistic fieldwork. Fundamental cultural differences and disparate histories of diverse language communities are essentially ignored" (in: "Endangered language research and the moral depravity of ethics protocols", Language Documentation and Conservation 10: 243-252).

However, legalistic approaches to the ethical handling of data collection and diffusion seem likely to continue developing, in a context where institutions need to protect themselves against lawsuits. Language archives are no small matter in terms of legal liability. The researcher's goodwill and tact may not be enough by these standards, which differ widely from institution to institution, reflecting in part differences in legislation from country to country. Under this situation, it appears advisable for researchers to gather some pieces of data that may (by some standards) count as "legal proof" that an individual and/or a community agree to having materials about their language and culture published -- and moreover, wish that these materials may be preserved and be made available, in a context where languages are under threat. 

Collecting written consent is increasingly common in Chinese institutions, the same document being used as receipt for the consultant's retribution and as copyright transfer to the investigator. But in the case of Yongning Na, the speaker (F4) herself never uses writing, and never signs her name, entrusting all administrative matters to other family members, mostly her son. As a university graduate and a member of the Chinese administration, her son is not only familiar with these matters, but also knowledgeable about computers and digital technologies generally. He agreed to sign such a document on her behalf, on each field trip. 

I am very grateful to him for this, since a written document may be required at some point in future, if the list of online documents is re-examined in light of new critera, and a person in charge (the head of a research centre, or of some other level within the administrative hierarchy) has to take personal responsibility, testifying that the documents were collected according to the highest ethical standards and comply with all the relevant laws and regulations. 

With a view to strengthening the case for open access to the data, I also wished to collect the speaker's own views on the topic of data diffusion. a An oral consent was therefore recorded. My idea was to record a short message addressed to listeners of the recordings placed online for public access: the speaker would indicate to them that she agreed to have anyone listen to these recordings and get to know more about her native language and culture. This recording would testify to the speaker's willingness to have outsiders listen to these materials. I had a feeling that I was twisting the speaker's arm by eliciting this message, but proceeded nonetheless, because I felt a threat that for want of such an oral consent I would be accused of ignoring a basic principle ("best practice"?) in language documentation and conservation.

This piece was more than usually difficult for the speaker: when recording narratives, she addressed me, knowing that a much broader audience would have access to the recording; when recording a consent, she was talking about our collaboration, in my presence, but addressing, in her own language, an abstract, potentially very distant audience. The situation was predictably awkward, and I am especially grateful to the consultant for complying with this strange request, explained to her by myself and by her son. What she eventually recorded was along the lines of: "My son introduced ti˧ɖo˥ [the name given to me in Yongning] to me, to study the Na language; I told him all that I know; he is a good student, transcribing what I tell him day after day, and developing a command of the language; by means of the online recordings, you ("outsider friends") are able to listen and see that he is doing a good job". 

This is said in a language few people can understand, and I have not transcribed the recording. I do not want to wade again through this strange piece with the consultant; it is spoken in a vacuum, and it is highly personal at the same time. It was produced at my own instigation, but it is probably too different from the intended message to be any use to the intended audience: a lawyer verifying the data's compliance with laws and regulations. I could go back to the consultant and record a different piece, closely tailored according to a model; but it would seem strange to be even more domineering (despotic?) and to object to the minimal degree of freedom retained by the consultant in her rendering of the statement that was being placed in her mouth. 

In 2012, Xinhua Press reporters came to my home: they wanted to report about a foreigner working in Lijiang, and had heard about me from colleagues at the Dongba Research Institute. The consultant and I did our best to explain our work together. On that occasion, in front of the camera, as she had done when I recorded her "informed consent", she lay emphasis on the linguist's achievements; she had received instructions to this effect from family members, and would probably have adopted the same stance by herself, under the pressure of answering official media. The report was considered drab and unattractive by the journalists' hierarchy, who had precise expectations on what they wanted to produce, and it was not publicized in the end. An interesting aspect of this brief video, to me, is that her answer to the journalists' questions was in Na. (I hope I will be able to get round to transcribing and translating it at some point, and make it available online as a contribution to the corpus.)

By contrast with these awkward productions, the narratives told to me by the consultant in the quiet and familiar one-to-one setting of my workplace sound pretty good in terms of spontaneousness, naturalness and authenticity. (Yes I still believe in those!)

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2. Documenting the morphophonology of Yongning Na

In addition to narratives, data from phonological investigations are being put online.

