Tai Nüa language

Tai Nüa
Pronunciation [tai taɯ xoŋ]
Native to China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos
Region Southwest 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 639-3 Either:
tdd  Tai Nüa
thi  Tai Long
Glottolog tain1252  (Tai Nua)[2]
tail1247  (Tai Long)[3]

Tai Nüa (Tai Nüa: ᥖᥭᥰᥖᥬᥳᥑᥨᥒᥰ) (also called Tai Nɯa, Dehong Dai, or Chinese Shan; own name: Tai2 Lə6, which means "upper Tai" or "northern Tai", or ᥖᥭᥰᥖᥬᥳᥑᥨᥒᥰ [tai taɯ xoŋ]; Chinese: Dǎinǎyǔ 傣哪语 or Déhóng Dǎiyǔ 德宏傣语; Thai: ภาษาไทเหนือ, pronounced [pʰāːsǎː tʰāj nɯ̌a] or ภาษาไทใต้คง, pronounced [pʰāːsǎː tʰāj tâj.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. It should not be confused with Tai Lü (Xishuangbanna Dai). There are also Tai Nüa speakers in Thailand.


Most Tai Nüa 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 Nüa.

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 Nüa into the Dehong (德宏) and Menggeng (孟耿) dialects. Together, they add up to a total of 541,000 speakers.


Tai Nüa 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.


Tai Nüa has 17 consonants:

p, pʰ, f, m
t, tʰ, ts, s, n
k, x, ŋ
ʔ, h, l, j, w

All consonants except for n can occur at the beginning of a syllable. Only the following consonants can occur at the end of a syllable: /p, t, k, m, n, ŋ/.

Vowels and diphthongs

Tai Nüa has ten vowels and 13 diphthongs:

a, aː, ɛ, e, i, ɯ, ə, ɔ, o, u
iu, eu, ɛu; ui, oi, ɔi; əi, əu; ai, aɯ, au; aːi, aːu


Tai Nüa has six tones:

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

Writing system

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 Nüa 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.

The Tai Nüa 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 diphthongs

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 Nüa writing system has a very straightforward spelling of tones, with one letter (or diacritic) for each tone. The first tone is not marked.

Examples in the table show the syllable [ta] in different tones, in old (1956) and new (1988) spellings.

Number New Old
2. ᥖᥰ ̈
3. ᥖᥱ ̌
4. ᥖᥲ ᥖ̀
5. ᥖᥳ ̈
6. ᥖᥴ ᥖ́

Language use

Tai Nüa 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 Nüa. On the other hand, however, very little printed material is published in Tai Nüa in China. However, many signs of roads and stores in Mangshi are in Tai Nüa.

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; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Tai Nua". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Tai Long". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: 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.
Tai Nüa language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator
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