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Classifications of some lesser-known Lolo-Burmese languages

Andrew Hsiu
December 2017; updated January 2018
Please cite as: Hsiu, Andrew. 2018. Classifications of some lesser-known Lolo-Burmese languages. <https://sites.google.com/site/msealangs/home/blog/lolo-burmese>.
Please note that this is a working draft that will be periodically updated.


Below are my classifications of some lesser-known Lolo-Burmese languages, based on comparisons using my Lolo-Burmese and Southern Loloish lexical databases. A full paper with supporting evidence and arguments is currently being compiled (please contact me for the draft manuscript).

Note that I choose to use the terms "Lolo-Burmese" and "Loloish" (which are also used by Matisoff and in STEDT) rather than Bradley's "Burmic" and "Ngwi." The term "Lolo" is used as an autonym by various Yi subgroups (e.g., Lolopo and related autonyms such as Lalo, etc.), and is also a locally used ethnonym in many parts of Yunnan. Also, unlike "Burmic," the name "Lolo-Burmese" does not exclude the "Loloish" part.

- Mondzish (Mangish) should be classified within Loloish, rather than as a "third" branch of Lolo-Burmese (from my personal re-analysis of Lama's (2012) computational phylogenetic results).

My newly proposed "Lawoish" branch:
- Awu (Lu & Lu 2011) and Lawu (Yang 2012) may form a branch, but more distantly in the way Pakanic and Mang form a single branch, though the relationship is not immediately obvious. Awu-Lawu is likely an independent branch within Loloish or Central Loloish.
- Lewu Yao in the Jingdong County Ethnic Gazetteer (2012:144) is a Central Loloish language, and may be related to Lawu and Awu.

Central Loloish branch:
- Alu from a word list in the Lüchun County Gazetteer (1992) could not be classified within Lolo-Burmese. It is certainly not Nisu. It may constitute separate unknown branch, or it may a Central Loloish language. Transcribed in Chinese characters.
- Luquan Lisu in Mu & Sun (2012) is actually Lipo, and is more closely related to Hlersu and Lolopo than to the other 4 Lisu dialects in Mu & Sun (2012).

Nisoish (N + SE Loloish) branch:
- Achang and Pulian from a word list in the Lüchun County Gazetteer (1992) are Nisu varieties. Transcribed in Chinese characters.
- Alingpo is most similar to Lope, Axi, Azhe, and Azha. It displays the Southeastern Loloish phonological innovations defined by Pelkey (2011).
- Xiqi, Adu, Nong, and Ati from a word list in the Huaning County Ethnic Gazetteer 华宁县民族志 (1992:72) are Loloish languages. Based on words such as 'corn', 'water', and 'village', Xiqi and Nong look like Northern Loloish languages, and may form a related pair. Adu and Ati, on the other hand, look like Southeastern Loloish languages. The names Xiqi and Ati appear to resemble the name Axi, while Nong (Long) somewhat resembles Lope. Adu resembles the name of a Nuosu dialect, Adur. Transcribed in Chinese characters.
- Sadu turns out to be most closely related to Samu, and has been in heavy contact with Nisu and Southeastern Loloish.