The lexical tones of nouns

The complexities of the Yongning Na tone system make it necessary to use two nonstandard symbols in addition to the International Phonetic Alphabet 'tone-letters':

The following table recapitulates all the tonal categories of monosyllabic and disyllabic nouns. 

tone pattern in isolation tone pattern when followed by the copula proposed phonemic analysis: underlying tone (=lexical tone) transcription in the texts (underlying forms), using a real example
LM L+M LM bo˩˧ 'pig'
LH L+H LH ʐæ˩˥ 'leopard'
M M+L M lɑ˧ 'tiger'
M L+LM L jo˩ 'sheep'
M M+H #H ʐwæ#˥ 'horse'
MH M+H MH# hwɤ˧˥ 'cat'
M.M M.M+L M go˧mi˧ 'younger sister'
M.M M.M+H #H gi˧zɯ#˥ 'younger brother'
M.MH M.M+H MH# hwɤ˧li˧˥ 'cat'
M.H M.M+H H$ hwɤ˧mi˥$ 'she-cat'
L.LM L.L+M L kʰv̩˩mi˩ 'dog'
M.L M.L+L L# dɑ˧ʝi˩ 'mule'
L.MH L.M+H L+MH# ʝi˩ʈʂæ˧˥ 'waist'
L.M L.M+H L+#H nɑ˩hĩ˥ 'Naxi'
L.M L.M+L LM bo˩mi˧ 'sow'
L.M L.M+L LH bo˩ɬɑ˥ 'boar'
M.H M.H+L H# ʁæ˧ʈv̩˥ 'neck'

A recording was conducted in 2007 to illustrate (and verify) tonal oppositions between the tone categories of disyllables. This document, a F4_TONE_NOUNSINFRAME_2007, essentially contains disyllabic nouns (about 300 tokens). The nouns are followed by the copula, /ɲi˩/, so as to bring out tones that are neutralized in isolation, and to illustrate the reassociation of the H portion of the MH# contour to the following syllable.

The items were words whose tones had been recently checked with the speaker, so she was relatively familiar with the list. She did not like to be asked via Chinese, so I used the Na word as a prompt, also with accompanying gestures. When the audio file was edited, the prompts were removed, except in some special cases where a discussion took place.

Only one example of four of the tone categories of monosyllables are provided, at the beginning of the document: H, M, LH and M. (Also, some verbs were accidentally included, because at the time they were interpreted as nouns. They are grouped at the end of the document.) The disyllabic nouns are grouped by tone, following the same order as in the table above: M, #H, MH#, H$, L, L#, LM+MH#, LM+#H, LM, LH, and H#.

The tone system is analyzed in full in a book, available online (unrestricted open access): Michaud (2017)

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Verbs and affixes

The documents made available here are useful to study the tone categories of verbs, and also to study the tonal behaviour of affixes.

Frame Files Comments
Reduplication aVerbs_Redupl_F4_2007
(12 tokens)
 aVerbs_Redupl_F4_2012 (10 tokens of reduplication, plus 9 non-reduplicated tokens)
aVerbs_Redupl_F4_2007 is an incomplete recording, with tones M, H, L and MH only.
All six tone categories of verbs (distinguishing Ma and Mb, La and Lb) are represented in a Verbs_Redupl_F4_2012.
Accomplished aVerbs in the frame /lə+V+ze/ (accomplished+verb+perfective) (25 tokens)
Durative aVerbs in the frame /tʰi+V+dʑo/ (durative+verb+progressive) (43 tokens)
Prohibitive Verbs preceded by the prohibitive:
a2007 recording (29 tokens)
a2008 recording (10 tokens)
The 2007 recording includes examples of the prohibitive in association with reduplication.


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Verbs: spatial orientation


The data are shown in table form below.

