Akha language

Native to Burma, China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam
Ethnicity Akha
Native speakers
ca. 600,000 (2007)[1]
  • Ako
  • Asong
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ahk
Glottolog akha1245[2]

Akha is the language spoken by the Akha people of southern China (Yunnan Province), eastern Burma (Shan State), northern Laos, and northern Thailand.

Western scholars group Akha, Hani and Honi into the Hani languages, treating all three as separate mutually unintelligible, but closely related, languages. The Hani languages are, in turn, classified in the Hanoish branch of Loloish. Alternatively, Chinese linguists consider all Hani languages, including Akha, to be dialects of a single language in accordance with China's official classification of ethnic groups, which groups all speakers of Hani languages into one ethnicity.

Speakers of Akha live in remote mountainous areas where it has developed into a wide-ranging dialect continuum. Dialects from villages separated by as little as ten kilometers may show marked differences. The isolated nature of Akha communities has also resulted in several villages with divergent dialects. Dialects from extreme ends of the continuum and the more divergent dialects are mutually unintelligible.[3]


The Akha dialect spoken in Alu village, 55 kilometers northwest of Chiang Rai city in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand is described below. Katsura conducted his study in during the late 1960s. With a population of 400 it was, at the time, one of the largest Akha villages in Northern Thailand and was still growing as a result of cross-border migration from Burma. The Akha in Alu spoke no Standard Thai and communicated with outsiders using either Lahu Na or Shan.

The Alu dialect has 23 or 24 consonants depending on how the syllabic nasal is analyzed. The /m̩/, realized variously as [ˀm] or [m̥], can be analyzed as a separate single consonant or as sequences of /ʔm/ and /hm/. Katsura chose the latter but listed the /m/ component of the syllabic consonant with the vowels.[3]

Consonant phonemes
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Stop voiced b d ɟ ɡ
tenuis p t c k ʔ*
Fricative s x h
Approximant l j c

*Akha /ʔ/ is often described as glottal "tension" rather than a true stop

Any consonant may begin a syllable, but native Akha syllables which don't end in a vowel may only end in either -m or -ɔŋ. A few loan words have been noted that end in -aŋ or -aj. In the case of a nasal coda, some vowels become nasalized. Alu Akha distinguishes ten vowel qualities, contrasting rounded and unrounded back vowels at three heights while only the mid front vowels contrast roundness.

Vowel phonemes
Front Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close /i/ /ɯ/ /u/
Mid /e/ /ø/ /ə/ /ɯ/
Open /ɛ/ /a/ /ɔ/

Three vowels, /u/, /ɔ/ and /ɯ/, show marked nasalization when followed by a nasal consonant becoming /i/, /ɔ̃/ and /ɯ̃/, respectively.


  1. Akha at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Akha". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. 1 2 Katsura, M. (1973). "Phonemes of the Alu Dialect of Akha". Papers in Southeast Asian Linguistics No.3. Pacific Linguistics, the Australian National University. 3 (3): 35–54.

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