Southern Loloish branch:
- Luomian, Guozuo, Guohe, and Gehuo in Tang (2011) are closely related to Lvchun Hani.
- Duota and Amu are closely related to Baihong and Haoni.
- Habei in Yan (1995) is a Bisoid language.
- Khongsat and Laoseng are Bisoid languages that have some Siloid loanwords.
- Muda of Xu (1991) is not the same as Muteun of Kato (2008).  It belongs to the Akha cluster, since the vast majority of its lexicon is shared with Akha (Ko) lects. However, Muda preserves Cl- consonant clusters like Jinuo, Kathu, and various Bisoid and Siloid languages, which is due to Muda having a Bisoid substratum. Words of likely Bisoid origin include 'leg', 'house', 'smoke', and others. However, Muda likely split off from Bisoid before it went through phonological changes such as nasal hardening and final excrescent nasals (e.g., the word for 'arrow').
- Gɔkhy in Hansson (1997) is most closely related to Wanyä (Muchi) in Shintani (2001), and is hence a Siloid language. Comparisons with the limited Akeu data available shows that it most likely an Akeu variety.
- Akeu in Norihiko Hayashi (2015) is most closely related to Pala and Luma.
- Pala and Luma have an underlying Siloid substratum layer and an Akha superstratum layer.
- Mpi is not closely related to Biyue or Kaduo. Despite the name Mpi sounding superficially like Piyo (Biyue), I could not find any innovations shared between Mpi and Bi-Ka. There are lexical resemblances with Siloid, Bisoid, and Akha, but these are likely due to mutual contact and shared retentions. Thus, Mpi should constitute its own separate branch of Southern Loloish, rather than as part of Bi-Ka.
- The three Bi-Ka languages (Biyue, Enu, and Kaduo) likely do indeed form a coherent branch consisting of Biyue-Enu and Kaduo, with Enu being closely related to Biyue. However, Bi-Ka must have diversified early in the way Mang had diverged early from Proto-Mangic so that its relationship with Pakanic (Bugan and Bolyu) is not immediately obvious.
- Haoni-Baihong may be a linguistic area within Hani rather than a true subgroup.
- Gong is certainly not Southern Loloish, and is not even Lolo-Burmese. Rather, it is an independent branch of Sino-Tibetan spoken by a early remnant group located to the south of the Salween River mouth. Similarities between Gong and Lolo-Burmese are due to shared retentions from Proto-Tibeto-Burman rather than directly from Proto-Lolo-Burmese. Gong shares similarities not only with Lolo-Burmese, but also with other eastern Tibeto-Burman branches such as Karenic and Nungish.
- Khong and Paille in Lefevre (1892) are Bisoid languages.
- Li, Tigne, Phana, Kho, and Asong in Lefevre (1892) all belong to the Hani-Akha cluster.
- Mousseux and Kouis in Lefevre (1892) are Lahu varieties.

My tentative Southern Loloish tree is given below. I consider Lahu to be an independent branch of Loloish that had come into close contact with Southern Loloish.
  1. Hani-Akha
    1. Hanoid: Hani, Nuomei, Nuobi, Lami, Luomian, Angluo, Guohe, Guozuo, Gehuo, Yiche, Qidi, Kabie, Haoni cluster (Honi, Woni, Baihong, Bukong, Budu, Suobi, Duoni, Duota, Asuo, Amu)
    2. Akoid: Nukui, Phuso, Puli, Chepya, Eupa, Nyau, Oma, Chicho, Ulo, Muteun, Muda, etc.
  2. Bi-Ka
    1. Biyue, Enu
    2. Kaduo
  3. Siloid
    1. Luma, Pala
    2. Akeu, Gokhy
    3. Wanya (Muchi)
    4. Sila cluster: Sila, Sida, Paza (Phusang), Khir, Cosao, Phana
  4. Bisoid
    1. Bisu cluster: Bisu, Laomian, Laopin, Pyen, Laopan
    2. Singsali cluster: Phunoi, Singsali, Cantan, Laoseng, Phongku, Phongset, Phunyot
    3. Coong cluster: Cốông, Sangkong, Tsukong
    4. Cauho
    5. Bantang
    6. Khongsat
    7. Habei (Mani)
  5. Mpi
  6. Jino

Hani-Akha and Bi-Ka are part of a northern linkage or linguistic area centered in the northwestern part of the Red River watershed in south-central Yunnan (Mojiang, Xinping, Yuanjiang, Yuanyang, Jinping, Lvchun, Jiangcheng counties), while Siloid, Bisoid, Jino, and Mpi are part of a southern linkage or linguistic area centered within the Mekong watershed in Phongsaly Province, Laos and in Mengla County, China. Hence, the presence of Akha in more southern territories is a relatively recent phenomenon.


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Andrew Hsiu,
Jun 12, 2018, 11:30 AM
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