Monosyllabic indications of spatial orientation, which can be analyzed as prefixes:
(Click to zoom)

prefix tone meaning

 tone of verb

      Ma Mb H La Lb MH
      li˧a tsi˧b se˥ kwɤ˩a ɻ̩˩b mi˧˥
      to look to set to walk to throw to turn to push
gɤ˩- L upward gɤ˩-li˧(-ze˧) gɤ˩-tsi˧(-ze˧) gɤ˩-se˥(-ze˩) gɤ˩-kwɤ˧(-ze˩) gɤ˩-ɻ̩˧(-ze˩) gɤ˩-mi˧˥
mv̩˩- L downward mv̩˩-li˧(-ze˧) mv̩˩-tsi˧(-ze˧) mv̩˩-se˥(-ze˩) mv̩˩ kwɤ˧(-ze˩) mv̩˩-ɻ̩˧(-ze˩) mv̩˩mi˧˥

Disyllabic indications of spatial orientation, analyzed as adverbials:
(Click to zoom)
adverbial tone meaning

tone of verb

      Ma Mb H La Lb MH
      li˧a tsi˧b se˥ kwɤ˩a ɻ̩˩b mi˧˥
      to look to set to walk to throw to turn to push
ɬo˧tɑ˧ M to the side ɬo˧tɑ˧ li˧(-ze˧) ɬo˧tɑ˧-tsi˧(-ze˩) ɬo˧tɑ˧ se˧(-ze˩) ɬo˧tɑ˧ kwɤ˩ ɬo˧tɑ˧ ɻ̩˩ ɬo˧tɑ˧ pʰæ˧˥
ʁo˧dɑ˧ M to the front ʁo˧dɑ˧ li˧(-ze˧) ʁo˧dɑ˧ tsi˧(-ze˩) ʁo˧dɑ˧ se˧(-ze˩) ʁo˧dɑ˧ kwɤ˩ ʁo˧dɑ˧ ɻ̩˩ ʁo˧dɑ˧ mi˧˥
ʁwæ˧-gi#˥ #H leftward ʁwæ˧-gi˧ li˩ ʁwæ˧-gi˧ tsi˧(-ze˩) ʁwæ˧-gi˧ se˧(-ze˩) ʁwæ˧-gi˧ kwɤ˥(-ze˩) ʁwæ˧-gi˧ ɻ˥(-ze˩) ʁwæ˧-gi˧ pʰæ˩
jo˩lo˩ L rightward jo˩lo˩ li˥(-ze˩) jo˩lo˩ tsi˥(-ze˩) / jo˩lo˩ tsi˩ jo˩lo˩ se˩ jo˩lo˩ kwɤ˥(-ze˩) jo˩lo˩ ɻ̩˥ jo˩lo˩ pʰæ˥(-ze˩)
jo˩gi˩ L rightward jo˩gi˩ li˥(-ze˩) jo˩gi˩ tsi˥(-ze˩) / jo˩gi˩ tsi˩ jo˩gi˩ se˩ jo˩gi˩ kwɤ˥(-ze˩) jo˩gi˩ ɻ̩˥ jo˩gi˩ mi˥
ʁo˧tʰo˩ L# backward ʁo˧tʰo˩ li˩ ʁo˧tʰo˩ tsi˩ ʁo˧tʰo˩ se˩ ʁo˧tʰo˩ kwɤ˩ ʁo˧tʰo˩ ɻ̩˩ ʁo˧tʰo˩ mi˩
gɤ˩tɕo˧ LM upward gɤ˩tɕo˧ li˧(-ze˧) gɤ˩tɕo˧ tsi˧(-ze˧) gɤ˩tɕo˧ se˧ (-ze˩) gɤ˩tɕo˧ kwɤ˩ gɤ˩tɕo˧ ɻ˩ gɤ˩tɕo˧ mi˧˥
mv̩˩tɕo˧ LM downward mv̩˩tɕo˧ li˧(-ze˧) mv̩˩tɕo˧ tsi˧(-ze˧) mv̩˩tɕo˧ se˧(-ze˩) mv̩˩tɕo˧ kwɤ˩ mv̩˩-tɕo˧ ɻ˩ mv̩˩tɕo˧ mi˧˥
gauche H# leftward ʁwæ˧lo˥ li˩ ʁwæ˧lo˥ tsi˩ ʁwæ˧lo˥ se˩ ʁwæ˧lo˥ kwɤ˩ ʁwæ˧lo˥ ɻ̩˩ ʁwæ˧lo˥ pʰæ˩

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Numeral-plus-classifier phrases

This set of recordings is the result of a systematic investigation into the tones of numeral-plus-classifier phrases in Na. These tone patterns are of some complexity: there exist 9 tonal categories of classifiers (2 subcategories for H, 2 for M, 2 for MH, and 3 for L), and some combinations allow two variants. (Before I understood that there were variants, I was led to believe that there must be as many as 11 categories, as reported in Michaud 2011 – an article which focused on structural similarities with two related languages, Naxi and Laze, and not on a detailed synchronic transcription.)

