Edited by Sang-Oak Lee
[Written Language & Literacy 12:2] 2009
► pp. 170–187
Language policy for China’s minorities
Orthography development for the Yi
The Yi national minority of southwestern China has four distinct orthographic traditions: Nosu, Nasu, Nisu and Sani. All are based on traditional systems using the same logographic principle as Chinese writing and a few Chinese characters. Otherwise, they are very different, both from Chinese and to a lesser degree from each other. Since 1950, orthographic reform has taken place separately in the three main provinces where Ngwi or Yi languages are spoken. This process has been a top-down language planning effort, run by leaders and scholars from within the various Yi communities of each province. In addition, for local and scholarly purposes, the traditional scripts continue in use. This paper discusses and exemplifies the traditional and new orthographic systems and the process of reform which created three modern orthographies alongside the four traditional ones which also continue in limited use. The top-down process of script reform is parallel to other areas of script, language and other policy developments in China since 1950, with a centralised model that achieves some great successes and some failures, and going through a series of major changes affecting the way the languages of the Yi are written.
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