Tujia language

Native to northwestern Hunan province, China
Ethnicity 8.0 million Tujia (2000 census)[1]
Native speakers
70,000 (2005)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
tjs  Southern
tji  Northern
Glottolog tuji1244[2]

The Tujia language (Northern Tujia: Bifzivsar, IPA: /pi˧˥ ʦi˥ sa˨˩/; Southern Tujia: Mongrzzirhof, IPA: /mõ˨˩ ʣi˨˩ ho˧˥/; Chinese: 土家语, pinyin: Tǔjiāyǔ) is a language spoken natively by the Tujia people in south-central China. It is unclassified within the Sino-Tibetan language family, due to pervasive influence from neighboring languages. There are two dialects, Northern and Southern. Both dialects are tonal languages with the tone contours of ˥ ˥˧ ˧˥ ˨˩. The northern dialect has 21 initials, whereas the southern dialect has 26 (with 5 additional aspirated initials). As for the finals, the northern dialect has 25 and the southern 30, 12 of which are used exclusively in loanwords from Chinese. Its verbs make a distinction of active and passive voices. Its pronouns distinguish the singular and plural numbers along with the basic and possessive cases. As of 2005, the number of speakers was estimated at roughly 70,000 for the northern dialect (of which merely ca. 100 are monolingual),[3] and 1,500 for the southern dialect,[4] out of an ethnic population of 8 million.[3][4]


Tujia autonyms include pi˧˥ tsi˥ kʰa˨˩ [毕孜卡] (pi˨˩ tsi˨˩ kʰa˨˩ in Ye 1995) and mi˧˥ tɕi˥ kʰa˧/˥ (Dai 2005). The Tujia people call their language "pi˧˥ tsi˥ sa˨˩" (Ye 1995).

"Tujia" (土家) literally means 'native people', which is the appellation that the Han Chinese had given to them due to their aboriginal status in the Hunan-Hubei-Chongqing area. The Tujia, on the other hand, call the Han Chinese "Kejia" (客家), which means 'guest people', since the Han Chinese had arrived later than the Tujia (Dai 2005).


Tujia is clearly a Sino-Tibetan language, but its position within that family is unclear, due to massive borrowing from other Sino-Tibetan languages. It has been placed with Loloish and Qiangic, but many leave it unclassified.


Tujia is divided into two major dialects. The Northern dialect has the vast majority of speakers, while the Southern dialect is spoken in only 3 villages of Tanxi Township 潭溪镇 in Luxi County. Almost all Tujia speakers are located in Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture.

The Tujia-speaking areas of Longshan County are mostly located around the Xiche River 洗车河. The variety studied in Tujiayu Jianzhi (土家语简志) is that of Dianfang Township 靛房乡, Longshan County. Ye (1995) focuses on the Northern variety of Xinghuo Village 星火村, Miao'ertan Township 苗儿滩镇 (formerly Miaoshi 苗市), Longshan County 龙山县. Brassett (2006) based their Tujia data primarily on the variety of Tasha Township 他砂乡, Longshan County, and also partly from Pojiao Township 坡脚乡 and Dianfang Township 靛房乡. Dai (2005) focuses on the variety of Xianren Township 仙仁乡, Baojing County.

Chen (2006)

Chen Kang (2006:152) divides Tujia as follows.[5]

Yang (2011)

Yang Zaibiao (2011:4) reports that Tujia is spoken in over 500 natural villages comprising about 200 administrative villages and 34 townships.[7] The Northern Tujia autonym is pi˧˥ tsɿ˥ kʰa˨˩, and the Southern Tujia autonym is mõ˨˩ dzɿ˨˩ (Yang 2011:15). Yang covers the two Northern Tujia dialects of Dianfang 靛房 and Xiaolongre 小龙热, and the Southern Tujia dialect of Qieji 且己.


Tujia Pinyin

Brassett, Brassett, & Lu (2006) have proposed an experimental Pinyin orthography for the Tujia language, as follows.

Tujia Pinyin Consonants
Symbol IPA Symbol IPA
b p ng ŋ
c tsʰ p
d t q tɕʰ
g k r z
h x s s
hh ɣ t
j w w
k x ɕ
l l, n y j
m m z dz
n ȵ
Tujia Pinyin Vowels
Symbol IPA Symbol IPA
a a ing
ai ai iong iɔŋ
an ɛn iu iu
ang o ɔ
ao au ong ɔŋ
e ɤ ou ou
ei ei u u
eng ɜŋ ua ua
i i, ɨ uai uai
ia ia uan uɛn
ian iɛn ui uei
iao iau un un
ie uo
Tujia Pinyin Tones
Symbol Pitch Name of tone
1 ˥ or ˦ High level
2 ˨˦ or ˧˥ Low rising
3 ˨˩ Low falling
4 ˥˩ or ˥˧ High falling

Possible Tujia script

The Tujia have been known as an ethnic minority (historically) without a written language. However, a succession of ancient undeciphered books with glosses presented in Chinese characters have been found in the Youyang Tujia habitation straddling the borders of Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou Province, and Chongqing City.[8] Modern Tujia is written in Latin script.

Language preservation

Although only a small percentage of Tujia people speak the Tujia language, Tujia language enthusiasts work hard on to preserve it, both in Hunan and Hubei. According to news reports, two Tujia language instruction books have been published, and work continues on a Tujia dictionary. The Tujia language scholar Chu Yongming (储永明) works with children at the Baifusi Ethnic Minorities School (百福司民族小学) in Baifusi Town, Fang County, Hubei to promote the language use.[9]


  1. 1 2 Southern at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Northern at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Tujia". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. 1 2 Tujia, Northern
  4. 1 2 Tujia, Southern
  5. Chen Kang [陈康]. 2006. A study of Tujia [土家语研究]. Beijing: Minzu University Press.
  6. Li Jingzhong [李敬忠]. 2000. The Luxi Tujia language [泸溪土家语]. Beijing: Minzu University Press.
  7. Yang Zaibiao [杨再彪] (2011). Four endangered languages of Hunan province [湖南西部四种濒危语言调查]. Beijing: Ethnic Publishing House [民族出版社].
  8. Indecipherable Ancient Books Found in Chongqing
  9. Bruce Humes, Rejuvenating the Tujia Language No Easy Feat, based on 王功尚,蒲哲,孙文振 (2012-04-17), 大山深处的土家语传承与坚守


Tujia language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator
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