This data set contains recordings of various lengths, some of them only covering the range of numerals from 1 to 10, others from 1 to 30, from 30 to 100, or from 1 to 100. Errors are not infrequent, due to the fact that the task was not very familiar to the language consultant. These are indicated by an asterisk in the transcription, and the correct form is also indicated.

Transcriptions are provided both in a surface-phonological system using tone letters (˥ for high, ˧ for mid, ˩ for low, ˩˥ for low-to-high, ˧˥ for mid-to-high) and in an abstract notation system set out in Michaud 2008. A detailed account of these phenomena is in preparation.

The full set of recordings is the following. Clicking on an audio link yields a display of the transcription with synchronized audio. Clicking on an EGG link yields the electroglottographic file. All signals are in WAV format.


H1 category of classifiers 
classifier for... recordings WITH electroglottographic component recordings WITHOUT electroglottographic component

30 to 100 1 to 100 1 to 10 1 to 30
handspan aAUDIO + EGG


H2 category of classifiers
classifier for... recordings WITH electroglottographic component recordings WITHOUT electroglottographic component
30 to 100 1 to 100 1 to 30


M1 category of classifiers
classifier for... recordings WITH electroglottographic component recordings WITHOUT electroglottographic component
30 to 100 1 to 100 1 to 30
handfuls aAUDIO + EGG
heaps aAUDIO + EGG


M2 category of classifiers
classifier for... recordings WITH electroglottographic component recordings WITHOUT electroglottographic component
1 to 100 1 to 30
months aAUDIO
pairs aAUDIO + EGG
round objects aAUDIO + EGG


MH1 category of classifiers
classifier for... recordings WITH electroglottographic component recordings WITHOUT electroglottographic component
30 to 100 1 to 100 1 to 30
members of a pair aAUDIO
pounds aAUDIO + EGG


MH2 category of classifiers
classifier for... recordings WITH electroglottographic component recordings WITHOUT electroglottographic component
1 to 100 1 to 30
people aAUDIO + EGG aAUDIO


L1 category of classifiers
classifier for... recordings WITH electroglottographic component recordings WITHOUT electroglottographic component
30 to 100 1 to 100 1 to 10 1 to 30
money (currency) aAUDIO + EGG aAUDIO + EGG aAUDIO
sections (of road, etc) aAUDIO
sets of two aAUDIO + EGG


L2 category of classifiers
classifier for... recordings WITH electroglottographic component recordings WITHOUT electroglottographic component
1 to 10 30 to 100 1 to 100 1 to 10 1 to 30
ropes/long objects aAUDIO + EGG aAUDIO + EGG aAUDIO
armspans aAUDIO + EGG (1st recording);
aAUDIO + EGG (2nd recording)
meals aAUDIO + EGG
times aAUDIO + EGG
ounces aAUDIO + EGG
trees aAUDIO


L3 category of classifiers
classifier for... recordings WITH electroglottographic component
1 to 100
bundles of hay aAUDIO + EGG (1st recording)
aAUDIO + EGG (2nd recording)


One last file contains audio recordings of some a verifications of various combinations.


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Tone patterns in subject+verb and object+verb combinations

In view of the range of tone categories found on nouns and verbs in Yongning Na, it is no wonder that their combinations yield a wealth of diverse patterns. This section presents recordings of combinations between verbs and subject or object nouns. Combinations between a noun and a verb do not yield the same tone patterns depending on whether the noun is a subject or an object. This area of Na morphotonology has been investigated through systematic elicitation of possible tonal combinations. The following recordings are available:

- a Combinations of subject and verb

- Object and verb: a some combinations recorded in 2007, a a second set collected in 2009, and a a supplement recorded in 2012.


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Morpho-phonological data: determinative compound nouns

In Yongning Na, no tonal change takes place in possessive constructions, whereas tonal changes take place in compounds. In possessive constructions, the possessive /bv̩/ is added after the determiner, before the head, e.g. /hw˧li˧˥/ ‘cat’, /ɬv̩˧˥/ ‘brains’, /hwɤ˧li˧-bv̩˥ ǀ ɬv̩˧˥/ ‘brains of the cat’. The tone pattern of the head (the second noun) remains the same as in isolation. In determinative compounds, the order of constituents is, again, determiner plus head, but the tonal strings that result from compounding are not simply the concatenation of those found in isolation. The data set presented here is the result of a systematic investigation into the tones of compound nouns in Yongning Na.

The data set presented here is the result of a systematic investigation into the tones of compound nouns in Yongning Na.

1) Animal names+body parts: 

Combining animal names with names of body parts appeared as a useful means of eliciting most combinations. A good place to start when consulting these data is: 


as this file contains the most complete and systematic recording, with an accompanying electroglottographic signal. The compound nouns are framed in the sentence 'This is...': proximal demonstrative /ʈʂʰɯ˥ ǀ/ +target item +copula, /ɲi˩/. The demonstrative is realized as [ʈʂʰɯ˧] (with phonological Mid tone) due to utterance-initial position. The tone of the copula in context is determined by the tone of the compound. 

The elicitation was arranged by head rather than by determiner: 'pig's skin' then 'tiger's skin', etc. This limits the repetitiveness of the successive items, because the tone of the head has less influence on that of the compound than the tone of the determiner: 'pig's skin', 'pig's intestines', 'pig fat'... are more similar tonally than 'pig's skin', 'tiger's skin', 'sheep's skin'... The annotated transcriptions, on the other hand, are arranged by determiner ('pig's skin', 'pig's intestines', 'pig fat'...; then 'tiger's skin', 'tiger's intestines' and so on), as this seemed the more useful order of presentation to study the tone system.

In Naxi body part names are the same for all animals: a person's nose is referred to by the same word as a pig's snout, a dog's muzzle... In order to facilitate automated searches, the incorrect but uniform translation "X's nose" (dog's nose, pig's nose...) is provided along with a more correct translation, e.g. "pig's nose (pig's snout)". For the same reason, all the compounds are translated as "DETERMINER's HEAD", e.g. "sheep's skin", even though some of them would call for another translation: as one single word for "sheepskin", without an intervening possessive particle for "wolf skin", etc. The purpose is not to provide an idiomatic translation but to allow easy access to the Na data. In the Chinese translations, the syntax adopted is "DETERMINER_HEAD", e.g. 猪皮.

The earliest recordings (audio only), which date back to my first contact with the language, in 2006, are less complete because I was just beginning the process of sorting out how many tonal categories there were. The data are also less homogeneous because I asked for more repetitions when I needed confirmation; also, I tried various frames. These data are nonetheless provided too, as extra confirmation for the tone patterns that I report, and also because some items are pronounced with extreme care, in order to teach me the correct patterns at a stage when I had no proficiency in the language at all, so they can be useful for someone who wants to go through the same process of becoming familiar with the language.

Body parts of animals: documents with AUDIO and annotations Body parts of animals: documents with AUDIO, ELECTROGLOTTOGRAPHIC SIGNAL, and annotations
a1 to 4; a5; a6; a11; a13; a14; and a 15 a7 (+link to the EGG signal); a 8 to 10 (+link to the EGG signal); a 12 (+link to the EGG signal)

Some comments about the sound files:

The file Tone_BodyPartsOfAnimals_1to4_F4_2006 was created by assembling four files that had been recorded in succession (with pauses in-between each recording). The compounds are elicited in isolation; a few tokens are also pronounced with the existential /dʑo˩/. Likewise, Tone_BodyPartsOfAnimals_8to10_F4_2008_withEGG was created by assembling three successive recordings.

The file number 15 dates back to the first fieldwork; exchanges between the interviewer and the consultant were cut out. The other recordings were left unchanged, so that interested people can know precisely at which point in the exchange a specific token was said: how many repetitions precede it, how it was elicited, etc. This can shed light on the reason why the speaker places special emphasis on a given dimension: the entire tone sequence, one of the tones, one of the consonants or vowels... Some notes on this topic are added in the annotation, such as "Hyperarticulated realization, bringing out the final L tone."

Transcriptions are provided both in a surface-phonological system using tone letters (˥ for high, ˧ for mid, ˩ for low, ˩˥ for low-to-high, ˧˥ for mid-to-high) and in an abstract notation system set out in Michaud 2008

Numerous topics can be investigated on the basis of these data. Among phonetic topics, I can think of the following.

(i) Phonation type at voicing offset. In the absence of any phonologically specified phonation type at voicing offset, how often does the utterance end in glottal constriction, laryngealization, and whispery voice/devoicing?

(ii) Fundamental frequency 'resetting' at the juncture/boundary between phonological groups. In a group such as /hĩ˧-bv̩˧ ǀ ʁo˧qʰwɤ˩/ 'human head', to what extent does one observe a greater discrepancy between successive tones than within a phonological group? Which linguistic uses are made of this latitude of variation?

2) a Names of peoples+names of objects (and some other nouns)

A second set of data was elicited in 2006 using names of peoples (ethnic groups) and objects. Numerous peoples live in the area: Na (Mosuo), Prinmi (Pumi), Tibetan, Bai, Han (Chinese), Yi (Lolo), Lisu... Not all combinations refer to existing objects: for instance, not every group builds 'sanctuaries', /tse˧kʰo˩/, on the mountains. As consultant F4 understood that the purpose was to explore linguistic combinations, not record random expressions, she agreed to record compounds which to her were unusual, e.g. "Lisu knife": the Lisu are not known for a specific type of knife, and so the phrase does not make sense in the same way as "Lisu clothes", which refers to something specific and familiar). At times she even agreed to record some combinations that are slightly shocking culturally, such as "Lisu blood". The artificial nature of the data goes some way towards explaining the tonal slips of the tongue that occasionally crept in: these are indicated with an asterisk * in the annotation.

As already mentioned in the presentation of the "animals+body parts" recordings, these exploratory recordings do not have the symmetrical structure that one can obtain when the full system has been clarified. I asked for more repetitions when I needed confirmation; and I recorded various nouns with the same tone to verify that they belonged in the same category. Some "animal+body part" combinations were elicited at several points for comparison of the tone patterns.
Now that the analysis has been completed, however, it is reflected in the annotation, which allows for direct access to the combination one is interested in. An interesting aspect of the many repetitions is that some items are pronounced with extreme care, and others much more rapidly, showing a dynamic picture of the language despite the highly constrained nature of the recording task.
Some words were said in isolation; they are grouped at the end of the annotation file.
One of my main concerns at the time was the analysis of M.H.L.L patterns: at the time I thought there may be a contrast between M.H.L.L, M.H.M.L, and M.H.M.M. Later it turned out that all are neutralized to M.H.L.L.


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Morpho-phonological data: coordinative compound nouns

The tone patterns of coordinative compounds are not identical with those of determinative compounds. Two productive sources were found: pairs of animal names of the two sexes, and their offspring, such as ‘ewe and ram’ and ‘ewe and lamb’; and pairs of kinship terms, such as ‘uncle and nephew’ and ‘mother and daughter’. The recording aCoordinative Compounds (2012) presents about 100 tokens, covering a number of tonal combinations, though not all of them: the language consultant (F4) clearly preferred to remain within the bounds of common sense, and semantically inappropriate pairs such as ‘mother and nephew’ or ‘grandmother and brother’ were avoided. The recording aCoordinative Compounds 2 (also made in 2012) presents compounds based on 'day', 'month' and 'year': 'one or two years', 'two-three years', from 1-2 to 9-10.

The study of these items suggests that pronunciation habits develop for certain items, which come to have a habitual tone pattern to the exclusion of others. The existence of highly diverse tone patterns would thus reflect the semantic diversity of coordinative compounds. It is not always possible to arrive at the meaning of coordinative compounds simply on the basis of their two constituents. For instance, /hwɤ˧zo˧-hwɤ˧mi˥/, made up of ‘kitten’ and ‘she-cat’, does not mean ‘kitten and she-cat’ (the child and the mother), but refers to cats in general, as a species. More spectacularly, the terms for male and female puppies, /kʰv˧zo#˥/ and /kʰv˧mv#˥/ respectively, are used as names for human newborns: an unlovely name is purposedly chosen to repel demons who may be lurking around to take their lives. The real name is only given after a couple of months; sometimes as late as one full year after birth. The two terms /kʰv˧zo#˥/ and /kʰv˧mv#˥/, and their compound /kʰv˧zo˥-kʰv˩mv˩/, have become culturally specialized and cannot be used to refer to real puppies. There is thus a broad range of situations, from elicited combinations which the consultant may never have conceptualized before (such as ‘male and female jackal’) to highly lexicalized expressions.


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Pronoun+noun possessive constructions

Pronouns do not behave like nouns in possessive constructions. The recording a"Possession - Pronouns: possessive constructions with pronouns, without an intervening particle" (2012) presents three categories of pronouns with the various tonal categories of nouns.


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Nouns: spatial orientation

Postpositions indicating spatial orientation combine tonally with nouns. The recording a"Nouns_Spatial orientation" (2012) presents the various categories of nouns with 'beside', 'behind', 'to the left', and 'to the right'.


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Nouns followed by 'even'

A recording presents athe various categories of nouns followed by 'even' ('even a tiger', 'even a dog'...).


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Nouns followed by 'and/only'

A recording presents athe various categories of nouns followed by 'and/only' ('...and a dog', etc).


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3. Vowels and consonants: Illustrations of some of the phonemes

With a view to avoiding large discrepancies between the transcription in International Phonetic Alphabet and the actual pronunciation, the transcription adopted is not strictly phonemic. In particular:

On the other hand, the apical vowels [ʅ] and [ɿ] are phonemicized as /ɯ/. For details on the phonemic analysis, the reader is referred to Appendix A of the 2017 book about Yongning Na.

The documents presented in this section contain examples illustrating the phonemic contrasts that proved most challenging. The first is one between two different rhymes after alveolo-palatal affricates: /dʑi/ vs. /dʑɯ/; /tɕi/ vs. /tɕɯ/; /tɕʰi/ vs. /tɕʰɯ/. The vowel is more strongly apicalized for the latter than for the former.

aPalatalized Apicalized (2012): words containing /i/ or /ɯ/ after an alveolopalatal affricate


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Dialect of Labai 拉伯


1. Vocabulary exploration: a transcribed elicitation session

This is a a recording of an exploratory elicitation session. The items were transcribed on the fly; the speaker and the investigator discussed in Chinese over the meaning of words, cases of homophony, issues of transcription, and so on.


2. A set of five untranscribed narratives

title summary
Dog Once upon a time, dogs and men exchanged their lifespan. Another version of this narrative was recorded in the Yongning plain.
Trickster This is an anecdote about a colourful character of the village of Labai with whom the narrator was familiar
Dape This is an excerpt from a ritual of the local religion (Dape, /dɑ˧pɤ˧/; Chinese rendering: 达巴). The text is first said, then chanted (out of memory).
Sister Once upon a time, there were two orphans; the brother went hunting for a living, and his sister did not hear of him again; she eventually married; on the day of the marriage, her elder brother happened to come back to the village, but she did not recognize him and he was treated like a beggar. Other versions of this narrative were recorded in the Yongning plain, and in the village of Fengke.
Flood This is a story of the flood and the origin of the Na people.

The data from the Labai dialect presented here were collected in two work sessions with the distinguished writer Lamu Gatusa 拉 木嘎 吐萨 (Chinese pen-name: 石高峰), on August 11th and August 12th, 2009. The second session was recorded. For reasons of time, the narratives could not be transcribed. The only document with complete annotations is the word list. The purpose was to devise a transcription system in the International Phonetic Alphabet, which Mr. Lamu would then use (and develop further) for transcribing Na stories, proverbs and rituals and preparing annotated bilingual editions.

In the end, Mr. Gatusa was not able to prioritize the phonetic transcription of texts over his various other projects and commitments. It nonetheless appears useful to make this small data set available to all interested. The sound file of the vocabulary session was edited, deleting asides, long explanations, and some taboo items of vocabulary. It must be emphasized that this document is not based on an in-depth phonemic analysis, unlike the Yongning Na data: the transcription of tones needs to be verified and deepened.

Technically, the quality of the recordings is not very good: the recording took place at Mr. Lamu's home in the city of Kunming; the distance to the microphone varies greatly in the course of the recording.


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Explanations about the format of the annotation: notes, grammatical glosses,  borrowings, full-text translations...

The annotation comprises numerous notes, inserted in the XML code with the following markup:

<NOTE message="This is a comment."/>

These include comments about verifications that were made about form and meaning, and comments about phonetic implementation. The earliest notations, which were later corrected systematically, are closer to phonetic realizations; surface-phonological transcriptions abstract away from the actual acoustics. Information about earlier transcriptions may therefore be useful to understand the analysis process. Moreover, notes contain indications about possible variants. 

For instance, in the 6th sentence of Sister1, "and the boy went out hunting", the High tone that constitutes the endpoint of the /MH/ sequence on the verb /hɯ˧˥/ is projected onto the following particle, /tsɯ˧˥/. The sequence [kʰv̩˧ʂæ˧-hɯ˧-tsɯ˥-mv̩˩] is the product of a phonological reassociation of the H tone to the right of its original position. A note was added to indicate that it would also be possible to end the tone group before the final particles, yielding /...kʰv̩˧ʂæ˧-hɯ˧˥ ǀ tsɯ˧˥.../.

The grammatical glosses provided here are essentially based on Liberty Lidz's dissertation (Lidz 2010); needless to say, the differences with L. Lidz's glosses are my own responsibility. The standard abbreviations are used for the concepts included in the Leipzig Glossing Rules (Comrie, Haspelmath, and Bickel), whereas the full word is provided for all the others. Technical glosses are preceded by a special symbol: °.

The following conventions are used for passages to be added or removed (following Martine Mazaudon's usage for Tamang):

[ ] square brackets indicate an addition to be made to the text (as indicated by the speaker when the transcription was done)
< > angled brackets indicate a 'false start' or mistaken use of terms, and hence a passage to be suppressed (again, as indicated by the speaker when the transcription was done)

The letter F is added after a word that is intonationally focalized. Focalization is realized by phonetic correlates that include lengthening, a tilt in fundamental frequency, and a slight centralizing diphthongization of the vowel.

Borrowings: Due to increasing exposure to Mandarin Chinese, borrowings appear here and there in the narratives. These borrowings are transcribed in IPA like the others; their glosses are formatted as: 


e.g. 事情::affairs/matters

(XML code: <TRANSL xml:lang="fr">事情::affaire/tâche</TRANSL>
                    <TRANSL xml:lang="en">事情::affairs/matters</TRANSL>)

I considered using English words in the French translation, since French speakers' command of English is comparable to Na speakers' command of Chinese. This would yield translations such as «le grand frère, il a été tout sad». But this convention was not used in the end, because it was found that this made the texts harder to read. Also, the same strategy could not be extended to Chinese and English translations in any simple way. 

Punctuation: Some punctuation is indicated in the transcription of sentences, following punctuation conventions for French or English. As pointed out by Liberty Lidz (p.c.), there is a discrepancy with the conventions used for Chinese. These indications are nonetheless kept in the present version of the transcriptions, for want of a satisfactory system for transcribing phrasing and intonation. This part of the transcription gets extremely complex as one attempts to encode more and more refined information. At the present stage, in addition to informally used punctuation symbols, I propose a division into phonological groups (within which phonological regularities apply, e.g.: (i) there can be at most one H tone, (ii) there cannot be only L tones, (iii) a H tone can only be followed by L tones). The IPA symbols for boundaries are used: mostly | but also another symbol for looser junctures: ||.

Full-text translations are available for all documents that have sentence-level translations. The text-level translations are intended to be legible, offering a convenient way of getting the gist of a story before beginning to decipher the original. News (July 2012): it is now possible to select the language of the full-text translation in the online interface.  


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Comrie, Bernard, Martin Haspelmath, and Balthasar Bickel. Leipzig Glossing Rules.

Jacques, Guillaume, and Alexis Michaud. 2011. "Approaching the historical phonology of three highly eroded Sino-Tibetan languages: Naxi, Na and Laze." Diachronica 28 (4): 468-498.

Lidz, Liberty. 2010. A descriptive grammar of Yongning Na (Mosuo). Austin: University of Texas, Department of linguistics.

Lidz, Liberty. 2016. "Yongning Na (Mosuo)". In Graham Thurgood & Randy J. LaPolla (eds.), The Sino-Tibetan languages, 840–855. 2nd edition. (Routledge Language Family Series). London: Routledge.

Michaud, Alexis. 2017. Tone in Yongning Na: lexical tones and morphotonology. (Studies in Diversity Linguistics 13). Berlin: Language Science Press.

Michaud, Alexis, and Latami Dashi. 2012. A description of endangered phonemic oppositions in Mosuo (Yongning Na). In Issues of Language Endangerment, ed. by Xu Shixuan, Tjeerd de Graaf and Cecilia Brassett. Book series: 16th World Congress of IUAES. Beijing: 知识产权出版社 (Intellectual property publishing house), pp. 55-71.


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Goodies: map and family tree

Map of the area

Here is a map of the area.


Family tree

Keeping in mind that family trees only reflect one aspect of the thoroughly complex history of languages, here is the family tree proposed in a historical study of Naxi, Na and Laze.

A tentative family tree for Sino-Tibetan. From Jacques & Michaud 2011.



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